Free Essay


In: Historical Events

Submitted By Mashman
Words 1878
Pages 8
Conversos in the Inquisition
Spain had an enormous Jewish community in the middle ages and toward the end of the fourteenth century large numbers of them were converted to Catholicism. A “converso” is a person who converted to Catholicism, under either duress or out of social convenience, and was suspected of secretly practicing the Jewish faith. These individuals converted for a variety of reasons. Some of them were forced while some of them went willingly into Catholicism. The term converso was applied not only to the generation that converted but also to their children and their grandchildren and on down through the generations. People often question whether or not the intensions of coversos was correct because of the danger they put themselves and their families in. This proposes the issue of why society creates such violent circumstances in which individuals must lie about private matters, like religion, in order to save their lives.
In 1391 there were terrible riots sweeping across southern Spain. People were offered the choice of converting or being killed. Some 20,000 Jews converted under those circumstances. They had no intention of becoming Catholic. They were not educated in Catholicism and they went on living their Jewish lives as they had previously done.
Twenty years later there were a series of preaching campaigns run by the Dominicans, which converted many tens of thousands of Jews, largely by persuasion. These people were interested in becoming Catholic, of joining the mainstream Catholic society, and they were given open access to jobs and to possibilities that they’d never had before. By the time the Inquisition was founded, a couple of generations later, there were the children and grandchildren of people who had been converted with no intention of becoming Catholics and others who had; who were the grandchildren of people who were trying very hard to put their Jewish past behind them - all of them in extended families with people who were still Jewish. They attended Bar Mitzvahs, they attended circumcisions, they attended Passover holiday processions and these different groups co-mingled in ways that were very complex in Spain. These complications troubled the Spanish governments who favored Christianity and wanted to control the religion of the people they governed.
Founded in 1478 by Queen Isabel II of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, the Spanish Inquisition was created to ensure that Catholicism maintained its status as the dominant religion throughout Spain. It did so by holding a series of trials where the Inquisition would interrogate individuals accused of heresy, typically resulting from accusations that the accused, though claiming to have converted to Catholicism, were actually continuing to practice their original religion of choice. When an individual was accused they were given a “term of grace.” This term was a thirty to forty day period in which they could voluntarily confess their sin and atone for it. Following this grace period the individual would be put on trial then imprisoned if found guilty. But more often they, and their family, were killed for their sins, not imprisoned. This was the ultimate sacrifice. Some people went to extreme circumstances to maintain their normal lives in Spain while also maintain their religion of choice. Unfortunately these people were the most severely punished when discovered by the government. In the end was in worth it to die in order to stay Jewish? Was it better to leave the country and leave your life behind so that one could remain a Jew? Or was the decision to superficially convert the correct choice? This decision was a difficult one especially when there was an entire family involved.
Though the Spanish Inquisition stood in opposition to any religion besides that of Christian Catholicism, it only had jurisdiction in cases involving people who had publically declared themselves Catholic. In 1492, as an attempt to cleanse Spain of any non-Catholics and to establish Catholicism as the sole religion of their kingdom, Isabel and Ferdinand ordered with the Alhambra Decree that all Jews were to convert to Christianity, leave the kingdom of Spain, or face severe punishment. Following this order and the second Edict of Expulsion in 1502, the Inquisition saw a marked increase in the number of cases it heard, as well as in the severity with which it punished those who they deemed guilty of heresy. The Jews who chose to convert faced continued scrutiny, prejudice, and punishment from both the Jewish and Christian communities, despite their decision to convert to Christianity. While it is true the Inquisition persecuted Muslims, Protestants, and committers of various so-called sins–such as bigamy, blasphemy, and witchcraft– between the years of 1478 and 1530 the Inquisition targeted almost exclusively the Jewish conversos.
Fully aware that admitting to continuing the religious practice of Judaism would most likely result in their execution, many Jews who found themselves before the Inquisition either lied or neglected to give a full account of their religious practices out of self-preservation. As a result, primary source documents dealing directly with the interrogation of conversos by the Inquisition are difficult to obtain. However, the few who did give truthful accounts of their personal lives have left behind an invaluable record in the form of the transcripts taken of their accounts during their interrogations. Such accounts have been compiled into collections such as Richard L. Kagan and Abigail Dyer’s Inquisitorial Inquiries: Brief Lives of Secret Jews and Other Heretics (2004), and Jon Cowans’ Early Modern Spain: A documentary History. Such accounts will provide a first-hand account of what exactly the conversos were being accused of and how they were tried by the Inquisition. They also provide primary source documents pertaining to the events that surrounded the relentless persecution of the conversos. Second, a collection of portraits depicting the Catholic Monarchs as well as the Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada will help to both give a face to these famous—or infamous—historical characters, and show how these people wished for themselves to be depicted to posterity in a portrait that would outlive themselves.
Although some people superficially converted, Spain made convincing arguments causing many people to fully convert. One of the things that encouraged people to convert was the fact that, as Christians, they would have access to parts of society which had previously been denied to them. By the 1450’s, the converts had become the new urban middle class. They were dominant in business. The “old Christians” were individuals who had been Christian for many generations and the “new Christians” were the new and recent converts. The Spaniards felt it was important to make this crucial distinction between old Christians and new Christians because they were afraid that the new Christians were taking over certain key middle class positions in society and that troubled them greatly.
Some people converted because they had swords to their throats and they had a choice of converting or dying. These people often continued their original religious practices within their homes but made sure to make a point of being Christian when in public.
Others were offered the opportunity of social or economic mobility. Many converted because they fell in love with someone who was Catholic and the only way they could marry them was to convert to Catholicism, there were dozens of these cases. Laws during that time prohibited interfaith marriages, just another example of how the government tried to control religion.
Many people bought the argument of the Dominican preachers who said, believe in a God who is all powerful, all-knowing, and is just. All you had to do was look at the soaring cathedrals and the squalid Jewish synagogues to know that while God once favored the Jews he had changed sides. Many of the converts joined the Church as monks, as priests, some of them even rose to positions of great power. Some of them even became Inquisitors because they believed in their heart of hearts that Christianity was now the true religion.
The effort to convert people was designed by the Church to promote unity but the society was not willing to accept this and certain groups within the church were not willing to accept it either. They were not willing to accept the converts as fully equally participating Christians and, increasingly, barriers were erected to try to keep them separate. Rather than decreasing the number of categories in society it actually increased them over the long haul and produced incredible tensions. This also created tensions in the Jewish community as many felt betrayed by their peers and had become outcasts. The Spaniards officially tried to get the converts to assimilate. They passed laws prohibiting them from following their former Jewish customs or from fraternizing with their former Jewish friends and relatives. Since there was no way to enforce them, these laws had very little effect. They tried separating the Jewish community from the convert community by ghettoizing the cities for the first time in serious forced ways and that did not succeed either. They expelled the Jews from cities like Seville to try to isolate the converso community from contact with the Jews and that did not promote assimilation either. Increasingly there were voices that said Spain was in need of an enforcement mechanism, a policing mechanism to ensure that the converts do not continue to identify as Jews and to practice as Jews. The only way to do that was to separate them from the Jews and to punish them or coerce them from continuing their Jewish practices in any way.
The Spanish Inquisition officially had no jurisdiction over Jews, and was limited in this sense. They only had jurisdiction over Catholics. Once a Jew had converted and accepted the waters of baptism then they were officially Catholic and it was the job of the Church to ensure that they were full believers, fully practicing Catholics, and that they would shed their Jewish beliefs and customs.
Due to its historical significance and controversial nature, the Spanish Inquisition has received much attention from the academic community and, as such, has had a plethora of secondary source materials written about it. One such article, written by Miriam Bodian titled “‘Men of the Nation’: The Shaping of Conversos Identity in Early Modern Europe” (1994), goes into great depth about how Spaniards perceived conversos during the fifteenth century, and will be extremely useful in determining why the Jews were stigmatized during the early years of the Inquisition. While it is true that the conversos found themselves persecuted time and time again due to their religious beliefs, in her article “Popular Movements and Pogroms in Fifteenth-Century Castile” (1972), Agnus Mckay argues that economic, not solely religious, factors played an extremely significant role in turning Spaniards against the local Jewish population. In his book Frontiers of Heresy (1990), William Monter focuses his work primarily on the shift away from targeting conversos, and on to targeting Moriscos and others dubbed heretical by the Inquisition. Though the focus of his book deals with the latter two of the aforementioned groups, he spends a good deal of time talking about why the Jews were persecuted in the first place and what changes occurred to shift that focus, thus perfectly contextualizing both the Bodian and Mckay articles.

Similar Documents

Free Essay

Spanish Inquisition

...The Spanish Inquisition In 1469, the marriage of Ferdinand V of Aragon to his cousin Isabella of Castile united the two most powerful provinces of Spain (Hauben, 23). During this time, Spain was becoming one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Much of Spain’s wealth was contributed by the Jewish population, which was very successful during this time period because of Christian church laws against usury, which is an illegal practice of charging unfair rates on loans. Prejudice against the Jews and strong feelings of anti-Semitism had also grown during this time, especially after a riot on Ash Wednesday (March 15,1391), started by a Spanish archdeacon named Martinez. Martinez called out to all Spanish citizens to “purge themselves of the filthy Jews”. Martinez incited his congregation to riot. The crowd moved enmasse towards the Juderia (Jewish quarter). Some of the participants were captured by the police and flogged or beaten, but that was not enough to stop the mob. Although they did not succeed that day to destroy the Jews, the feelings that Martinez had evoked lay simmering until June 6th when the mob sacked the Juderia of Seville. It is believed that the victims numbered in the hundreds, if not thousands (C. Roth, 1964). The estimated number of victims for the riot is said to be a little over one thousand. After this ordeal, a number of Jews, called conversos, professed themselves as Christians to escape persecution....

Words: 5419 - Pages: 22

Free Essay

The Spanish Inquisition

...Both civil and church authorities can run an inquisition in order to root out non-believers from a nation or...

Words: 582 - Pages: 3

Free Essay

Spanish Cinema

...The film included references to the Spanish Monarchy, the influence of the Catholic Church, the Spanish Inquisition, French Revolution, and a renowned Spanish painter named Francisco Goya. “Although the historical setting of the movie was based on actual historical events, the movie itself is a work of fiction”(Goya’s). The setting for Goya’s Ghosts begins in Spain in the year 1792. The Catholic Church is “disturbed by prints, created by an artist named Francisco Goya, that are being circulated around the country depicting the clergy using unflattering imagery”(Francisco). There is a long discussion on how the Church should handle the situation, when Brother Lorenzo intervenes. He suggests that “the artist’s depiction is insight into a bigger problem and should be handled by increasing the pressure the church applies to finding people who do not believe in their faith”(Spanish). “The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (Spanish: Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition (Inquisición española), was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval Inquisition which was under Papal control. The Inquisition was originally intended in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam....

Words: 1051 - Pages: 5

Free Essay

Hum 130

...Maria Lourdes A.Berrey Effects of Religion HUM 130 John GreenLee November 17th 2011 The effects that religion has had on the world and society is never more prevalent than the Spanish Inquisition, which lasted more than 356 years. The Spanish Inquisition was one of the most deadly inquisitions in history. There was a struggle between different religious beliefs such as Islam, Protestantism, Judaism, and Catholicism. These political and religious reasons pressed the leaders of Spain to unify this country into a strong and powerful nation. King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castilla made the choice to establish Catholicism as the religion to unite Spain in 1478. Once Catholicism was chosen the King and Queen then petitioned the pope to begin the Spanish Inquisition (Kreger, 1996-1999). The Inquisition was to purify the person of Spain from any other religion driving out anyone who was not Catholic. Rules and procedures created by Tomas de Torquemada remained intact for more than 15 years. During this period it is thought that around 5,000 Spaniards lead to the gallows (Parker, 2003). Later the Pope and the Catholic Church tried to stop the bloody reign of terror but was unsuccessful. The Inquisition lasted until 1834 when it was abolished because of concerns for the citizens of Spain (Parker, 2003). Another struggle that lead people to a new world was the freedom of religion....

Words: 473 - Pages: 2

Free Essay

History of Al-Andulus

...What led to the Spanish Inquisition? This paper is focused on the Spanish Inquisition, its causes and its consequences which includes the conquest of Spain by Muslims, the co-existence of Muslims, Christians and Jews, the fall of Al-Andalus leading to the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Muslims from Spain beginning in 1478. This paper will also distinguish between religion and the wrongdoings of men, staining it for their ulterior motives. This paper will include different views of historians and their arguments about all of the incidents stated above. The central argument of this paper is, history of Al-Andalus, through many historians is biased; with little evidence, many of historians blames Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, for the eradication of Muslims from Spain, whereas Muslims (Almohads) did in fact, exterminate Jews in communities and forced Christians to convert to Islam. Muslims entered Spain in 711, overthrowing the Visigoth Rule. After that, they slowly covered most of the part of Spain spreading Islam. As Tina Hesman Saey writes that the Moors...

Words: 4726 - Pages: 19

Free Essay

Effects of Religion

...Another event was the Spanish Inquisition. According to “Freeman” (2012), “Reasons for the Inquisition included a desire to create religious unity and weaken local political authorities and familial alliances” (How Stuff Works: The Beginnings of the Spanish Inquisition). This led to the people involved in the Spanish Inquisition to kill people who refused to become a Catholic. Organized religion was a way to control or have power over people. This led to people hating each other because of their belief or their...

Words: 539 - Pages: 3

Free Essay

Reconquista and the Jews

...The Jewish people settled in Spain for a long period of time, with significant proof from as early as 300 C.E., though likely earlier, before they were expelled in 1492. The unpredictable mass expulsion of this seemingly well integrated assiduous people was simply stimulated by the king’s foolish greed accompanied by the intensified nationalism felt by those who had just been inspired by the power of the Roman Catholic Church through the First Crusade against the Muslim Moors. It was the religious zeal of not only the Church and the Queen but also of the masses that really caused the expulsion of the Jewish people from Spain. Of course, the official justification for exiling the Jews was because they were counterproductive to the Church’s ultimate goal – they attempted to prevent the Marranos from severing their ties with Judaism. Anti-Semitism began soon after the beginning of Christianity with the inherent hatred toward Jews simply because they have differing theological and religious practices are not Christian, not because they are specifically Jewish. Anti-Judaism began with the crucifixion of Christ – it became commonly believed that the Jewish people were responsible for the crucifixion which caused initial discriminatory writings against the Jews as a people, as well as societal misunderstanding and distrust. The Jewish people were exposed to severe persecution under Visigoth control in the Mediterranean and more Christian control in Spain. It is therefore not......

Words: 2143 - Pages: 9

Free Essay


...Al-Andalus Arabic Lit 1121 Al-Andalus Al-Andalus was referred to as the areas of the Iberian Peninsula which were occupied by the Moors between 711-1492 AD. The Iberian Peninsula is the south western most part of Europe including Spain, Portugal, and France. The Moors were Muslim people of Arab descent who invaded or settled Al-Andalus from Northern Africa. Before the Moors came to the Iberian Peninsula, Spain was ruled under the Visigoths. Their kingdom quickly fell apart when the Moors first came to what is now referred to as Spain. When the Moors came they were actually welcomed and did not have much trouble taking over due to the worsening environment the Visigoths reign had established. Abd ar-Rahman the 1st was the founder of the Umayyad dynasty of Cordoba. He was the grandson of the tenth Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik. At the age of 16, He fled his home city of Damascus due to the Abbasid revolt, which over threw the existing Umayyad caliphate. He fled from Damascus and made his way west to what was once land of the far reaching Umayyad Dynasty. It took him several years to reach Northern Africa because he was still being targeted by the newly established Abbasid dynasty. Al-Andalus had been conquered in the time of Abd ar-Rahman’s grandfather. However Abd ar-Rahman was not very sure how they would feel about him taking the thrown for himself. He was welcomed by the people and grew a large following, because most people thought he had been killed......

Words: 704 - Pages: 3

Premium Essay

The Rise of the Papacy

...CHHI-301-D10 LUO FALL2013 PAPER 2 The Rise of the Papacy INTRO In the void left by the collapse of the Roman Empire, the bishop of Rome grew even more in both power and prestige beginning in the sixth century and continuing to the reformation in the ninth century. It is the aim of this paper to explain how and why the papacy in Rome became the center of power of the medieval world, the factors contributing to this dominance over Western Europe, and the positive and negative ramifications of the position becoming so powerful. Through this paper you will discover how papacy was able to fill the vacuum of power left by the fall of an empire. THE HOW AND WHY When the Roman Empire fell services that it previously provided were left untended. Additionally the political structures and authority of the government were left in ruins. This created a massive void in the culture of the empire. While the government collapsed, the Church survived and even thrived, remaining strong throughout the known world, but especially in Rome. Services previously provided by the government were now being delivered at the hands of the Church under the direction of the Bishop of Rome, which would become the position of Pope. Society turned to the Church for education, monasteries took in war-orphans, and peace and mercy were encouraged in matters involving the former empire and its conquerors. While the Roman Empire was falling, the Church was rising and society churned on......

Words: 1631 - Pages: 7

Free Essay

Jury System

...Introduction Trial by Jury is a means of arriving at the truth or falsity of an allegation made in a suit. Trial by Jury is one mode of trying the dispute and there are numerous other methods. It is also not the oldest method of trial as there were other older methods such as trial by ordeal, trial by battle etc. But these methods relied upon an appeal to the supernatural or to the fear of divine wrath and there was no real logical connection between satisfying the form and proving the truth or untruth. The jury was introduced as convenient method of legal procedure and its greater popularity rendered it popular with the increase of civilisation. Although the jury was for long the proud boast of Englishmen as one of their indigenous institution, it’s only half true. The origin of jury system dates back to Frankish Inquest introduced by the Charlemagne of France. It was brought to England by William I after the Norman conquests. William used the inquests for collecting information about the land and the revenue from each land. Only with the help of the verdict these inquests he was able to compile the Doomsday Book which was one of the earliest examples of excellent civil administration. The Jury System in England reached its height during the reign of Henry II who was the great grandson of William I. He considered to be the father of jury system in England and there was no formal title given to him. Although the jury system had its origin in France, it cannot be denied......

Words: 2927 - Pages: 12

Free Essay


...Galileo Galilei Galileo Galilei was considered the central figure of the scientific revolution of the 17th century. His role in the history of science was a critical one. He revolutionized the way in which science was conducted, and performed experiments to test his ideas, which led him to be regarded as the father of experimental science. Galileo was born on February 15th, 1564 in Pisa, and was the oldest of seven children. His father, Vincenzo Galilei was a famous composer, lutenist, and music theorist. In 1572 at the age of eight, Galileo’s family moved to Florence, however Galileo stayed behind in Pisa and lived with Muzio Tedaldi who was related to Galileo’s mother for 2 two years. By the age of ten, Galileo joined his family in Florence and was tutored by Jacopo Borghini. By the age of eleven Galileo was sent off to study in a Jesuit monastery, the Camaldolese Monastery at Vallombrosa. Galileo soon found the life of a monk appealing and considered joining the Monastery. After four years of education in the Monastery he informed his father that he wanted to become a monk, which was not agreed upon by his father who had already decided that Galileo should become a medical doctor. Galileo was immediately ejected from the monastery and entered The University of Pisa to study medicine in 1581, at the age of 17. However his medical courses in the university never interested him and he did not take them seriously. Galileo was much more interested in attending mathematics......

Words: 1125 - Pages: 5

Free Essay

Assess the Significance of Spanish Rulers’ Desire for Religious Uniformity in the Expansion of Their Power 1474-1598

...Assess the significance of Spanish rulers’ desire for Religious uniformity in the expansion of their power 1474-1598 The Spanish expansion of power during the era of 1474-1598 can be clearly categorised into three separate periods, with each different ruler of Spain bringing with them a diverse train of thought in regard to expansion than their predecessor. Firstly, with Ferdinand and Isabella came the union of Iberia under one household, and in 1492 they succeeded in conquering Granada which is seen the first physical expansion of power during their reign, and this period. Granada was of key significance to the monarchs as, for Isabella, it provided a stronghold of Moorish tradition and beliefs, and for Ferdinand it gave his enemies in North Africa a gateway to Spain. so when the announcement came from the crown that it was to begin conquering Granada in 1481 it can be said that both Isabella and Ferdinand had different agendas and motives, however in 1481 Ferdinand was stated to say that he “wished to conquer that kingdom of Granada and expel from all Spain the enemies of the catholic faith and dedicate Spain to the service of God”. Also in a letter from the monarchs dated 1485 they state their intent to spread the catholic faith and remove the “unremitting menace” from the southern lands. Furthermore this source also goes to state that if Ferdinand and Isabella wished to simply expand physical power or gather treasure they would have done so already, assumingly from......

Words: 2053 - Pages: 9

Premium Essay

How Did the Catholic Church Attempt to Repress Heresy in Christendom?

...As a student with a keen interest in medieval history, I have always been intrigued by the concept of heresy and how the Roman Catholic Church attempted to rid Christendom of heretics. To be frank all of us, in some form or quantity, have come across heresy in books, popular media, and music. It is a defining term of medieval Europe and the twelfth and thirteenth century see crusades against heretics and the power and means by which the Roman Church aimed to repress the many heretical ideologies that existed. This is both an interesting and extensive topic and throughout this essay I will be focusing on the term ‘Heresy’ itself, why the church sought to repress heretics and lastly how they managed to do the same. In a very general term, heresy can be termed as a disagreement with the Church or the teachings and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and a heretic someone who’s faith, beliefs and practices are in contradiction with that of the Church. Not all heretics believed in the same principle concepts and not all heretical concepts were popular. The Cathars, a heretic group in Languedoc, south of France believed that the world was a creation of the devil and that the sacraments of the Church were not true, but were devilish frauds of an evil church. It is worth noting though that heresy existed in every age, as it is but natural that popular beliefs and ideologies had contradicting and opposing ones, but it was only between the late eleventh and thirteenth century......

Words: 2003 - Pages: 9

Free Essay


...They are everywhere we go. Blog headlines:  about the meaning of luxury. An  example of luxury would be the latest expensive Givenchy leather jacket that can  keep you warm while still being stylist. But how does a fashion house in Paris relate  to the Moors?  Well, last fall I had the opportunity to work in the New York Fashion  week where I consulted in menswear garment pieces. What striked me as  unbelievable was how every fashion expert referred to proportions as luxury. This  same proportion theory was used to create the Alhambra that visually is the prime  example of luxury.  The Muslim influence on modern culture is amazing, however it isn’t  shocking seeing as one of Islam’s principles is “ seek knowledge. “  As explained in  the documentary Islam is the only religion that allowed everyone in it’s religious  community to learn. In fact in the Ancient city of Fez mosques where not only used  for prayer but for educating all on how to read and write. But why are these culture  advances ignored by Catholic Spanish historians?  Well, the answer is simple there is absolutely no reason other than ignorance  that Catholic Spanish historians fail to recognize the Muslim influence in their  country. As of today Spain is dominated by Roman Catholic beliefs but that hasn’t  always been the case. What people fail to realize in the former influence of the  Muslim faith. As the Roman Empire grew weaker a group of warriors known as the  Berbers marched their way t......

Words: 519 - Pages: 3

Free Essay

Essay 1

...Candide and Pangloss arrive in Lisbon to find it destroyed by an earthquake and under the control of the Inquisition. There were many groans of dying and buried victims from the ruins. Pangloss and Candide help them, and Pangloss comforts the victims by telling them the earthquake is for the best. However, one of the officers of the Inquisition accuses Pangloss of heresy because of his optimism. He states that the fall and punishment of man proves that everything is not for the best. In this chapter, Pangloss gives a great portrayal of philosophical optimism. Philosophical optimism, developed by Leibniz between the late 17th and early 18th century, is the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds and humans can know it. Pangloss in this chapter tells the dying and buried victims of the earthquake that all of this is happening for the best. He keeps a very hopeful attitude throughout the storm and the earthquake, when there was clearly not any more hope that could be made. In opposition, one of the officers clearly thinks otherwise. He knows that there is clearly no hope from the events that...

Words: 402 - Pages: 2