4000 years of Jewish History

Why has Christendom
attacked the Jews?

Muslims and Jews in History

Expulsion of the Jews From
Arab Countries

The Treatment
of Jews
in Arab/Islamic Countries



Lost Tribes

What Happened to the Muslims After 1492?






















Cape Verde



Sao Tome




Latin America








Spain, the Jews
the Spanish Inquisition and After

Click to go to
The Pogroms of 1391
The Inquisition Appears
Expulsion of the Jews, 1492
How Many Jews Were Expelled?
The Effect of Expulsion
Decline of the Inquisition
The 19th Century On
The  Obsession With Purity
Where does the term ‘Sephardim’ Come From?
Jewish Roots of Flamenco

GLOSSARY (from mlopesazevedo)                                                                   TOP

New Christian
A Jew turned Christian (Catholic), whether voluntarily or forcibly, not necessarily a Marrano. Following the forced baptism of 1497 in Portugal, all Jews became known as New Christians, in contrast to Old Christians. Curiously, New Christians could never become Old Christians. The only way to become an Old Christian was to purchase a concocted family tree, which was a common practice. In some exceptional cases the king could proclaim New Christians Old Christians. New Christians were the primary target of the Iberian Inquisitions. After the introduction of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536 New Christians were prohibited from entering certain professions and occupations such as medical doctor, boticary, military service, civil service, ship’s captain, Catholic religious orders, and many others.

Converso-The same as New Christian. The term is often used to describe former Jews in Spain. Sometimes it is erroneously used as a synonym for Marrano.

Marrano - A secret Jew or descendant thereof. Outwardly a practising New Christian Catholic, inwardly a secret Jew, often adhering to the essential tenets of Judaism such as dietary laws, funeral rituals, observance of high holidays, keeping the Sabbath, and fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. Understandably, circumcision was discontinued. The origin of the word is shrouded in mystery, although there is agreement that it was initially used in the pejorative sense of referring to swine. Today, due to the exigencies of political correctness its use is frowned upon. However, giants in the field such as Cecil Roth (History of the Marranos), Yosef Yerushalmi (From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto),  Yirmiyahu Yovel (Spinoza and Other Heretics, the Marrano of Reason) and Nathan  Wachtel (La Foi du Souvenir-Labyrinthes Marranes), all use the term. It is also widely used in Portugal by lay persons and academics alike without any pejorative connotation.

The late professor Yerushalmi describes a Marrano as a potential Jew although professors Yovel  and Wachtel distinguish Marranism as a separate “religiosity”, a set of common practices, although varied, by a people with a shared experience without a clearly defined theological doctrine. Marranism is characterized by secretiveness, ambiguity and fusion of Judaism and Christianity. For example, Marranos, even in the diaspora may venerate a “saint” or venerate a certain statue of “Our Lady” which to them represents Esther.

Amongst the intellectuals, Marranism may be defined by scepticism of both religions. Spinoza, born in Amsterdam of Marranos parents, (maternal line from Porto and Ponte de Lima in northern Portugal, paternal line from Vidigueira near Evora), is perhaps the best example. Although he was expelled from the Esnoga in Amsterdam at a young age, he did not become a Christian. Uriel Acosta, born on Rua de Sao Miguel in Porto of New Christian parents (Jews who had fled Spain in 1492),  became a New Jew in Amsterdam but when he was expelled for the first time from the Esnoga he also did not revert to Christianity.  Uriel was the first Marrano Jew to deny the individual immortality of the soul. Spinoza was the first to reject the divine origin of the bible and advocate separation of the state and religion.

Wachtel and Yovel attribute the rise of tolerance, freedom of thought, and the opening of the western mind to such descendants of Marranos as Michel Montaigne and Baruch Spinosa.  Spinosa was only eight years old when Uriel shot himself in the head after being lashed 39 times in the Esnoga of Amsterdam.  Uriel's books were burned and banned both by the Portuguese New Jews of Amsterdam and the civil authorities. Fortunately, due to the efforts of H.P. Solomon, a copy was discovered in the Royal Danish Library in 1989 which has now been published and translated into English. Acosta is often referred to as the world's first secular Jew.

Crypto-Jew-Same as a Marrano, a term favoured in the USA.

New Jew-A Marrano who has returned to normative Judaism such as Portuguese/Spanish communities in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Harlem, Bordeaux, Hamburg, Livorno, Venice, Ferrara, Pisa, Ancona, Salonica, Constantinople, and later London, Manchester, New York, Charleston, Philadelphia, Savannah, Newport, Montreal, Recife, Curacao, Jamaica, and Suriname. The first six Jewish congregations in the USA and the first in Canada, England and Holland were formed by descendants of Marranos.

More recently, Marranos from Lisbon (Ohel Jacob synagogue) and Porto (Kadoorie/ Mekor Haim) attended Jewish rabbinical courts in London and Jerusalem to formally return to normative Judaism. Belmonte is perhaps the best know example of New Jews. However, both in Belmonte and Porto there are pockets of Marranos still operating clandestinely. In Porto a secret group of women still hold Sabbath services and observe the high holidays. It is a fallacy to assume that all Marranos want to return to normative Judaism. Some do, some do not. Some return via Orthodoxy, others not. As professor Wachtel notes, Marranism varies not only in practice but with individuals, place and epoch.

Morisco  With the capture of Moslem Granada in 1492 Spain officially became a Christian nation with no religious minorities.  Morisco was the name given to any Muslim remaining in Spain.

See also The Obsession With Purity

VISIGOTHS                                                                                                    TOP

The forced conversion of Jews to Christianity in Spain goes back a long time.  For example in the sixth century after the Visigoths adopted Christianity they forcibly converted 90,000 Jews.  How many remained Christian, how many returned to Judaism and how many professed both religions is unknown.

THE POGROMS OF 1391                                                                                TOP

Riots broke out in Seville were instigated by a priest called Ferrand Martinez, who began an anti-Jewish campaign in 1378. In public sermons, filled with hatred of the Jews, he called on all good Christians to destroy the 23 beautiful synagogues of the Jewish community of Seville, lock Jews up in a ghetto, have no dealings with them, and force them to accept Christianity. He preached that it was no crime for Christians to murder and pillage the "unbelievers." He concentrated, especially, on the peasants and lower classes of Andalusia, urging them not to give peace to their Jewish neighbors.

In 1390, after the death of the archbishop, he became the chief deacon and church administrator of the region and continued his Jew-baiting with greater vigor when a blood-thirsty mob fell on the Jewish quarter of Seville killing all Jews falling into their hands and refusing baptism.  Many women and children were sold into slavery.  He was made a saint (see Jewish Encyclopedia)

Some, educated in talmudic yeshivot put their talents to the service of the Church, one Paulus de Santa Maria (formerly Solomon Halevi, 1352-1435) was almost elected Pope in Avignon and became Primate of the Spanish Church.   He acted as Ferrers evil genius and urged him to greater ferocity to convert or exterminate the Jews.

A feeling of how the Jews reacted is given by Chaim Potok in 'Wanderings'

They would use their weapons to hold off the mobs.  But when it was clear that defeat was near, they would accept it as a sign from God that their deaths had been decreed. There might be a pause in the battle. The men would gather for a final decision.  To let themselves and their families be taken alive by such mobs was unthinkable.  Jewish law developed a benediction for the act of martyrdom.  Fathers would cut the throats of their wives and children and say aloud "Hear O Israel the Lord is God, the Lord is One" and commit suicide.

They died without doubting the unfathomable judgement of heaven. They felt themselves linked to the patriarch Abraham and his act of faith when he nearly sacrificed Isaac......They saw themselves continuing in the tradition of the Pietists who died fighting the Hellenists.  It was a charged, passionate choice made with the certainty that the world to come was a living reality and its rewards awaited them when they fulfilled their ultimate duty as Jews.

Accounts make it clear...that Jews were fully aware of their actions; they were testifying to the truth and continuing reality of the original covenant and to the cruelty and emptiness of the Christianity that had forced them to such a choice.  Martyrdom was an aggressive act of denial, a publicly performed act sanctifying the name of God.  During the heat of battle and before the act of suicide, Jews would shout words of derision about Jesus.  Some let themselves be taken alive, agreed to baptism and then spat on the crucifix, knowing they might be torn to pieces by the infuriated crowd.

Violence spread to other towns in Andalusia, the southern province of Castille, and then swept northward to Burgos. Within three months most of the flourishing Jewish communities in all the Christian States of Spain - Castille, Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia, as well as the Balearic Islands-were destroyed.

After the wave of conversions in 1391, three loose groups emerged: Jews who held fast to their faith and religious practice; Jews who converted to Christianity and were absorbed by Christian society; and those who existed outwardly as Christians but practiced Judaism in secret.

Many were affected.  Numbers are disputed with up to 100,000 Jews dead, 100,000 lleaving and 100,000 converting to Christianity. By 1415 it is claimed a further 50,000 converted to Christianity.  Those converting but became secret Jews were indistinguishable from those who were not.  Jews who considered their brethren to be forced converts referred to them as anussim (literally "forced ones"). The term marrano literally ‘swine’ became a term of opprobrium applied to secret Jews

THE INQUISITION APPEARS                                                                        TOP

The Inquisition was Instituted by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) in Rome and expanded by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 to combat the heresy of the Abilgenses, a French religious sect. By 1255 it was in Central and Western Europe; although never in England or Scandinavia.

In the 1440s, Spanish authorities realized some conversos were returning to their Jewish heritage.  To solve this problem, the Inquisition was authorized to find and deal with these backsliding Christians.

During the Spanish re conquest of Spain from the Muslim’s, Spanish royalty offered inducements for Jews to remain in Spain.  By the end of the fifteenth century many had risen to positions of power which annoyed the 'old' or 'true'  Christians' who saw them taking plum jobs. 

EXPULSION OF THE JEWS, 1492                                                                  TOP

In 1469, Isabel, the sister of King Henry IV of Castile, married Ferdinand, the son of John II of Aragon.  By 1479 they ruled Castile and Aragon together and strengthened the Spanish church by using the Inquisition to find those practicing Judaism..  On March 31, 1492 the Edict of Expulsion was issued when the Inquisition did not achieve its aims and the Spanish Jews given four months to sell their property and leave the country.  The reason given was that all prior attempts to stop Christians from returning to their Jewish roots had failed.  Expulsion was the only way to guarantee Jews would not influence Spanish Christians.

Even though the root causes of expulsions between countries differed, the end result was the same.  The rulers profited in the short run as debts were cancelled and property lost. Jewish merchants, officially or not, soon returned to England and France, where their financial contributions proved invaluable to the economy. In Spain, where the expulsion was for religious reasons, the Jews were not permitted to return.   

Torquemada a pious Dominican monk became confessor to Princess Isabella, the heiress of Castile  She was crowned in 1473 and he became Spain's Inquisitor General a decade later.  In his fifteen years as head of the Spanish Inquisition it grew from a single tribunal in Seville to a network of two dozen 'Holy Offices'" creating panic and terror.

The passage of the Edict of Expulsion was unusual as two of Isabella and Ferdinands most trusted senior advisors were Jewish – Abraham Senior  (1410-1512) and Isaac Abrabanel  (1437-1508).

Abraham Senior  was the Court rabbi of Castile, and royal tax-farmer-in-chief who brought about the marriage of the Infanta (later, Queen) Isabella to Ferdinand of Aragon and later (1473) reconciled Isabella and her brother, Henry IV. of Castile. In token of her gratitude she gave him a life pension of 100,000 maravedis. 

He was very interested in his persecuted coreligionists.. For example, through him the Castilian Jews raised a large sum to ransom Jews taken prisoners at the capture of Malaga.

On hearing of the Edict of Expulsion he went with Isaac Abrabanel to implore the Queen to spare them. After the expulsion he and his son were baptized in Valladolid, the King and Queen and the Primate of Spain acted as sponsors and he assumed the name Ferrad [Fernando] Perez Coronel . Possibly his age (82) accounted for this action.  His son David Senior Coronel was also distinguished

Isaac Abrabanel, a Portuguese Jewish statesman, banker, and scholar, born in Lisbon and educated in rabbinical and Latin learning.  In 1471 he succeeded his father Judah as treasurer to Alfonso V.  On the succession of John II in 1481 he was expelled from the royal court and migrated to Spain and entered the service of Ferdinand and Isabella, as Finance Minister (1484-92) and to whom he lent money to finance the war against Granada.

A repeated story is that as Finance Minister he offered the King and Queen a vast sum if they would not sign the Edict of Expulsion.  Torquemeda, listening behind a door feared they were wavering and burst in holding a crucifix over his head crying “Behold the saviour whom the wicked Judas sold for thirty pieces of silver.  If you approve this deed then sell him for a great sum.”  Frightened the Royal couple signed the order.

Spain was unified with the capture of Granada in 1492. From then, Catholicism would be the only religion allowed so implementing the religious zeal of the Church, the Queen, and the masses. The Jews, with different beliefs, would have to be expelled. The official reason was that the Jews encouraged the Conversos (Jews who had converted to Christianity) to persist in their Jewishness and so would not allow them to become good Christians.

The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews.

(from Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture)


The number expelled is disputed.   For example Martin Gilbert in ‘The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilisation’ estimates that there were 230,000 in Spain.  Of these 50,000 were baptised and remained, 20,000 died en route so 160,000 emigrated.  Max Dimont in ‘Jews, God and History p228’ estimates that 150,000 Jews were in Spain.  Of these 50,000 were baptised and remained, 10,000 died en route so 90,000 emigrated.  What is important is that this saw the creation of a new diaspora in Europe, Turkey, North Africa and (eventually) America.   ‘The Expulsion from Spain as seen by a Jew in Italy’ is quoted by Sharon Keller in ‘The Jews in Literature and Art’ pp106-9 (Kohrmann, 1992).    

It is estimated that in 1500 the population of Spain was 5,000,000 (Spain's Demographic Evolution).  So, according to Gilbert the Jews accounted for 4.6% of the Spanish population, 1% stayed and 3.6% left for other countries.

THE EFFECT OF EXPULSION                                                                          TOP  

Dimont (p228) goes on to say

‘throughout, North Africa, Egypt  and the Ottoman Empire the Jews enjoyed almost complete religious and economic freedom for several centuries.  Though the Turks were looked upon by the Christians as the scourge of Christendom,  Turkish policy towards the Jews for many years approximated that of the former Islamic Empire.’

To gain high office in Spain before about 1650 (?) proof had to be given that your ancestors had been Christians for some generations. (The actual number varied over time and also depended on the office). The assumption was that practicing a religion in secret was almost impossible to keep up for more than 2-3 generations. (This foreshadowed the Nazi requirement for the 'Ariernachweis').

Every Christian over twelve (for girls) and fourteen (for boys) was fully accountable to the Inquisition. Heretics and Conversos were the primary targets, but anyone who spoke against the Inquisition fell under suspicion. To help guard against the spread of heresy, Torquemada promoted the burning of non-Catholic literature—especially Jewish Talmuds and Arabic books after the capture of Granada.  Torquemada travelled with 50 mounted guards and 250 armed men to impress and intimidate. He died in 1498

The guide for informers to help identify a secret Jew included a long list of habits or characteristics such as the following:

*   Put before your neighbour morsels of food such as pork, rabbit and conger eels,. and if he refuses to eat, he is a Jew.

*   Watch with great care everything your neighbour does on Friday. Does he put on fresh linen?  Does he light candles at least an hour before honest men do?  Does his wife clean the house that day?  If you catch him doing those thing, you have a Jew.

As a result people often ate pork and went to church or the cathedral to prove their 'Christian credentials'.

James Michener tells the story of the scholar Tomas de Salamanca.  One day his nine year old son burst into the street shouting "my father whipped me.  He fasts on Yom Kippur."  After investigations lasting seven years sixty three of his close associates were burnt alive.  Among them were seventeen nuns who said Jewish prayers in their convent, thirty monks, seven priests and two bishops.

The psychological climate caused by fear of being taken by the Inquisition explains why conversos led secret lives.  This is vividly brought to life in books and films about this period. This secrecy has still not disappeared.  While in Belmonte (2006) we met someone who had just been made redundant as his employer had discovered he was Jewish.  Following this he was moving to Belmonte to be with other Jews.  He, and others, said a reason for this attitude was the growing influence of the Catholic Opus Dei movement in Portugal.

Auto de fe (or auto da fe, or auto da fé in Portuguese, was the medieval Spanish for "act of faith", a ritual of public penance or humiliation of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition had decided their punishment. Punishments for those convicted ranged from wearing a special identifying penitential tabard or "sanbenito", imprisonment, to being burnt.

It was the secular state that performed executions, usually for a repeated heresy Obdurate prisoners were burned alive, but if reconciled to the church only strangled at the stake before the faggots were lit.  

Autos de fe were celebrated in public squares or esplanades lasting several hours and attended by ecclesiastical and civil authorities. In Lisbon, the Rossio square was the burning place.

The first auto de fe took place in Seville, Spain in 1481 when six people were executed.  The last execution by the Spanish Inquisition was of schoolmaster, Cayetano Ripoll on July 26 1826 after a trial lasting nearly two years accused of being a deist. He died by garotting on the gibbet after repeating the words, "I die reconciled to God and to man."

The Inquisition went on to become a local spectacle viewed as the Romans did with gladiatorial fights and competed with bullfights as an attraction.  According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica the climax was reached on June 30, 1680 on the Plaza Mayor, Toledo in the presence of Charles II and his bride, Marie Louise d'Orléans, in honor of their marriage. Beginning at six o'clock in the morning it lasted 14 hours and 51 persons burned This was the last great solemnity of its kind, as Philip V, the first Bourbon refused, in 1701, to attend one in honor of his accession and led to its cessation.

While the expulsion was a disaster for those affected but it was followed by the creation of a new Jewish Diaspora

Relatives were forced by circumstances to conceal their religion and adopt Christianity. A boat people crisis also occurred. Ferdinand provided ships at the ports of Cartagena, Valencia, and Barcelona; but the Jews often found difficulty in landing, owing to disease breaking out while on board ship. Thus at Fez the Moors refused to receive them, and they were obliged to roam in an open plain, where many died from hunger. The rest returned to Spain and were baptized. Nine crowded vessels arrived at Naples and communicated pestilence. At Genoa they were only allowed to land provided they received baptism. Those reaching the Ottoman Empire were more fortunate, the Sultan Bayezid II was said to have sarcastically sent his gratitude to Ferdinand for sending him some of his best subjects, thus "impoverising his own lands while enriching his (Bayezid's)". These Jews mostly settled in and around Selanik (Thessaloniki in Greek), Istanbul and Izmir.

Jane S.Gerber, an expert on Sephardic history at City University, New York claims some historians grossly underestimate the number of conversions. Recent Y chromosome DNA testing by the University of Leicester and the Pompeu Fabra University has indicated that around 20% of Spanish men have direct patrilineal descent from Sephardic Jews, indicating the number of conversos may have been much higher than originally thought.

In this indirect way the non-conversos, who had been the occasion of the expulsion, became a nemesis to the Spanish kingdom. It is, however, incorrect to suppose, as is usually done, that the immediate results of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain were disastrous either to the commerce or  the power of the Iberian kingdom. So far from this being the case, Spain rose to its greatest height immediately after the expulsion of the Jews, the century succeeding that event culminating in the world-power of Philip II, who in 1580 was ruler of the New World, of the Spanish Netherlands, and of Portugal, as well as of Spain. The intellectual loss was perhaps more direct. A large number of Spanish poets and other Jewish writers and thinkers who traced their origin from the exile were lost to Spain, including men like Spinoza, Uriel da Costa, Samuel da Silva, Menasseh ben Israel, the Disraelis, but not, as is often claimed, the Montefiores, who were of Italian descent although in London they did belong to the Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

DECLINE OF THE INQUISITION                                                                   TOP

In the mid sixteenth century as persecution of Spanish Protestants started, European Protestant intellectuals began to depict the Inquistion as somehow representative of the true, dark and cruel, nature of the Spanish people.  This gave rise to the black legend on which the Dutch and English, political rivals of Spain, also built on the black legend.

Other sources for the black legend of the Inquisition come from Italy. Ferdinand's efforts to export the Spanish Inquisition to Naples provoked many revolts, and even as late as 1547 and 1564 there were anti-Spanish uprisings when it was believed that the Inquisition would be established. In Sicily, where the Inquisition was established, there were also revolts against the activity of the Holy Office, in 1511 and 1516. Many Italian authors of the sixteenth century referred with horror to the actions of the Inquisition.

Juan Antonio Llorente became the general secretary of the Inquisition at Madrid in 1789.  While there he had access to now unavailable records and wrote a series of books.  See The history of the inquisition of Spain, from the time of its establishment to the reign of Ferdinand VI.  The following is from the Preface

Cases in the Spanish Inquisition, 1540–1700

(Excludes the tribunals of Cuenca, Cerdaña, and Palermo)

Judaizers Moriscos Protestants All Others    Total  Total Relaxed

         4,397      10,817       3,646        25,814        44,674     1,604

          9.8%       23.2%        8.1%        57.8%        100.0%     3.5%

Adapted from Jaime Contreras and Gustav Henningsen,
"Forty-four Thousand Cases of the Spanish Inquisition (1540–1700):
Analysis of a Historical Data Bank," in Henningsen and Tedeschi, 116.
Included in the category "All Others"
are propositions and blasphemy (27.1%),
bigamy and solicitation (8.4%),
acts against the Inquisition (7.5%),
superstition (7.9%), and various (6.8%).
The "Total Relaxed" involves only those sentenced to death in person.

The period 1569–1621 also witnessed a series of controversial trials such as the archbishop of Toledo and primate  of Spain, Bartolomé de Carranza (1503–1576)

Death Tolls in the Spanish Inquisition

Death tolls are given by historians such as Will Durant, who, in The Reformation (1957), cites Juan Antonio Llorente, General Secretary of the Inquisition from 1789 to 1801, as estimating that 31,912 people were executed from 1480-1808.

The Inquisition was not merely an expression of religious authority nor was it solely an instrument of social and political was an arena where social and political cultures met and clashed on both shores of the Atlantic..... Persecuted groups whether Christianized Jews in Spain or native folk healers in the New World, were able to survive the Inquisition by strategies as diverse as preserving their experiences through literature and answering the need for medical care (From frontispiece Cultural encounters: the impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World)

THE 19th CENTURY ON                                                                                   TOP

A few Jews returned to Spain in the 19th century, and synagogues were opened in Madrid. The Jews of Morocco, where the initial welcome turned to oppression welcomed the Spanish troops conquering Spanish Morocco as liberators. Spanish historians started to take an interest in the Sephardim and their language.

The government of Miguel Primo de Rivera, 1923-1930, returned Spanish citizenship to Sephardim.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the synagogues were closed and post-war worship remained in private homes. Jews could be investigated by anti-Semitic police officers.

While there was rhetoric against the "Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy by neutral Spain 25,600 Jews used Spain to escape the Germans as long as they "passed through leaving no trace". Spanish diplomats such as Ángel Sanz Briz and Giorgio Perlasca protected some 4,000 Jews and accepted 2,750 Jewish refugees from Hungary.

In 1986 after many years of negotiation, the PSOE relations were established with Israel in 1986, denying the reason was connected with the European Economic Community.  Spain now serves as a bridge between Israel and the Arabs as seen in the Madrid Conference of 1991.

The Jewish Spanish community is now mainly from Northern Africa, especially the former Spanish colonies and Argentinia.

There are over 50,000 Spanish Jews with the largest communities in Barcelona and Madrid each with around 3,500 members.  Smaller communities include Alicante, Málaga, Tenerife, Granada, Valencia,Benidorm, Cadiz, Murcia.  

Sefarad 92 marked the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The principal event was President Chaim Herzog of Israel and Spain's King, Juan Carlos, prayinng together in Madrid’s Beth Yaakov synagogue to symbolise their reconciliation.

As YIDDISH is the language associated with Ashkenasim so LADINO is associated with Sephardim.  Its development is described in Judeo-Spanish,

HERESY                                                                                                           TOP

While the term is often used by laymen to indicate any non orthodox belief such as Paganism, by definition heresy can only be committed by someone who considers himself a Christian, but rejects the teachings of the Catholic Church. A person who completely renounces Christianity is not considered a heretic, but an apostate, and a person who renounces the authority of the Church but not its teachings is a schismatic.

In later years, the Church instituted the Inquisition, an official body charged with the suppression of heresy. This began as an extension and more rigorous enforcement of pre-existing episcopal powers (possessed, but little used, by bishops in the early Middle Ages) to inquire about and suppress heresy, but later became the domain of selected Dominican monks under the direct power of the Pope.

The Inquisition was active in several nations of Europe, particularly where it had fervent support from the civil authority. The Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) was part of the Catholic Church's efforts to crush the Cathars. It is linked to the movement now known as the Medieval Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was particularly brutal in its methods, which included the burning at the stake of many heretics. However, it was initiated and substantially controlled by King Ferdinand of Spain rather than the Church; King Ferdinand used political leverage to obtain the Church's tacit approval. Another example of a medieval heretic movement is the Hussite movement in the Czech lands in the early 1400s

It is widely reported that the last person to be burned alive at the stake on orders from Rome was Giordano Bruno, executed in 1600 for a collection of heretical beliefs including Copernicanism and (probably more important) an unlimited universe with innumerable inhabited worlds. The last case of an execution at an auto de fe by the Spanish Inquisition was the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll, accused of deism and executed by garroting July 26, 1826 in Valencia after a two-year trial.

The development of the printing press greatly hampered the ability of the church to suppress dissidents, with the result that Martin Luther was able to successfully fight the Papacy and forge the Protestant Reformation  From

The charge of heresy was also used politically   (see also History Channel  videos  Part 1  Part 2) .  For  example it was used  to  destroy the Knights Templar.  They were a religious military order of knighthood established at the time of the Crusades that became a model and inspiration for other military orders and fabulously wealthy.  Originally founded to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, the order assumed greater military duties during the 12th century. Its prominence and growing wealth, however, provoked opposition from rival orders. Falsely accused of blasphemy and blamed for Crusader failures in the Holy Land, the order was destroyed by King Philip IV of France  who accused the Knights Templar of multiple acts of heresy which, following torture , was admitted to by the last Grand Master. In 1312, Pope Clement V dissolved the Knights Templar officially and the Grand Master was burned at the stake in 1314 despite having recanted his confessions.  

On July 21, 1542, Pope Paul III, with the Constitution Licet ab initio, established the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, staffed by cardinals and other officials whose task it was "to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false doctrines". It served as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy and served as an important part of the Counter-Reformation.

In 1908 this body was renamed the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office by Pope Saint Pius X.

On December 7, 1965, at the end of the Second Vatican Council the Congregation's name was changed to Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In 1983, with the new code of Canon law, "Sacred" was dropped from the names of Vatican Congregations, and so the dicastery adopted its current name Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The last head under the old name was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who in 1965 became the 265th Pope  as Benedict XVI

THE OBSESSION WITH PURITY                                                                   TOP 

On 2 January 1492, the Catholic Kings entered Grenada with great pomp and ceremony. The fall of this last bastion of Muslim power in the peninsula strengthened the drive for complete religious homogeneity. But a big obstacle had to be surmounted: the presence of thousands of converts who secretly remained loyal to Judaism. Their presence was considered scandalous: it proved that the segregation of Jews and restrictions of their rights was not enough. From then on, purity of faith became a Spanish obsession: New Christians had to be cleansed of any Jewish influence.

It was also in Grenada that the expulsion edict was signed. The monumental exodus took place and Jews were replaced by New Christians who remained in Spain. They became the new victims of the purity obsession. The derogatorily called Marranos and their descendants were forbidden to occupy public office, to belong to corporations, colleges, orders, and even to reside in certain towns.

Public positions were restricted exclusively to Christians "of impeccable descent," namely those who were not suspected of Jewish ancestry. This change of the focus of the obsession meant a relocation of hatred. Since no more Jews existed, Judeophobia sought a different victim to satisfy its virulent blood-thirst. The New Christians fit the bill. As time went by, more stringent efforts were made to exhume every trace of impure ancestors that had previously been overlooked.

Until 1860 "purity of blood" was a prerequisite to being accepted into the Military Academy. The most prestigious of Spanish colleges, San Bartolome of Salamanca, boasted that they rejected any candidate against whom the slightest rumor existed of Jewish ancestry. Since no one could be sure of his "blood purity since time immemorial," the blemish was negotiable through bribed witnesses, shuffled genealogies, and falsified documents. Until this very day a special aura is often attributed to this supposed "unity of faith" of classic Spain.

It is noteworthy that the obsession with purity of blood may have a deep relationship with the frequency with which blood libels were fabricated in Spain, where the canard, as aforementioned, was included in law. As opposed to other Western countries, there are still Spanish priests who openly revere in their churches the false memory of a martyr boy ritually murdered by blood-drinking Jews. In the St. Nicholas Church in Sevilla there is an altar devoted to Dominguito del Val, "murdered by Jews in 1250." Bishop Carlos Amigo Vallejo, who spreads this libel, is one of the patrons of a public foundation that supposedly promotes "friendship between the three Mediterranean cultures" (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.)

The fearful, mistrusting, and hate-filled atmosphere created by the libels generated collective hysteria. Not surprisingly, the 1492 expulsion took place the year after the blood libel of La Guardia, which immediately gave birth to the cult venerating the memory of the "holy martyr boy."

Generation after generation, details were added to the story, which assumed epic proportions. Each century produced a literary masterpiece that reiterated the topic. In 1583 Fray Rodrigo de Yepes wrote the Story of the Death and Glorious Martyrdom of the Innocent Saint called de La Guardia (after almost a century of Jew-free Spain) and the plot of this work was the basis for Lope de Vega's The Innocent Child of La Guardia. During the eighteenth century, Jose de Canizares adapted it in The Very Image of Christ, as did Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1830-1870) in his story The Rose of Passion. In 1943 Manuel Romero de Castilla again published the libel under the title A Unique Event during the Kingdom of the Catholic Monarchs.

Of the two blood libels which are still celebrated worldwide, one is in Spain,18 commemorating the time in 1415 when the synagogue of Segovia was confiscated and its leaders executed after an earthquake was interpreted as a divine punishment for Jewish blood rituals.

Infant John of Aragon took part in some of the accusations. In 1367 in Barcelona, several Jewish sages (Hasdai Crescas, Nissim Gerondi, and Isaac Ben Sheshet) were among those arrested when the whole community (including children) was locked up in the synagogue for three days without food. Since they steadfastly refused to confess to a blood crime, the king ordered that they should be freed and three Jews were executed. Ten years later there were similar cases in Teruel and Huesca.

Thus the end of the glorious Jewish community of Spain was not only tragic in the suffering involved and exceptional in its enormous dimensions, it also left behind a collective memory of the demonic image of the Jews, and a fear of blood impurity. Says Rafael Cansinos Assens, one of the most important modern Spanish authors: "With the edict of expulsion of 1490, the Jews disappeared from Spain and from its literature...the Jew is erased from the consciousness of the Spaniard."19

WHERE DOES THE TERM ‘SEPHARDIM’ COME FROM?                                 TOP 

The exiles called themselves Sephardim the plural of Sepharad the Hebrew name for their native Spain  The name Sepharad appears in the prophecy of Obadiah (Obad. 20) as one of the places where the Jews exiled from Jerusalem lived. The biblical allusion is probably to Sardis, a city in Asia Minor. But Jewish tradition, especially since the eighth century C.E., tended to identify Sepharad with the western edge of the known world--the Iberian Peninsula. Thus, during the entire Middle Ages, and especially during the Golden Age of Hispano-Hebraic culture, Spanish Jews called themselves Sephardim, a name they subsequently used (and not without a certain pride in their glorious peninsular past) in the diaspora following their expulsion from Spain.

The term Sephardi is often used in contrast to Ashkenazi, which refers to another major ethnocultural branch of Judaism--the Franco-German-Slavic branch. As in the case of Sepharad, Ashkenaz is also a biblical place name (it appears in Gen. 10:3, Chron. 1:6, and Jer. 51:27), which originally seems to have meant a country in the upper Euphrates valley bordering Armenia, but which medieval rabbinic literature identified with the earliest Jewish settlements in central Europe--first Germany and northern France, then Poland and Lithuania. A cultural tradition grew from this nucleus, one with its own folkways and customs, rich folklore, religious and literary currents, a strong philosophy, and its own liturgy. Linguistically, the Ashkenazi branch of Judaism is characterized by its particular pronunciation of Hebrew in religious texts and by the use of Yiddish--a derivative of High German influenced by Slavic, other European languages, and, naturally, Hebrew--in daily life. Successive migrations have placed the Ashkenazim in other areas, especially North and South America and Israel.

Curiously enough, the opposition Sephardi/Ashkenazi has given rise to a certain confusion that dates from the end of the nineteenth century and has religious, or rather, liturgical origins. The growing Ashkenazi emigration to Palestine created the need for a chief rabbi for the Ashkenazim, parallel to the Sephardic chief rabbinate that had existed for many years. An immediate consequence of the increasing impact of Ashkenazi culture in the area of Palestine that later became Israel was to include under the authority of the Sephardic rabbinate all matters that were not Ashkenazi, even those that had no connection to the Jews of Spanish origin. And so Sephardim became the name not only of the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in the fifteenth century but also of all those who came from Arab and Eastern countries, be they the Jews of Conchin (India), the Yemenites, or the black Jews from Ethiopia.

JEWISH ROOTS OF FLAMENCO                                                                    TOP

From Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog  If you've ever listened to the haunting strains of flamenco and heard what you believe are Jewish connections, you aren't wrong.

According to this article, flamenco has deep Jewish roots in addition to Indian, Greek, Roman and Persian influences.

The article begins with the art form's Indian roots, brought by Gypsies who traveled from northwest India to Pakistan and Persia into 14th-15th-century Europe and into Andalucia in southern Spain. Some historians say the music's debut might have been as early as 711 CE, brought by Arab armies coming from North Africa.

Andalucian music is an amalgam of Arabic music with Hindu, Greek, Hebrew, Persian influences with local folk music and dances dating back to Phoenician and Roman times.

Following the Spanish recapture of Granada - and the conversion and expulsion of its Muslims and Jews - flamenco "became a voice of protest of dissenting Christians, outlaws, Muslims, Jews and other social outcasts who did not fit into the new political order. Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave Spain and Gypsies were forced to settle down and put an end to their nomadic lifestyle."

Further, after the 1492 Expulsion, a Jewish voice "resurfaced" in flamenco.

The plaintive wailing of religious prayer, now forbidden, became the secular "aaiiee" of the conversos (Jews forced to convert to Christianity), with the notable exception of the Saeta. The Saeta sung today during Holy Week dates back centuries and is generally agreed to have Jewish origins. One can imagine the conversos singing in a very traditional manner for them but changing the words to provide their new faith and Christian devotion: singing, no doubt, with extra verve and passion to dispel any doubts of their sincerity. There are also strong similarities between certain synagogal chants and some early forms of cante flamenco.

One section concerns the Peteneras form of flamenco, which is likely linked to Sephardim who settled in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries.

The Peteneras, writes the author, was passed down through the generations since the 1492 exile. Another hint as to Peteneras' Jewish origins is that even today, many Gypsies refuse to sing or dance Peteneras and consider it unlucky. The music's status as unlucky may be rooted to the long history of persecution of the Sephardim.  (see also Jewish Music, Jewish Memory)

TODAY                                                                                                           TOP

From King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, the current King and Queen of Spain
( From Epilogue to  The MEZZUZAH in the Madonna's Foot, Harper Collins 1994 )    

Although I began my quest without a clear agenda beyond exploring my past, each trip to Spain, and each new experience   with the people I met there, convinced me that a real change in the relationship between the Spanish and Jewish peoples was possible.  To-day, with only a minuscule Jewish population in their midst, most Spaniards still carry distorted stereotypical images of the Jew.  Thetime to heal old wounds, to sweep away obsolete myths to clear  the way for a genuine rapprochement between our two peoples is long overdue.

Even before I began my journey, I suspected that the reigning monarchs of Spain were favorably disposed towards Jews.  This impression was confirmed in 1987 when King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were invited to a special ceremony at 'Iemple Tiberth Israel in Los Angeles. His Majesty's appreciation of the role of Jews in the historic fabric of Spain and his hope for a reconciliation between the Spanish and Jewish peoples was clearly spelled out in the fol­lowing excerpts from his address to the Sephardic community.

"How can we not, on this momentous occasion, recall the role played by the Jewish community throughout centuries of Spanish history? Its contribution to letters, science, and the arts during the Middle Ages, and the beauty of the synagogues, such as that of the Trânsito or Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo, constitute a legacy in which we all acknowledge the rich variety of the Jewish culture and traditions.

The search for an identity and respect for the traditions that chiaracterize the Jewish people have been forged in the setting of countless adverse and difficult circumstances: unjust and unnec­essary expulsions, persecution and intolerance, culminating, more recently, in the tragedy of the Holocaust. From all this adversity, the Jewish people were able to draw teachings with a view to consolidating their faith and their traditions, in an exemplary struggle for their survival.

Today's Spain is proud of its close kinship with the (Jewish) community, which has contributed in a very special way to the prosperity of this great country.

I should like to convey to this community the greeting of a Spain in which in full conscience assumes responsibility for the negative as well as the positive aspects of its historic past. This is also a unique  opportunity to emphasize the will for peace and friendship that  ainimates the Spanish people, who see this community as part of its ts own history"

In 1992 Spain commemorates Sefarad'92, an event which has very special connotations for the Spanish as well as the Jewish people, whose ancestors had to leave Spain in 1492, a land they loved and where their culture blossomed for so many centuries. This anniversary is a good occasion to consider the negative impact of intolerance and prejudice, prevailing in Europe during that time, and above all it is an occasion to pay tribute to the golden age of Spanish Jewry.

The poetry of Yehuda Halevy, the scientific and philosophic inno­vations of Maimonides, and the profound contribution to astronomy by Abraham Zacuto, just to cite a few names, are inscribed with golden letters in the books of literature, philosophy, and science. We should also remember the example of tolerance and peaceful coexistence given by Jewish, Christian, and Islamic communities in Toledo, which made that city one of the most extraordinary centers of culture during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

This book also contributes to our common history with a very im­portant and not very well known chapter. By means of personal ac­counts we are told how the lives of many Jews were preserved during the Second World War, when thousands of foreign Jews were sheltered in Spain or granted asylum in Spanish embassies throughout the world. Although these episodes could be considered a historical paradox, con­sidering the situation in Spain at that time, they are in fact not so sur­prising, because they originate in a profound historical connection.

The Expulsion of the Jews in 1492 did not sever the link between Spain and the Jewish world. Jewish culture was kept alive in Spain thanks to Crypto-Jewish families, and outside the boundaries of the peninsula, first in the Mediterranean basin and the Near East, and later in the Spanish territories of North and South America. While Spain was taking its language and culture to the New World, the dis­persed Sephardim disseminated their culture to the far corners of the globe, a legacy for which the Spanish people should be thankful and proud.

I still remember, with great emotion, the warm welcome that Queen Sofia and I received in 1987 at the Sephardic Temple in Los Angeles, which marked the official reencounter between the Spanish crown and some of our most beloved brothers and sisters. Since then, the Span­ish and Jewish peoples have rediscovered the best side of our common past; my son, the Prince of Astúrias, had the pleasure of awarding the Humanities Prize, which bears his own name, to the Sephardic Com­munity.

Finally, I want to give my warmest thanks to Trudi Alexy for her de­cisive contribution to a better understanding of our two communities, by writing a book that will certainly constitute a discovery in the year commemorating the discovery of the New World.

Signed: His Royal Highness, King Juan Carlos I

On October 7, 1991, King Juan Carlos was awarded the Elic Wiesel Foundation Humanitarian Award. What follows is an ex­cerpt from the address by Elie Wiesel during the award dinner.

As a Jew, I am committed to the memory of our history, the his­tory of Israel and therefore to its right to live and fulfill its destiny in security and peace.

As a good Jew, I believe in the obligation to remember. We re­member the good and the bad, the friends and the foes. We remem­ber that during the darkest era of our recent history, Spain gave shelter to countless Jews who illegally entered its territory. And I remember that five hundred years ago, clinging to their faith, Jews were forced by your ancestors to leave Spain. Could they have imagined that their descendants would meet five centuries later in an atmosphere of tol­erance, understanding, and friendship? History does have imagina­tion as well as memory.

In 1950, when I visited your still-tormented country as a young cor­respondent for an Israeli paper, I had an eerie feeling that I had been there before. Many places seemed familiar. I thought I "remembered" events, names, experiences..

When I came to Toledo I thought I could hear—some 850 years after his death—Yehuda Halevy's powerful poem of nostalgic love for Jerusalem: "Libi ba-mizra'h ve'anokhi besof maarav": My heart, said he, is there in the East, but I am here, at the other end of the West......Barcelona evoked for me the great thinker Nahmanides. It was in that cathedral that he defeated Paolo Christiani during their famous disputation. Granada? I knew the city from Shmuel Hanagid's war poems.   Abraham Ibn Ezra was born in Córdoba.
... I have al­ways been particularly fond of him. He was a fatalist, who believed he was meant to be poor, always. In one of his songs he wrote: "If I were to sell candles, the sun would never set; if I dealt in funeral shrouds, no one would ever die . . . As long as I lived."  

Oh, yes, Your Majesty, I think of Spain and I see the noble figures of Menahem ibn Saruk and Joseph ibn Abitur, of Shlomo ibn Gabirol and Maimonides. How poor Jewish philosophy and poetry, and phi­losophy and poetry in general, would be without their legacy.

The history of your people, Your Majesty, and mine, have regis­tered many moments of glory.... Three religious communities lived and worked and dreamed together in Spain for many, many decades. . . . But our past also contains moments of despair. When I think of the great luminaries of medieval Spain I cannot help but remember the Inquisition and its flames... the public humiliation of Jews who wanted to remain Jewish ... the Expulsion and its endless procession of uprooted families in search of new havens. ...

Still, while no man is responsible for what his ancestors have done, he is responsible for what he does with that memory.

Your Majesty, what you have done with yours is what moved us to honor you tonight.

We honor your convictions and beliefs, your principles and ideals, we honor your commitment to humanity.

Having witnessed the evil in fascism and dictatorship, you chose to bring democracy to your nation by restoring its taste for religious freedom, political pluralism, and social justice.

Your personal courage in opposing the attempted coup d'etat won you the admiration of free men and women the world over.

We applaud your wisdom in separating religion and state, your compassion ... your sensitivity to and concern with Jewish fears and hopes.. . your emphasis on symbols... . Your decision to visit a syn­agogue next March, on the five-hundredth anniversary of the Expul­sion Decree, offers proof that Spain, represented by Your Majesty, has overcome its past and faces the challenges of the future. That is a no­ble gesture that will remain in our collective Jewish memory forever.

Cultural Organisations

In 2006 a group of students and lecturers decided to create an organisation to promote activities that would deepen knowledge and disseminate Jewish culture throughout Spain.

This followed a 2006 course on Hebrew Thought at the Fundacio Universitat de Lieda coordinated by Professor Mario Javier Saban.

This coincided with the objectives of a group in Barcelona who wanted to create a national organisation to impart Jewish ideas and culture.

There is now the Tarbut (Hebrew for ‘culture) throughout Spain.

For a list of events and locations click here to go to Tarbut Sefarad.


Anti-semitism still exists in Spain.  For a detailed review click  ‘The Report on Anti-Semitism in Spain, 2011.   This was created in 2009 by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain and the Movement against Intolerance who set up the Observatory on Anti-Semitism in Spain with the objective of centralizing, cataloguing and analyzing incidents of an Anti-Semitic nature in Spain, identifying their instigators and encouraging reflection through analysis and publications.  It is also published by the World Jewish Congress.  See also ADL Anti Defamation League - Attitudes Towards Jews in Ten European Countries, March 2012

The Community position in Spain - 2012 - is as follows (from The World Jewish Congress)


The two major centers of Jewish life in Spain are Madrid (4,500) and Barcelona (3,500), followed by Malaga, where a smaller number of Jews live. Other communities are found in Alicante, Cadiz, Marbella, Majorca, Torremolinos, and Valencia, Canary Islands, Oviedo, Seville. In Spanish North Africa, Jews reside in Ceuta and Melilla. The Jewish community of modern Spain is primarily based on waves of post-war migration from Morocco, from the Balkans, from other European countries, and, most recently (in the 1970s and 1980s), from Latin America.


The Federacion de Comunidades Israelitas de Espana, which unites the orthodox Spanish communities from different parts of the country, represents Jewish interests to the government. A sizable proportion of the community is affiliated to the synagogue-focused communal centers in Barcelona and Madrid, which, in turn, are linked to the Federacion. Barcelona also has a Reform and Chabad congregations, Madrid also has Mazorti and Chabad, Valencia also has Mazorti, Majorca and Malaga also have Chabad.

In the absence of laws restricting hate propagation or Holocaust denial, Spain serves as a publishing and distribution center for neo-Nazis and other extreme rightists. Indeed, Spain serves as a refuge for a number of Nazi war criminals and neo-Nazis convicted elsewhere of promoting racial hatred or historical revisionism.

Religious Life

The Latin American immigrants, who come from communities with a strong secular tradition, have formed organizations that bring Jews together for cultural and intellectual events. The Baruch Spinoza Center, and the magazine Raices (Roots) are initiatives of these secular-oriented Jews.

In Barcelona the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities pray in separate synagogues in the same building on high holidays. Apart from the two major centers, synagogues operate in Alicante, , Malaga, Marbella, Melilla (North Africa), Seville, Torremolinos, and Valencia. Kosher food is provided at the Madrid communal center.

Jewish day schools exist in Barcelona, Madrid, and Malaga. Groups such as WIZO and B'nai B'rith are active in Spain.

A 'ZAKHOR' Center of Studies for the protection and transmission of Jewish Heritage was recently created in Barcelona.


Israel and Spain did not establish diplomatic ties until 1986, when Spain recognized the State of Israel. Prior to recognition, the Spanish Jewish community, through cultural friendship associations, provided an unofficial linkage between the two countries. Aliya: Since 1948, 1,412 Spanish Jews have emigrated to Israel.


Toledo features the Museo Sephardi (situated in the El Transito synagogue), the nearby Church of Santa Maria La Blanca (an ancient synagogue), and the former Jewish quarter. The synagogue of Maimonides can be visited in Cordoba. Most of these have long since been used as churches.

Former Jewish areas, the juderias, can be seen in, Avila, Barcelona, Besalu, Caceres, Calahorra, Córdoba, Estella, Gerona, Hervas, Jaén, León, Monforte de Lemos, Montblanc, Oviedo, Palma de Majorca, Plasencia, Rivadavia, Segovia, Tarazona, Tarragona Tortosa and Tudela.


How many people were tortured to death during the Spanish Inquisition?

Wiki History of the Jews in Spain

Encyclopedia Judaeica -  The Inquisition of the Church Against the Jews  1481 -1834

Jews in Spain Summary (Encyclopedia Judaica)

The Sephardim: Jews in Spain from Antiquity to Exile’ , University of Chicago Press | By: Paloma Diaz-Mastrans. George K. Zucker

The history of the inquisition of Spain, from the time of its establishment to the reign of Ferdinand VI  (Google)

Cultural encounters: the impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World
(Google Books)

The Massacres of 1391

The Sephardim: Jews in Spain from Antiquity to Exile

The Spanish Inquisition   (Perez Google Books)

Spanish Inquisition 1450 -1789  (from

Christian Heresy

Naive Spanish Judeophobia

Jews,God and History, 1994

Jewish Centre for Public Affairs

Towns with evidence of Jewish occupation

Jewish Heritage of Spain

Abraham Senior

Abraham Senior and Torquemada

Isaac Abravanel

Don Isaac Abavanel – Statesman and Philosopher   B Netanyhu (1998)


The Inquisition

Christian History Timeline of the Inquisition  (from

Christian History Timeline of the Inquisition

The Art of Subversion in Inquisitorial Spain (Rojas and Delicado) (Google Books)