Museum of the Inquisition preserves history's dark secrets

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SANTILLANA DEL MAR, Spain -- The Museum of the Inquisition, in the shadow of Santillana del Mar's La Collegiate monastery, warns that "some of displays in this museum may be offensive."

Such an introduction at the entrance gates no doubt causes the museum to be among the town's most successful tourist draws.

The museum's front yard is populated by a vivid assembly of punishments for heretics, such as a skeleton stretched on a torture rack and a lifelike, black-hooded executioner.

When asked why a model of a cow was also displayed, a ticket taker explained that live victims were sewn up inside the cow and left to die there.

This foreshadowed what was to come, as the museum revels the history of the Spanish Inquisition by chronicling torture methods that few could imagine.

There is the metal belt with skin-piercing spikes that penitents were forced to wear and drawings of "guilty parties" who spent days dying of hunger, caged in the town square as a lesson for other sinners. And those are the tamer ones.

After 10 minutes, I was reading about one display that explained how women suspected of being heathens had their breasts cut off before hacked to pieces.

I told my host, a hotel marketing director from nearby Santander, how creepy all this stuff was from "the past."

"The past? According to what I've read, some of these tortures were carried out against [ethnic] Albanians in Kosovo," he said.

Distressed by my host's comments and the realistic nature of the exhibits, I soon left Santillana del Mar but the effect of this museum stays with me still.

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