Make your own free website on Tripod.com

title4.GIF (31828 bytes)

map_sp.gif (5269 bytes)

Having driven out the Moors from Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors, Ferdinand and Isabella, who considered themselves the champions of Christianity, wanted to eradicate from Catholic Spain any other religious groups and set about the task by ordering a massive campaign to convert or drive out the Jews. Under pressure from the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, Ferdinand and Isabella signed an edict in which they accused the Jews of proselytizing and of eating away at the well-being of Christians with their usury, and ordered them to convert to Christianity or to leave all Spanish realms within three months on pain of death and confiscation of all their wealth.

Their expulsion from Spain was deemed essential to "extirpate... the apostasy and iniquitous perversion of the Jews who by their practice and conversations have induced many Christians into heresy and in some errors." In Sicily, which belonged to Spain and was governed at that time by Viceroy Don Ferdinand de Acugna, remembered as one of the better Viceroys, the antisemitism rampant on the Iberian Peninsula was not shared by Sicilians and they did not want to see their numerous and long-standing Jewish communities leave the island. The Viceroy, sensing the enormous impact that the edict was going to have on the island, did not make it public until June 18, 1492, two and a half months after its proclamation in Spain (March 31, 1492), perhaps hoping that its implementation would not take place.

vrouw-sef.jpg (9360 bytes)

No doubt he knew that an action of that magnitude was bound to create animosities, especially among the powerful members of the Sicilian Camera Regia (Sicilian Parliament) which could have objected not only on legal grounds - that body had not been consulted on a matter that was of the utmost importance to them - but also for moral and economic reasons. Losing the entrepreneurial skill of the Jews would be catastrophic to the island and the elite knew it. The Viceroy also knew that public opinion was definitely against the mandate because the Jews, having lived in Sicily for so long, were already well integrated into the social fabric of the country.

Once the edict was made public, Sicilians in positions of authority, which included the count of Adeṃ Tommaso Moncada---Grand Justice of the Regnum---as well as the Judges of the Magna Curia, the Masters of the Royal Patrimony, the Treasurer of the Regnum, wrote a petition to Ferdinand and Isabella in an attempt to stop the edict from taking effect. Other bodies protested to the Viceroy with letters and personal appearances.

sef-mevr.jpg (7835 bytes)

In essence, these petitions briefly contradicted the religious rationale given by the King for the expulsion order and focused on a number of points of economic and social importance:

Once the edict was made public, Sicilians in positions of authority, which included the count of Adeṃ Tommaso Moncada---Grand Justice of the Regnum---as well as the Judges of the Magna Curia, the Masters of the Royal Patrimony, the Treasurer of the Regnum, wrote a petition to Ferdinand and Isabella in an attempt to stop the edict from taking effect. Other bodies protested to the Viceroy with letters and personal appearances. In essence, these petitions briefly contradicted the religious rationale given by the King for the expulsion order and focused on a number of points of economic and social importance:

1. In Sicily the Jews did not try to convince Christians to abandon their faith nor did they cause heresies;

2. The Jews spent nearly one million florins a year to feed and clothe themselves and if they were evicted the island would lose this enormous sum (Titta Lo Jacono, in his Judaica Salem, estimates this sum to be equivalent to three quarters of a billion dollars);

3. The commerce between Jews and Christians would come to an end and cause much hardship on Christians;

4. The island would come to lose the iron works industry, which was totally in the hands of Jews. And this would have disastrous consequences on ship building;

5. The island would come to lose low-wage workers employed in the construction of city defenses against incursions by pirates;

6. The state coffers would come to lose the income from taxes levied on the Jews;

7. Some of the islands belonging to Sicily, like Malta, Gozzo and Pantelleria, which were inhabited in large numbers by Jews would become deserted;

8. The Jews, finally, with the exception of a few individuals and families, were generally so poor that if the three months limit was not extended, many would starve to death. 

The tone of the petition, written in Sicilian, is one of dismay, sadness and disbelief. In a second letter written to the Viceroy by the municipal government of the City of Palermo, and similar in tone, the Jews are cleared of the accusation of proselytizing and of usury: the letter states categorically that there are no reasons for proceeding against the Jews since the accusations are not founded on fact: "And for this reason the action must not be continued against this regnum since there are no reasons for it, nor can the cause be that the mentioned Jews are usurers for in this kingdom it has never been known that the Jews practiced usury publicly.."

A demonstration of some of the favorite methods employed by the Holy Office to extract testimony or confessions from defendants.

The events of the fateful year 1411 marked the catastrophic turning point of Jewish destiny in Spain. There was a continuing and relentless pressure, legal and extra-legal, from both Church and state to bring the reluctant Jews to the baptismal font. The opportunists and the frightened succumbed to the terror and became conversos. At first the blandishments of being Christian communicants appeared alluring: all the shining doors of opportunity were opened wide to the apostates. Many of them carved out careers in government, finance, trade and the army. A number became hidalgos and even grandees of the kingdom. While a few who had been schooled in the Talmudic academies found a ready outlet for their religious learning in the service of the Church. One of them, an able Jewish scholar - it is said, a rabbi - was almost elected pope in Avignon. This was Paulus de Santa Maria, formerly Solomon Halevi (1352-1435). He eventually became Archbishop of Burgos, the Primate of the Church of all Spain, and acted as Vincent Ferrer's evil genius, inspiring him to ever greater ferocity in his crusade to convert or exterminate the Jews. It was to be expected that in an atmosphere charged with violence and intimidation informers, eager for reward or approval, should have risen everywhere to furnish the Church with alleged knowledge of heretical views or actions of the conversos. The heresy consisted principally of secret relapses into Jewish religious beliefs and practices. By a treacherous ruse, thousands of Marranos (literally "Pigs") or New Christians, who were promised amnesty if they would confess their "judaizing" sins, stepped forward voluntarily and did confess, only to discover that they had been lured into a trap. Under torture many implicated other Marranos, who in turn were stretched on the rack only to implicate still others. It was an ever-widening circle of violence and treachery which cast a deadly pall over Jewish life in Spain.
All this time a righteous pretense at legality was kept up. As early as 1237 the Church had armed itself against heretics and relapsers by means of special tribunals of inquisitors, made up exclusively of friars of the Dominican Order. The sole object of these tribunals was to investigate all charges of heresy and unbelief, though they also had the power to punish.
By 1480 the Cortes at Toledo had fervently sanctioned the institution of a similar Inquisition for the entire country.

Tomas de Torquemada, the Inquisition, or Holy Office, as it was sometimes called, began to operate on an enormous man-devouring scale. Many thousands of Marranos were arrested and flung into dungeons, waiting in agonizing suspense for their turn to be tried by the courts of the Inquisition. The Inquisition was efficient and legalistically scrupulous. It issued special manuals for the guidance of the inquisitors, and others for the instruction of would-be informers.

Torq1.jpg (5646 bytes)

How, really, was one to tell a heretic among the conversos? There were a number of recognizable signs of heresy, the manual pointed out helpfully. If a New Christian wore his best clothes on the Sabbath: if he celebrated the Seder on Passover: if he was overheard muttering prayers in Hebrew; if he bought wine and meat from a Jew; if he fasted on Yom Kippur; if he circumcised his male child- then he was most certainly a "Judaizing heretic."

histo2.jpg (10975 bytes)

The trials of the Marranos were not routine hearings. They were invariably marked by tragedy and a trail of blood. Those who refused to confess were put to the torture, and the ingenuity of sadists was fully taxed to create the most agonizing torments for the crushing of the stubborn. Thousands babbled incoherent confessions they never believed and almost eagerly implicated innocent persons in order to be free at last of the pain they could not endure. Amazingly enough, there were thousands who remained firm under torture. They died in tight-lipped agony in the flames of the autos-da-fe.

The auto-da-fe, or 'act of faith,' took on all the theatricality of a religious spectacle and, like the morality play, it was designed by the Church to strengthen the religious fidelity of the crowds who assembled to witness it. Besides, it was also intended as a stern warning to the vacillating and to the unrepentant heretics. To the churchly sound of chanting priests and amidst the full display of the Church's panoply of power, the relapsed were led into the arena, especially constructed for this purpose, while the assembled thousands watched.
The heretics wore the sanbenito, or penitent's tunic of sackcloth, and carried lighted candles in their hands. For the last time the priests came forward and exhorted them to confess their relapses into Judaism, promising the sincere penitents the Church's forgiveness.
Many did confess, and their abject contrition saved them from the stake. But others remained obdurate and refused to confess. What had they to confess? They were innocent! Still others proudly affirmed their unregenerate devotion to the faith of their fathers and tearfully prepared for the end.
The end came on the Quemadero, the stake to which they were tied. As the flames licked upwards the faithful expired, reciting the Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!"
The first auto-da-fe was held on February 6, 1481, when six men and six women, unrepentant of their backsliding, were burned at the stake. During the sixteen years of Torquemada's blood-and-iron rule of the Holy Office a virtual reign of terror gripped Spain. A great number of Marranos perished in this theatrical manner, as did many non-Jewish heretics. Many were condemned to rot in the Inquisition's dungeons. Every converso was suspected of relapsing into his old faith, and even high Church dignitaries of remote Jewish ancestry were drawn into this spider's web of fear and distrust spun by the Inquisition over the whole country. It even caught a number of hidalgos, men prominent at the royal court, who, because of their Jewish descent, had to undergo merciless grilling and torture, and the Quemadero burned brightly with their aristocratic bodies, too.
For more than three hundred years the pyres of the Inquisition blazed throughout Europe, especially in Portugal and Portuguese Goa in India, in Provence, in Spain and her Latin-American domains. Despite the forces of enlightenment which were working against it during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the bloody power of the Holy Office remained unbroken. It led the great French thinker, Montesquieu, to remark bitterly in 1738: "If anyone in days to come should ever dare to say that the people of Europe were civilized in the century in which we are now living, you [Holy Office] will be cited as proof that they are barbarians."
From Pictorial History of the Jewish People, Nathan Ausubel

LINKS

1. Seaphard Page

2. Jewdeo-Sephardic Culture.

3. Sephardim

4. Who are the Sephardim?

5. Sephardic Jews