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1492 Spain - The Jews

Imagine-A-Nation: Unstained - - This Blog series highlights the plight of people fleeing in order to expose centuries of sameness. It does not condone these events or seek to encourage apathy and acceptance of them in any form.

Note: the word 'Inquisition' actually comes from the latin, 'Inquiro,' and means "to inquire into" however, nowadays it is associated with atrocity. Its goal was to cleanse the Spanish population of heresy. It became a brutal ethnic and religious cleansing regime that specifically targeted non-Catholics.

Queen Isabella I was on the throne when it began and Queen Isabella II abolished it three hundred years later.

Spanish monarchs were instructed by Roman Catholic Church leaders to cleanse their population of heresy. What began as an inquiry into the state of faith in their land became a brutal ethnic and religious cleansing regime that specifically targeted non-Catholics.

The Inquisition was motivated and rooted in fear of the other. It had the facade of being a tribunal but in reality was motivated by fear of the growing Jewish community in Spain and relied on the dehumanisation of Jews to spread and feed fear. Leaders made the case that if the Jews were a threat to the faith of Catholics and her priests, they were also a threat to the throne of Spain.

In the wake of fierce religious persecution and pogroms over half of the Spanish Jews had accepted conversion in 1391. Continued attacks led to 50,000 conversions by 1415.

Converso, the Spanish word for 'convert' was the name given to them. To ensure these converts stayed true to their new faith and were not tempted to revert by the remaining practising Jews in the kingdom, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was set up in1478.

Inquisition investigations, ritualistically began with the public reading of the Edict of Faith, calling upon the population to denounce the judaizers in their midst or confess to a detailed list of forbidden practices and telltale signs of the Jewish “superstition” [Carr 2011].

Such evidence might include a reluctance to eat pork, wearing clean clothes, not working on Saturdays, burying the dead in virgin soil, or not making the sign of the cross. Offenders who confessed willingly to such offenses could expect lenient treatment in the first instance, but repeat offenders were liable to excommunication and the terrifying anathema pronounced by an Inquisitorial edict in Valencia:

May they be accursed in eating and drinking, in waking and sleeping, in coming and going. Accursed be they in living and dying, and may they ever be hardened in their sins, and the devil be at their right hand always; may their vocation be sinful, and their days be few and evil; may their substance be enjoyed by others, and their children be orphans and their wives widows. May their children ever be in need, and may none help them; may they be turned out of their homes and their goods taken by usurers; and may they find nobody to have compassion on them; may their children be ruined and outcast, and their names also; and their wickedness be ever present in the divine memory [Carr 2011].

Of the estimated 300,000 original Jewish population around 200,000 converted to Catholocism in order to stay in Spain. Estimates believe up to 100,000 Jews refused to convert.

The Alhambra Decree

Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella signed an edict that condemned the continued interaction between Christians and Jews and ordered their expulsion in 1492 via the Alhambra Decree also known as the Edict of Expulsion.

Declaring that their decision had been reached after careful consultation with “prelates, great noblemen . . . and other persons of learning and wisdom,” the Catholic Monarchs ordered all Jews in their kingdoms, whatever their station, to convert to Christianity or leave Spanish territory within a period of three months and forty days. In that time, they were expected to sell their property, pay their debts, and conclude their business affairs [Carr 2011]. .

... Throughout the summer of 1492, Jews made their way to Spain’s borders and ports in an exodus that was described by the priest and chronicler Andrés Bernáldez:

"All of them confiding in their blind hopes left the lands of their birth, children and adults, old and young, on foot and in wagons, and the caballeros on asses and other beasts, and each journeyed to a port of embarkation. They went through roads and fields with many travails and fortunes, some falling, others rising, others dying, others being born, others falling sick... "[Carr 2011].

The vulnerability of fleeing Jews would have been widely known, making them prey to predators. A people not wanted has no government to avenge their mistreatment, no champions to fight for them. They were easy targets for robbers, slavers and anyone else interested in exploiting their weakness. Carr describes their plight:

... The fate of these exiles was often terrible. Some were murdered on the ships that were supposed to transport them or drowned in storms or died of cold and starvation .. Many Jews were transported to North Africa. Though some found safe haven in ports and cities, many were dumped on isolated coasts and beaches where they were robbed, killed, or raped by nomadic Muslim tribesmen. Some Jews were so broken by this treatment that they returned to what Bernáldez called “the land of civilized people” and agreed to be baptised.[Carr 2011].

A large number fled to the Americas and the Middle East.

Is there a Nation Unstained by bloodshed? Is there a Nation Unstained that has never dehumanised,

maligned or persecuted a people group crushing them under foot?

Note: All images are AI generated


Carr, Matthew 2011, Blood and Faith - The purging of Muslim Spain 1492-1614, C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd, 2017.

ISBN-13 978-1849048019. ISBN-10. 1849048010

PDF available here:

Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition

The Conquest of Granada

#1391 - #1478 - #1492

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