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In Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum," many details are left unexplained. The narrator, who is never named, is being held by the Spanish Inquisition. The trial and sentencing described in the first paragraph includes "inquisitorial voices" and "black-robed judges," and the narrator mentions the Inquisition in twelfth paragraph.

The Spanish Inquisition operated from 1478 to 1834 in Spain. Its primary purpose was to test the validity of the faith of Jews and Muslims who had ostensibly converted to Catholicism. At the peak of the Inquisition, a grand inquisitor was assisted by a council of five members, so those may be the judges referred to in the story. The reason a person was condemned by the Inquisition was religious heresy--practicing a religion at odds with Catholicism. It is possible any enemy of the Church could also come under the purview of the inquisitor. The fact that the narrator was not immediately burned at the stake in conjunction with the auto-da-fe, a pageant in which heretics were turned over to the secular authorities to be executed, might suggest that he was not a run-of-the-mill heretic but had done something more onerous to the Inquisition, causing him to be held over for a more brutal and psychologically agonizing type of death. 

Poe must have believed the reason for the character's imprisonment was a moot point. No crime, after all, could deserve the type of unwarranted torture that the narrator is subjected to. Not naming the character or his crime means that any reader can more easily put himself or herself in the place of the man who endures these horrors.

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