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The Metropolitan Cathedral Archive is actually made up of three archives – the inquisition archive (AIM), the cathedral archive (ACM) and the bishop’s pro-vicariate archive (CEM).

The inquisition archive is an accumulation of all the documents created during the inquisition in Malta. These consist primarily of the case proceedings themselves (some 18,000 between 1561 and 1798) however there are various other sub-sections such as the Inquisitors correspondences, his diaries and accounts and so on.

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The Inquisitor, chosen by the Pope, was a guardian of the faith, representing the Holy Office and responsible for enforcing ecclesiastical law.

Research Assistant Gabriel Farrugia explained to that many of the cases concern blasphemy or sorcery – relatively minor infractions. The Roman Inquisition in Malta was much ‘softer’ than the Spanish Inquisition in Sicily, with very few instances of torture or physical punishment.

Over the years, the court of the inquisition became an institution in itself, outliving its original purpose of suppressing Lutheran Protestantism and expanding its responsibilities beyond the various tribunals.

There was often tension between the inquisitor and the Grand Master, the latter being eager to show his sovereignty as a prince of Malta, independent from the Holy See. The French abolished the inquisition in Malta in 1798. During the turbulent years of French rule, the archive, originally housed in the inquisitor’s palace in Birgu, came under threat of destruction and it was bishop Labini’s acumen which ensured that the documents were moved to Valletta and, years later, to Mdina.

More information about the Metropolitan Cathedral Archive may be found online.