As the 13th century ended, the majority of continental Europe found itself inhabited with delegated inquisitors. Most of these inquisitors were Franciscans and Dominicans, likely chosen because these order were the most pious, educated and mobile. The inquisitors collaborated with the local bishops, and together, a sentence was carried out in the name in both.
These inquisitors claimed that their primary goal was not to fight heresy, but to safeguard the orthodox practices and faith of the Catholic Church. Essentially, this was a time in history when the church and state were heavily involved with one other. If an individual denounced their faith in the Catholic Church, then the government lost patriotic individuals as well. The Church believed that if those accused of heresy would recant and re-join the Church, then they were actually saving souls. The Catholic Church believed that it was the only way to heaven.
The church became responsible for finding and prosecuting these heretics, and then the state was responsible for any punishment rendered.
Inquisitors would always travel in pairs; likely so one could attest for the other. Armed with official papers from the Pope and the Prince, the team of inquisitors invaded each town. There was always a chief inquisitor called the “familiar” or the “chief familiar”. Upon the arrival of the inquisitors, a town meeting (or general sermon) was called. At this meeting, the details of all procedures and penalties were outlined. All sinners were invited to step forward at this meeting. Those that did received a lighter penalty, and the church felt that this was a way to restore their faith. Although attendance at these meetings was voluntary, those that did not show were immediately deemed as suspects, so nearly everyone in the town attended. Also, any hesitation, resistance or questioning during the general sermon led to suspicion as well. After the assembly concluded, the inquisitors allowed a month long grace period to allow any more sinners the opportunity to step forward.
Once the inquisitors had a sufficient number of self-professed heretics, the inquisitors then required these individuals to help them in their investigation. Because these individuals received such a light penance, the inquisitors forced them to give information on other practicing heretics.
Those accused of heresy after the grace period expiration were carried off from their homes in the middle of the night by the chief familiar and the rest of the inquiring team. This practice occurred whether there was enough information to indict the accused or not. If the inquisitors were still in the process of gathering evidence against the individual, the accused (sometimes called the unfortunates) would remain in jail – sometimes for years.