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Its Jewish Roots and Tragedy

SEVILLE (Sp. Sevilla) is the leading city of Andalusia, in S.W. Spain.  The Jewish Virtual Library gives a detailed history from which the following is taken.

According to a tradition the first Jews arrived there at the time of the destruction of the First Temple. A detailed history can be found in the Jewish Virtual Library.

In 1378 the archdeacon of Ecija, Ferrant Martínez, began anti-Jewish agitation in Seville. He called for the destruction of the 23 beautiful synagogues of the Jews and the closure of their quarter so that they would not come into contact with the Christians. The Jews of the town complained about the hatred which he fomented and the prohibitions which he issued against the residence of Jews in the archbishopric of Seville. In 1382 John I ordered Martínez to cease his activities, but he pursued his campaign. The leaders of the community still complained to the crown about Martínez in 1388, while he claimed that he was acting with the approval of the archbishop of Seville to separate the Jews from the Christians. In 1390 Henry III ordered the archbishop of Seville to act against Martínez with firmness and restore to the Jews the synagogues which had been confiscated; the head of the Church of Seville was to bear the responsibility if the order was not carried out. Activities such as these were frequent occurrences in Spain as in other countries, when young and fanatical clergymen acted arbitrarily and upon their own initiative against the Jews, and presenting the government and Church with their violence as a fait accompli.

Persecutions of 1391

On June 4, 1391, the anti-Jewish disorders which were later to sweep all the towns of the Crowns of Castile and Aragon broke out in Seville. The rioters in Seville, including soldiers and sailors who went by boat from one place to another inciting the population, teaching others from their experience. The community was almost totally destroyed: some of its members died as martyrs, a minority escaped; others converted and left the Jewish fold. The synagogues were turned into churches and the churches acquired substantial real estate in the form of land, charitable trusts, shops, workshops, and houses which had formerly belonged to Jews and the community. Henry III granted houses to his chief mayordomo, Juan Hurtado de Mendoza, and the chief justice, Diego López de Estúñiga, which had been the property of the community, and the synagogues to the city of Seville.

(Note:  The problem at this date and later were caused by two anti-Jewish rabble rousing clerics,  the Archdeacon of Ecija, Ferrant Martinez who in the summer of 1391 the first wave of mass baptisms and Vincent Ferrer, later canonized, who led the second wave of Jewish baptisms occurred between 1412 and 1415 who used his influence to ensure the passage of anti-Jewish laws, aimed at encouraging conversions to Christianity.  Ferrer warned against the use of violence toward the Jews and urged that the Jews be converted through persuasion.  But the enthusiastic crowds that followed him through Castile and Catalonia were not so disciplined,and an atmosphere of pressure and coercion pervaded this campaign.  At this time, some synagogues were forcibly converted into churches.  It should be noted that the conversos received little or no catechesis before or after their baptism.

The Jewish quarter was ransacked.  Some 4,000 Jews were beaten to death in Seville, many were sold into Arab slavery and some submitted to baptism.  Within two weeks, the Jewish communities in the rest of Andalusia were attacked.  The riots spread to Cordoba, where about 2,000 Jews were killed, and then to Toledo.  In all about 70 Jewish communities in Castile were devastated.  The riots then spread to Aragon and to Majorca, but not to Navarre or to Portugal.  Tens of thousands of Jews are said to have received baptism at this time.)

Decline of the Community

The remaining Jews of Seville were unable to recover from the persecutions of 1391 and their rehabilitation was extremely slow. In 1437 a number of Jews appealed to John II to regularize the matter of their residence in their quarters. In the Santa Cruz quarter the 75 houses in which Jews lived and worked were rented. In another quarter, near the Santa María la Blanca church (a former synagogue), there were 56 houses. A letter from Pope Nicholas V to the bishop-administrator of Seville records an exceptional action by the Jews of Seville in 1449 when a plague broke out there. After the example of the Christians, who organized a religious procession in the town, the Jews of Seville organized a procession during which they took out the Torah scrolls, scattered branches, and decorated the streets, thus imitating the custom and ritual of the Christians in their processions, as if to insinuate that God had not accepted the plea of the Christians.

Despite several expressions of sympathy on the part of Christian inhabitants, the situation of the community appears to have been serious. In 1474 the community paid an annual tax of only 2,500 maravedis, and this sum was reduced to 2,000 maravedis in 1482. On Dec. 8, 1476, the Jews were ordered to leave their quarter and move to two places; one of them was the Corral de Ferez, the other, the Alcázar Viejo. They were to cover the expenses of repairs to their new places of residence.

On Jan. 1, 1483, the crown acceded to the demand of the *Inquisition and an expulsion order was issued against all the Jews of Andalusia. A period of 30 days was given to the Jews to leave. The actual decree of expulsion is not extant but much information is available on the procedure of its execution. When the general decree of expulsion of the Jews from Spain was issued in March 1492, Seville was a port of embarkation for the exiles, most of whom left for North Africa.

Conversos in Seville

Little information is available on the history of the *Conversos in Seville during the first half of the 15th century. Until the expulsion and after it the Conversos in Seville were known for their adherence to Judaism and their loyalty to Jewish law. They maintained extremely close relations with their Jewish brothers, and anyone of whom it was said that he was a Converso of Seville, or that he had stayed there, was considered a Jew in every respect. After the attacks on the Conversos in Córdoba in 1473, many of them fled to Seville. The Conversos in Seville also gradually became aware of the danger which threatened them and large numbers left for North Africa and other places. Others organized guards in their quarter to protect their lives and even hired 300 equestrian knights and 5,000 infantrymen. When acts of hostility broke out against them they were unable to defend themselves, and with the Conversos of Córdoba they tried to establish themselves in Gibraltar. During that period R. Judah ibn Verga conducted a campaign among them calling on them to return to Judaism and to leave the kingdom before it was too late.

When Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella visited Seville in 1477, the head of the San Pablo Dominican monastery in the city, Alonso de Hojeda, and others pointed out to the monarchs the religious situation in their city and requested the establishment of an Inquisition. The monarchs accepted their demand, and from there addressed themselves to Sixtus IV. In 1480, two years after the authorization was granted, Miguel de Murillo and Juan de San Martín were appointed inquisitors, but it was only on Jan. 1, 1481 that they began their merciless activities. As a first measure they ordered all the noblemen of the surroundings (among them some of the kingdom's highest ranking personalities such as Rodrigo Ponce de Leon) to deliver all fugitive Conversos to them. Documents of the Inquisition tribunal of Seville are not extant, but various state documents and chronicles of those days are filled with descriptions of the activities of the inquisitors and their proceedings against the Conversos. Large numbers of both wealthy and poor folk were arrested, imprisoned, tried, and burned at the stake. Among those tried were members of the Ibn Shoshan, Adoba, and Abulafia families. At first the Conversos sought to defend themselves and began to hoard weapons. A popular tradition relates that the daughter of Diego de Shoshan revealed the project to her Christian lover, who alerted the Inquisition, which struck a hard blow at the Conversos involved in this scheme. In August 1481, when a plague broke out in the city, many Conversos were authorized to leave it after they had deposited their money as a surety, but a large number of them did not redeem their surety and fled (among them the Hebrew printer Juan de Lucena) to North Africa, Portugal, and Italy. The Inquisition also followed the Conversos to the surrounding villages; wherever it arrived, numerous Conversos died as martyrs.

According to a cautious estimate, over 700 men and women were burned at the stake in Seville between 1481 and 1488, while over 5,000 were returned within the fold of the Church. At the end of 1484 a convention of the inquisitors of the kingdom was held in Seville in the presence of Torquemada. It defined the procedure of the Inquisition and was thus the first conference for the study and improvement of working methods of the Inquisition. In Seville, the Conversos and travelers who arrived in the harbor were spied upon and the Inquisition searched every ship which entered or left. This situation continued until the abolition of the Inquisition during the 19th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Jewish settlement in Seville began again. Most of the Jewish settlers came from North Africa. In addition to these families, there were also refugees from Germany who arrived there during the early 1930s. The several dozen Jews in Seville were joined in the 1960s by Jewish arrivals from Morocco and Algeria.


Judaism and Conspiracy Theories

Seville - Jewish Virtual Library

A History of the Jewish People (H.H Ben-Sasson)

Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary Massacres of Jews in Spain

A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe (Ben G Frank 2001)

The Marranos A History in Need of Healing by Peter Hocken

The unraveling: Seville, The Jews of Castile, and the Road to the Riots of 1391 Weisenberg, Nathaniel (Georgetown University)