AUTO-DA-FE, more correctly Auto-de-fé (act of faith), the name of the ceremony during the course of which the sentences of the Spanish inquisition were read and executed. The auto-da-fe was almost identical with the sermo generalis of the medieval inquisition. It never took place on a feast day of the church, but on some famous anniversary: the accession of a Spanish monarch, his marriage, the birth of an infant, etc. It was public: the king, the royal family, the grand councils of the kingdom, the court and the people being present. The ceremony comprised a procession in which the members of the Holy Office, with its familiars and agents, the condemned persons and the penitents took part; a solemn mass; an oath of obedience to the inquisition, taken by the king and all the lay functionaries; a sermon by the Grand Inquisitor; and the reading of the sentences, either of condemnation or acquittal, delivered by the Holy Office. The handing over of impenitent persons, and those who had relapsed, to the secular power, and their punishment, did not usually take place on the occasion of an auto-da-fé, properly so called. Sometimes those who were condemned to the flames were burned on the night following the ceremony. The first great auto-da-fés were celebrated when Thomas de Torquemada, was at the head of the Spanish inquisition (Seville 1482, Toledo 1486, etc.). The last, subsequent to the time of Charles III., were held in secret; moreover, they dealt with only a very small number of sentences, of which hardly any were capital. The isolated cases of the torturing of a revolutionary priest in Mexico in 1816, and of a relapsed Jew and of a Quaker in Spain during 1826, cannot really be considered as auto-da-fés.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)