Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition

Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition

Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition

Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition


Cyrptojudaism and the Spanish Inquisition explores Spanish secret Judaism and the Inquisition, which strove to uproot the "Judaizing heresy" among baptized Jews and their descendants. Even in the 18th-century, Cryptojudaism was still prevalent, but the Inquisition finally triumphed. This book describes the private lives of the cyrpto-Jew, as revealed in their confessions, together with their fate in prison and at the auto defeat at which they abjured their Judaism and were reconciled to the Church or, if not, burnt at the stake.


The frequency with which pardons were issued – in 1533, 1535, 1547 and 1577 – to Portuguese New Christians who were widely suspected of Judaizing suggests that the authorities preferred to leave them in peace in order to allow their commercial activities to fructify and enrich the country. the exchange worked in reverse also. the offer of money by the New Christians to a permanently needy treasury smoothed the path to the granting of pardons. the pardon of 1577 was conceded by the Crown in exchange for a quarter of a million ducats. the converts were promised ten years free of pressure. Even if convicted by the Inquisition for the crime of Judaizing, their offence would be considered as the first one, so that they would not lose their property, an additional punishment almost always imposed on a second offender. Furthermore, the Portuguese converts were given permission to leave the country, in the hope that their trading, from Brazil, Antwerp or Seville, would enrich Portugal.

The Portuguese Church protested unsuccessfully against the granting of a pardon. So did Philip ii of Spain, but to no avail, for the Portuguese king, Dom Sebastian, was badly in need of funds for the military adventure which would end so tragically with the death of almost all the cream of the Portuguese aristocracy and the young king in the deserts of Morocco.

The Portuguese New Christians lived lives of constant uncertainty and anxiety. the pardon granted on 21 May 1577, which was to have been in force for ten years, was revoked in 1579. During the two years of its validity many Portuguese New Christians crossed into Spain. It is from this time that the records of the Spanish Inquisition courts begin to include the names of Portuguese Marranos.

The Portuguese crypto-Jews were attracted to Spain by the apparent somnolence of the Spanish Inquisition, which had so thoroughly destroyed the heresies of Judaizing earlier in the sixteenth century. By this time, the Portuguese commercial empire was beginning to decline under the competition of Holland and England. Moving to Spain promised Portuguese New Christians the chance of developing large commercial enterprises in the Spanish empire in America, as well as the traditional occupations of the New Christians such as tax farming royal and private revenues, skilled crafts and the commerce associated with them. Some New Christians would rise to the heights of international finance as money factors, bankers, and suppliers of naval and military stores, although the lists of the occupations of the majority of convicted Judaizers show that they were people of modest means attracted by the apparently greater freedom and prosperity of Spain at the time.

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