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The "Portuguese Marranos Committee"
of the Bevis Marks synagogue. London
was formed after the discovery of secret Portuguese Jews in Belmonte

The synagogue (SEE BELOW) was built due to

It was built through the International Committee organised by Bevis Marks, London,
the help of Elie Kadoorie.  
on land given by Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris

Porto Synagogue
Built for Barros Basto’s Congregation
Comes Alive for Anusim
Both Religious and Secular

by Manuel A. Lopes Azevedo
(HaLapid, Winter 2005)

On September 8 2005 the impressive Kadoorie synagogue (Mekor H’aim-fountain of life) in Porto, Portugal came alive with singing and dancing on the occasion of the dedication of a sefer torah donated by a rabbi whose grandfather was saved from the nazis by the then fledging anusim community founded by Captain Barros Basto in 1923. The “Catedral Judaica do norte de Portugal,” as it has been called, is a majestic art deco three-story building in a leafy, upscale Porto neighborhood, which took nine years to build (1929 –1938). It was the vision of a romantic hero, Captain Arturo Carlos de Barros Basto (aka Abraham Israel Ben-Rosh), often referred to as the “Apostle of the Marranos” or the Marrano Moses but also the “Portuguese Dreyfus.”  He died a broken man in 1961.

Barros Basto dreamed of gathering the anusim of Northern Portugal and creating a large active community in Porto. At its peak, he may have had 10,000 adherents. He founded a publication called Halapid to rally anusim and help them learn about the religion of their ancestors. Barros Basto endured arduous trips to the countryside to meet and organize anusim, he begged for money and support from co-religionists in London, Amsterdam, New York, Paris and elsewhere, he established a yeshiva, he tried to recruit a rabbi, he founded and published a newsletter Halapid, he conducted historical research, he organized conferences, and he resisted attacks by the Catholic Church and a fascist state and their accomplices. He suffered many indignities and injustices. Following his death in 1961, he was buried, not in a Jewish cemetery (there is none in Porto and he did not want to be buried in Lisbon), but in Amarante, his place of birth, near Porto. The magnificent temple that he had built, with the help of the Jewish Community of London, fell into disrepair, its imposing doors closed to the curious. He seemed to have failed.

On September 8 of this year, everything appeared to be changed. The presence of grand Sephardic rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Moshe Amar, signaled a new phase of Barros Basto’s work. The doors of the “cathedral” of the north were once again thrown open, welcoming a new wave of anousim who had dreamed of entering those doors for years; and come they did, philosophers, doctors, poets, professors, professionals, artists and youth. Some are religious, others are secular, but all are curious and excited about their new journey of discovery and learning. Together, with the understanding of a sympathetic orthodox rabbi, Elisha Salas, provided by Amishav, an Israeli organization,  they are embarking on the experience of a lifetime; Hebrew, Torah and Talmudic studies, as well as services at the synagogue.  Soon, I expect to see tours of historical Jewish Porto, academic conferences on such great philosophers as Uriel Acosta (born in Porto, often cited as the forefather of Baruch Spinoza), cultural events, theatre and film programs and an ever-expanding community of diverse anusim discovering their roots through all the variations of Judaism.

Although Barros Basto’s tireless work to form a normative Jewish community from the remnants of 500 years of oppression and the fires of the inquisition failed, his efforts are not forgotten by today’s anusim. Perhaps his daughter’s dream of justice for her father will someday be realized.

Also in early September, Hanamel and Hahaber, anusim cultural organizations from Porto and Lisbon, respectively, called a conference for anusim in Tomar.  A report on that conference and events since then will appear in the Sprng issue of HaLapid.

Manuel A. Lopes Azevedo, who refers to himself as “a lapsed lawyer,” was born in the Azores, lives in Vancouver and sojourns in Porto. He is the founding president of the Portuguese Benevolent Society which publishes, a trilingual zine. He is a student of Sefardic history and a member of SCJS.

Priest's hunch finally uncovers
Porto's hidden holy scrolls

(Barry Hatton in Porto)

The Independent, Thursday, 22 December 2005

Few people ever knew, but the medieval alleys of the Portuguese city of Porto on the Atlantic coast once provided cover for a persecuted minority at risk of being burnt at the stake.

In the 16th century, a thick-walled granite house that still stands in a row of narrow buildings along a cobbled street held a dangerous secret. At the back, steep steps lead down to a warren of alleys ideal for conspiratorial comings and goings that helped keep an outlawed religious ceremony hidden.

Four centuries later, the secret of the synagogue is out. The mystery began unravelling when Fr Agostinho Jardim Moreira, a Catholic priest, bought the four-storey house for use as an old people's home for his parish. When construction workers told him they had come across a false wall, he told them to pull it down - sensing a hidden tale.

He had studied the city's Jewish history and knew his parish had been a Jewish quarter in the 15th and 16th centuries. He also knew that, after they were forced to convert to Catholicism in 1496, many Jews privately kept their faith and worshipped in secret. "I suspected that false wall was hiding something," said Fr Moreira. "I knew there had to be some kind of Jewish symbol behind it."

A worker's sledgehammer proved his hunch right. Beyond the wall was a room with a medieval holy ark - a nook in the wall of a synagogue where Torah scrolls are kept. Only two other arks from the period have been found in Portugal.

The Inquisition in Porto

By Manuel Lopes Azevedo

There has been very little published about the Inquisition in Porto. This is a short summary of two articles on the subject, one by Amilcar Paulo (a protégé of Barros Basto), A Inquisição no Porto, Achegas para a sua Historia, Separata de Douro Litoral-Boletim da Comissão de Etnografia e Historia-None Serie-Vol II, Porto, 1959, and Elvira Cunha De Azevedo Mea, A Inquisição do Porto, Separata da ‘Revista de Historia’ Vol I, Centro de Historia Da Universidade Do Porto, 1979, Porto. Professor Mea is presently writing a book about the Inquisition in Porto.

According to Amilcar Paulo (deceased) on June 30, 1541 king John III ordered the Carmelite bishop, Baltazar Limpo, bishop of Porto to institute the Tribunal of the (un)Holy Office of the Inquisition. On February 11, 1543, the Tribunal held the first and only auto de fé. Three scaffolds were constructed. There were 84 penitents, of which 21 were burned in effigy, 3 women and 5 men were burned alive, 4 padeceram, 15 were sentenced to perpetual jail with sabenito and 43 received prison sentences between 1 and 10 years. The auto lasted until 5 pm, with 30,000 people in attendance. The Tribunal was extinguished in Porto in 1544. Paulo reproduces several historical documents such as the edict of king John III establishing the inquisition.

Professor Mea, who knew Almilcar Paulo, is much more circumspect. She notes that not much has been added about the Inquisition in Porto since Alexandre Herculano’s classic , History of the origin and establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal (1854). She does not give much importance to Herculano’s opinion that the Inquisition in Porto was motivated by vengeance of the Inquisitor, bishop D. Baltazar Limpo whom he describes as impetuous, obstinate, and fanatical. According to Herculano, the bishop was angry with the New Christians for not paying the cost of converting the synagogue to a church and the re-paving of Rua de São Miguel in the former Olival Judiaria.

Apparently there were a great number of New Christians living in the Ribeira neighbourhood (the then docklands), selling ready-made clothes who complained of exorbitant rents. In 1533 and 1534 they made a proposal to the City to return to the place of their ancestors, the Olival Judiaria, and promised to contribute towards the construction of a church, (the present church of "Our Lady of Victory" on Saõ Bento da Vitoria street is believed to be the site of the former synagogue of the Olival Jewish quarter) and the re-pavement the street of São Miguel, where Uriel Acosta (Gabriel da Costa) was born. As of 1547, there still had not been an agreement. By that time bishop Limpo was no longer in Portugal.

Mea, who writes twenty years after Amilcar Paulo, prefers to start anew, relying on five packets of documents then recently discovered at the Torre de Tombo, the national archive. Her partial analysis of the documents, which were in poor condition, indicates that cases before the Tribunal occurred between 1541 and 1546, with the greatest concentration was in 1542-1544. There is also mention of a visit by the bishop of Porto to Mesão Frio (up the Douro river) in 1542. Mea examined one document in which 56 witnesses were heard in one day resulting in the denunciation of 30 New Christians. Evidence also revealed that a good number (26) of the incriminated were absent, many for more than a year, some having fled to Lisbon and Lamego before leaving the realm.

Mea finds cases from Porto mistakenly listed in the Coimbra Inventory of Inquisition cases (Inventario dos Processos da Inquisiçao de Coimbra,1541-46). There she finds 78 cases from Porto, some involving more than one accused. Analyzing additional sources, she found a total of 111 processes from Porto, some duplicated. Mea studied 54 cases referring to 93 individuals. Some files are incomplete.

The tribunal was situated at the pousadas (manor house) of the inquisitor Jorge Rodrigues on Rua Chã. The prisoners were lodged in the bishop’s prison but in 1544 there is evidence of a new prison on Rua Escura. In one of the later processes (1545-47) of Leonor Gomes and João Serrão, merchants, we learn that the vicar, João Ferreira had replaced the bishop.

The professor states that it is not possible to fully analyze the nature of the inquisition in Porto as the institution was in its infancy and there was a lack of general applicable rules throughout the realm, rather it depended a lot on the character of the individual inquisitors. In Porto, one of the Inquisitors suspected anyone whose parents were forcibly baptized or who lived with a New Christian, like Violante Dias and her husband Antonio Dias, imprisoned for two years. Another example is Genebra Gomes, a widow of 80 years, born on Rua de São Miguel, baptized as an adult in 1497 and who spoke Hebrew. Her case stands out because she prayed frequently in Hebrew and observed Pessach and Yom Kippur.

Mea notes that the absence of 26 accused and an additional 7 whose whereabouts were unknown, is evidence of the economic power of Porto’s New Christians and their ability to easily escape the clutches of the Inquisition. Their economic power may also explain the rigid and inflexible attitude of many of the accused and witnesses who were uncooperative and refused to corroborate with incriminating evidence. Some witnesses were imprisoned, like Leonor and Eva Gomes, aunt and niece of Genebra (who also spent two years in prison) for interfering with witnesses. There were many appeals by accused persons and many allegations of illegality on part of the Tribunal, such as not releasing prisoners once their cases were completed.

Pursuant to the documents Mea studied, there were at least two auto de fés in Porto, one on February 11, 1543 at the field near the gate of the Olival and another at the same place on April 27, 1547. The Tribunal in Porto ended with the papal bull of Paul III on July 16, 1547. It was never re-instated, cases from Porto were dealt with by the Inquisition tribunal of Coimbra.

(Night of Broken Glass)

Manuel A. Lopes Azevedo

Today, on November 12, 1938, the Nazi SS leader of the allegedly highly cultured Germany and Austria announced that on November 9, 1938 (the Night of broken Glass or Kristallnaght), 267 synagogues were burned, 177 them totally destroyed. Seven thousand Jewish businesses were destroyed.

Meanwhile, in then poor humble Portugal, in the same year, 1938, captain Barros Basto, the "Apostle of the Marranos" put the finishing touches on the "Cathedral of the North", the Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue in Porto, which he had started building in 1929. Kadoorie is the family name of Sir Ellie Kadoorie of Hong Kong who contributed the last 5,000.00 pounds necessary to finish the synagogue. It is the only synagogue ever built in Portugal for Marranos. It is the only new synagogue built in Europe in 1938 and the only synagogue built in the world in the 20th century for Marranos.

The captain was persecuted by Salazar`s new state and the its accomplice, the Catholic Church which built an even bigger temple just up the road in the same art deco style as the synagogue. Although Captain Barros Basto`s dream fell into disrepair, today, his spirit lives on with a new generation of Marranos intent on rescuing Portugal`s Jewish common heritage. We shall not forget.

After corroboration by historians, the Portuguese Institute of Architectural Heritage authenticated the house last month as the site of a secret synagogue.

The chance discovery solved an enigma that had baffled historians for years, said Elvira Mea, a lecturer who specialises in Jewish history at the University of Porto. Immanuel Aboab, a 16th-century Jewish scholar, had written that, as a child, he had visited a synagogue in the third house along the street counting from the 14th-century Our Lady of Victory church.

But he didn't specify which side of the street, and archaeological digs had turned up nothing. Then came confirmation of the accuracy of Aboab's text: the house Fr Moreira bought was the third house down on the street the Jewish scholar had described.

Historians had been thrown off by the fact that Aboab never described the synagogue as clandestine. His childhood experiences took place five decades after the forced conversion - at a time when secret Jewish worshippers would be tortured and burnt at the stake if caught - so there was no chance a synagogue could function in the open.

"Everyone assumed Aboab had got his dates mixed up," said Professor Mea. "But it had been preying on my mind and, as soon as I saw the ark, all the pieces fell into place.”