Anti-Jewish riots occurred in Spain during the summer of 1391. Large communities were completely destroyed, many Jews died and many others converted to the Catholic faith. Efforts to force the Jews to convert to Christianity continued until 1414 (the year of the Disputation of Tortosa). During this period about one third of the Jews died, and another third converted to Christianity. The forced converts (called anussim in Hebrew), were called "New Christians" to distinguish them from the "Old Christians;" they were also insultingly called "marranos," "tornadizos," and "alboraicos." In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain; the majority of them went to Portugal, where they were again subject to forced conversions in 1497.
Spain in 1480, and Portugal in 1536, established in their lands the Holy Office of the Inquisition, to investigate the loyalty of the "New Christians" to the Catholic faith. Thousands were accused of secretly practicing Judaism, and were put on trial.
The phenomenon of crypto-Judaism in Spain seemed to disappear after the first decades of the 16th century. After 1580, when King Philip II of Spain became king of Portugal, many Portuguese New Christians fled from Portugal to Spain, and there was an important revival of crypto-Judaism there. From that time onwards the terms "Portuguese," "crypto-Jew" and "Jew" became synonymous (and this happened when there were no Jews in Spain!).
Perhaps the largest proportion of New Christians assimilated into the general society; others continued to practice Judaism in secret, and some left the Iberian peninsula to establish new Jewish communities, or to join existing communities elsewhere. A fourth group decided to continue their "double life" in the New World. Many of them went to New Spain, which was a large territory, including Mexico, the southwestern United States, Central America, India (like Goa) and the Philippines. New Christians who were of Jewish descent were there from the beginning of the Conquest, but the most important waves of immigrants, several hundred of them, arrived in the 80s of the 16th, and in the 20s and 30s of the 17th centuries.
My research deals with this last group and the Inquisition in New Spain in the 17th century. I examined files of the trials and letters from the Inquisition in Mexico. The files are rich in detailed information; many of them contain hundreds of pages; some more than a thousand pages. Almost all the material is to be found in the National General Archive of Mexico.
Tribunals of the Holy Office of the Inquisition were established in Peru (1570), Mexico (1571) and Cartagena (1610), to combat the spread of heresy, mainly Protestantism. The tribunals informed each other about their activities, and shared the names of suspected heretics. For example, the tribunals of Peru and Mexico both knew of two of the "judaizantes" (those who practiced Judaism): Juan Bautista Perez (one of the most important judaizers who was burnt at the stake in Lima, Peru in 1639), and Simon Vaez Sevilla (one of the richest judaizers in Mexico).
The largest Auto de Fe in the history of the Inquisition in New Spain took place in 1649 in the capital city Mexico. Of one hundred and nine people, all but one were accused of keeping Judaism in secret. It is this group of convicted judaizers, and the Auto de Fe, which is the focus of my research. Following this event, there were few further trials against New Christians by the Inquisition in Mexico. In the Auto de Fe of 1659 people were sentenced who had been previously convicted. A small number were accused of crypto-Judaism at the end of the century.
Who were the convicted at the Auto de Fe of 1649? All were of Portuguese origin, although many of them had been born in Spain or America; a few had been born in Italy, France or Amsterdam. They were involved in the life of the Colony. A few were leading merchants dealing in cacao, slaves, textiles, etc., and had connections in Spain, Portugal, Manila and throughout South America. Most of them were lesser merchants, shopkeepers, peddlers, and muleteers like Diego Diaz, who travelled into the most inhospitable places to bring his goods.
The majority of the "crypto-Jews" had married within their own circle, but there were some who married Old Christian women as well. Many had continued to maintain ties with their relatives in their original countries; others were unaware of having relatives in other places. Simon Vaez Sevilla, for example, had a sister who lived openly as a Jewess in Pisa, and a natural daughter who lived for awhile in Valladolid and afterwards resided with her aunt in Pisa. Diego Correa’s father lived in Amsterdam; Thomas Trevio de Sobremonte had a brother in Peru and the rest of his family in Spain.
Can we speak of particular rites and beliefs of the New Christians? If so, how were these developed? What was the nature of their Jewish knowledge? What precepts did they keep? We must remember that they maintained a double life; they participated in all the events and ceremonies of the church, and knew what the average Christian knew of his religion. In their secret Jewish life they had little guidance. There were no Jewish books; knowledge of Jewish beliefs and customs was passed on orally by those who knew a "little more:" parents, grandparents, more educated members of the family; or in a few cases, someone who had lived as a Jew in Europe and learned there before deciding to come to Mexico. Others learned about the "Law of Moses" and the history of ancient Israel through reading the Bible or Christian books.
In Inquisitorial records of Mexico, we find that many of the judaizers practiced Jewish burial rites, including the washing of the corpse, and mourning customs such as eating boiled eggs and vegetables while sitting on the floor. The dead, of course, were buried in Christian cemeteries. Some of the New Christians knew portions of the Jewish prayers in Spanish, or "original prayers" and a few Hebrew words of the Shema Yisrael. Some kept parts of the dietary laws, e.g., they didn’t use lard in cooking on the Sabbath, and in general tried not to eat pork, but ate chickens that were slaughtered more or less according to Jewish practices. (Women generally did the slaughtering, and in some cases, female slaves were in charge of putting the chickens into salted water overnight.) Many attempted to observe the Sabbath by not working, and in a few cases, candles were lit. The most important event was the "fast of the great day" (ayuno del dia grande), which according to their beliefs fell on the 10th of September, or the 10th day after the new moon of September. Many people kept the "fast of Queen Esther" and there were also many "private fasts." The majority of men were uncircumcized. Those who were examined by physicians for the tribunal often had only a small cut, and in some cases, the physicians were uncertain if the men had been circumcized or not. Many people were accused of washing their hands more than usual. It’s important to point out that almost none of the accused kept all of these practices; most kept only a few of them.
Thus, their Jewish life was impoverished; their practice of crypto-Judaism was based mainly on fasts, Jewish burial practices, a conscious belief in the "Law of Moses," the denial of Christianity.
A crucial question arises concerning their sense of identity: why had people who had lived in Spain decided to go to Mexico rather than places where Judaism was permitted? Why did people who had lived openly as Jews in Europe, decide to pursue a "double life" in America? I think their "Iberian identity" and the desire to improve their economic situation was stronger than the desire to live like Jews. Although many of them told their friends that they would like to live in countries where Judaism was permitted, they stayed in Mexico.
What were the relations between New Christians and the rest of society? In general, we can describe their relations as ambivalent. People had contact, worked together, ate together and in some cases had close ties, but the New Christians did not fully trust their Christian neighbors. Portuguese Christians were suspected of keeping Judaism in secret and of committing acts against Christianity such as flogging the cross, desecrating images, insulting Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the saints, etc. This is a very important point, for we see that a stereotype existed in the colonial society. Besides this image of the Portuguese New Christians, we find in the files testimonies such as: he didn’t eat pork, or he didn’t often go to church, etc. In noticing matters such as these, we see that the eyes of society were on the New Christians, and thus many came to be judged by the Inquisition.
Research into the New Christians’ identity and their way of life brings us closer to understanding three important areas: firstly, the extent and connections of the Sephardi Diaspora (meaning the communities of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and the centers of New Christians of the same origin), and its weight in the developement of the modern world. Secondly, in the complexity of their identity, values, ideas and beliefs, we can look for the origins of patterns of behaviour which led to the emergence of the modern Jew. Thirdly, we see how the medieval image of the Jew continued to exist and finally was integrated into present-day western culture.
Most people have some knowledge of the holocaust. The 6 years of torture and atrocities that the Jews suffered under Hitler and the Nazis during the Second World War. While in no way downplaying the terrible events of the holocaust, such a massacre does not compare to the severity to the torture and murder that took place under Papal authority during the 605 years of the Inquisition. From the beginning of the Papacy, until the present time, it is estimated by credible historians that more than 50,000,000, men and women have been slaughtered for the crime of heresy charged against them by Papal Rome. This Video contains actual photographs of some of the instruments of torture that were used. Since we consider this Video on the Inquisition one of the more important message that we have given, please make it known to others
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