|Part of a series of articles on|
|Jews and Judaism|
|Who is a Jew? · Etymology · Culture|
Marranos or secret Jews (also known as Anusim) were Sephardic Jews (Jews resident in the Iberian peninsula) who were forced to adopt Christianity under threat of expulsion but who continued to practice Judaism secretly, thus preserving their Jewish identity. The term in Spanish meant pigs; it stemmed from the ritual prohibition against eating pork, a prohibition practiced by both Jews and Muslims. In Spanish, the term marrano acquired the meaning of "swine" or "filthy". In contemporary Spanish it is no longer associated with Jews. In Portuguese, the word refers only to crypto-Jews, since pig or "swine" is marrão or varrão.
Not all conversos were immediately accused of being marranos. Those suspicions arose during times of social tension, when resentment targeted conversos who began to rise in position and influence. People who were jealous found it convenient to accuse them of secretly continuing Judaism as a way of attacking them in a society of state religion.
Under state pressure in the late 15th century, an estimated 100,000 -200,000 Jews in the Iberian Peninsula converted to Christianity. (The numbers who converted and those who migrated from the area have been issues of debate by historians.) The converts were known as conversos. They were also called Cristianos nuevos and Cristãos novos (new Christians) in Spain and Portugal, respectively. (Within Jewish tradition there was sympathy for forced converts and an assumption they would prefer to practice their original faith.) A disputed recent genetic study on the male Y chromosome conducted by the University of Leeds in 2008 appears to support the idea that the number of forced conversions were significantly underestimated, estimating that 20% of the male Iberian population have some Sephardim ancestry. These percentages are believed to represent the proportions of the respective populations at the time of mass conversions in the 14th and 15th centuries.. Nevertheless, the Sephardic result is in contradiction  or not replicated in all the body of genetic studies done in Iberia and has been later questioned by the authors themselves  and by Stephen Oppenheimer who estimates that much earlier migrations, 5000 to 10,000 years ago from the Eastern Mediterranean might also have accounted for the Sephardic estimates: "They are really assuming that they are looking at his migration of Jewish immigrants, but the same lineages could have been introduced in the Neolithic". The same authors in a recent study (October 2008) also attributed most of those same lineages in Iberia and the Balearic Islands as of Phoenician origin 
In recognition of the force used against the Jews in Spain and Portugal, Jews outside the region judged the conversos gently; in Italy a special prayer was offered for them every Sabbath, asking that "God might lead them from oppression to liberty, from darkness to the light of religion." To the conversos who lived in secret conformity with Jewish law, the rabbis applied the Talmudic passage: "Although he has sinned, he must still be considered a Jew".
Hebrew-speakers called forced converts anusim (אֲנוּסִים "constrained" or "forced"). (Anusim is a general word for forced converts from Judaism and is not specific to this period. According to rabbinic law, anusim (or conversos) who took the first opportunity to go to a foreign country and openly profess Judaism, were allowed to act as witnesses in religious matters.
Historians have disagreed as to how many Jews converted in the 14th and 15th century, as opposed to the number who left the Iberian Peninsula. Numbers have been difficult to determine from historic evidence. There were reasons for historians of different backgrounds to favor material that suggested either more or fewer converts. A primary source, the Ladino Me'am Lo'ez in its section on Tisha b'Av, mentions that a third of the Spanish Jewish population converted, a third went into exile, and a third died for their faith. The fraction is obviously rounded, but the implication is clear that large numbers of people fell into each category.
Within Spain and Portugal, different terms were used to describe the conversos, which were related to their degree of conversion in contrast to keeping Jewish practices.
The first category comprised those who legitimately converted to Christianity, whether for expedience or faith, and raised their children as Christians. These were called "New Christians" or Cristianos nuevos in Spanish and Cristãos novos in Portuguese.
A number of Spanish poets belonged to this category, such as Pero Ferrus, Juan de Valladolid, Rodrigo Cota, and Juan de España of Toledo. De España, also called El Viejo (the old one, the old man), was considered a sound Talmudist before his conversion.
Like the monk Diego de Valencia, himself a baptized Jew, De España introduced in his pasquinades Hebrew and Talmudic words to mock the Jews. There were others who, for the sake of displaying their new zeal and surviving in a hostile society, persecuted their former co-religionists, writing books against them, and denouncing those who wished to return to the faith of their forefathers, as happened frequently at Valencia, Barcelona, and many other cities (Isaac b. Sheshet, Responsa, No. 11).
Marranos, the derogatory term for conversos who were believed to secretly practice Judaism, was apparently derived from a word in Arabic, محرّم muḥarram (cognate to harem), used by peninsular Jews to refer to "ritually forbidden". In Spanish it meant "pig", related to the ritual prohibition among both Jews and Muslims against eating pork.
In Catalan such secret Jews were also called xuetes, derived from xua, a Catalan word referring to a pork recipe consumed publicly by xuetes in the Balearic Isles to display the sincerity of their Catholicism.
This referred to those who secretly held on to the Jewish faith in which they had been reared. These were known as judíos escondidos - hidden Jews. The derogatory term would have been marranos. They preserved the traditions of their parents. Although some held high positions with the official government, they secretly attended synagogue, and fought and suffered for their religion.
Many of the wealthiest marranos of Aragon belonged to this category, including the Zaportas of Monzón, and the De La Cadena Maluenda's, who were related by marriage to the royal house of Aragon; the Sanchez; the sons of Alazar Yusuf of Saragossa, who intermarried with the Cavalleria and the Santangel; the wealthy Espes; the Paternoy, who came from the vicinity of Verdun to settle in Aragon; the Clemente; the sons of Moses Chamoro; the Villanova of Calatayud; the Coscon; and others.
The second category of marranos comprised those conversos who had yielded through force but who in their home life remained Jews. They did not publicly act as Jews. Neither did they voluntarily take their children to the baptismal font; and if obliged to do so, on returning home they washed the place which had been sprinkled with water. They ate no pork, celebrated Passover, and gave oil to the synagogue. While it was usually higher-ranking conversos who became subject to suspicion and attack, everyday crypto-Jews or temporary conversos could also have been attacked as marranos.
"In the city of Seville an inquisitor said to the regent: 'My lord, if you wish to know how the Marranos keep the Sabbath, let us ascend the tower.' When they had reached the top, the former said to the latter: 'Lift up your eyes and look. That house is the home of a Marrano; there is one which belongs to another; and there are many more. You will not see smoke rising from any of them, in spite of the severe cold; for they have no fire because it is the Sabbath.' Pretending that leavened bread did not agree with him, one Marrano ate unleavened bread throughout the year, in order that he might be able to partake of it at Passover without being suspected. At the festival on which the Jews blew the shofar, the Marranos went into the country and remained in the mountains and in the valleys, so that the sound might not reach the city. They employed a man specially to slaughter animals, drain away the blood, and deliver the meat at their homes, and another to circumcise secretly".
Some Portuguese conversos or Cristãos novos continued to practice as crypto-Jews. In the early 20th century, historian Samuel Schwartz wrote about crypto-Jewish communities discovered in northeastern Portugal (namely, Belmonte, Bragança, Miranda, and Chaves.) He claimed that members had managed to survive more than four centuries without being fully assimilated into the Old Christian population. The last remaining crypto-Jewish community in Belmonte officially returned to Judaism in the 1970s and opened a synagogue in 1996.
In 2003, the American Sephardi Federation founded the Belmonte Project to raise funds to acquire Judaic educational material and services for the Belmonte community, who then numbered 160-180.
Two documentary films are known to have been made in north-eastern Portugal where present day descendants of Marranos were interviewed about their lives.In 1974 for "The Marranos of Portugal" the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) sent reporter Ron Ben Yishai to carry out interviews with families about their religious practice. After being asked to prove he knew Hebrew before they would talk he found people still reluctant to talk openly but did eventually gain a remarkable insight into their version of Jewish customs, prayers and songs The film was commended at the 1976 Jerusalem Jewish Film and TV Festival. Another documentary, "The Last Marranos" was made by the New York Jewish Media Fund in 1997.
After the expulsion of Jews and Muslims in 1492 from Spain and Portugal, conversos continued to be suspect in times of social strain. In 1506, a months-long plague caused people to look for scapegoats for the misfortune. Some became suspicious that conversos must be practicing Judaism and therefore be at fault. On April 17, 1506, several conversos were discovered who had in their possession "some lambs and poultry prepared according to Jewish custom; also unleavened bread and bitter herbs according to the regulations for the Passover, which festival they celebrated far into the night." Officials seized several, but released them after a few days.
The populace, which had expected to see them punished, swore vengeance. On the same day on which the conversos were freed, the Dominicans displayed in a side-chapel of their church, where several New Christians were present, a crucifix and a reliquary in glass from which a peculiar light issued. A New Christian who tried to explain the miracle as due to natural causes, was dragged from the church and killed by an infuriated woman. A Dominican roused the populace still more. Friar João Mocho and the Aragonese friar Bernardo, crucifix in hand, were said to go through the streets of the city, crying "Heresy!" and calling upon the people to destroy the conversos. Attracted by the outcry, sailors from Holland, Zeeland and others from ships in the port of Lisbon, joined the Dominicans and formed a mob with local men to pursue the conversos.
The mob dragged innocent victims from their houses and killed some. Old Christians who were in any way associated with New Christians were also attacked. The mob attacked the tax-farmer João Rodrigo Mascarenhas, a New Christian; although a wealthy and distinguished man, his work also made him resented by many. They demolished his house. Within 48 hours, many conversos were killed; by the third day all who could had escaped, often with the help of other Portuguese. The killing spree lasted from 19 to 21 April, in what came to be known as the Easter Massacre.
King Manuel severely punished those who took part in the killings. The ringleaders were executed. The Dominicans who encouraged the riot were also executed. Local people convicted of murder or pillage suffered corporal punishment, and their property was confiscated. The king granted religious freedom for 20 years to all conversos in an attempt at compensation. Lisbon lost Foral privileges. The foreigners who had taken part generally escaped punishment, leaving with their ships.
In 2006, the Jewish community of Portugal held a ceremony in Lisbon to commemorate this event.
In 1528 King John invited the foreign Jew David Re'ubeni to Portugal. He had approached the Portuguese minister in Venice, where he presented himself as representing the Jews of the East, although he was said to be from Arabia. Re'ubeni was given permission to "to preach the law of Moses", according to a letter (October 10, 1528) of D. Martin de Salinas to the Infante D. Fernando, brother of the emperor Charles I of Spain (Boletin Acad. Hist., xlix. 204). When Re'ubeni arrived, some crypto-Jews regarded him as a messianic figure.
The New Christians of Spain also heard the news; some of them went to Portugal to seek Re'ubeni. The rejoicing lasted for some time; Emperor Charles even addressed several letters on the matter to his royal brother-in-law. In 1528, while Re'ubeni was still in Portugal, some Spanish conversos fled to Campo Mayor and forcibly freed from the Inquisition a woman imprisoned at Badajoz. The rumor spread that the conversos of the entire kingdom were uniting to make common cause.
Mobs formed in some towns and attacked conversos. They attacked New Christians in Gouvea, Alentejo, Olivença, Santarém, and other places. In the Azores and the island of Madeira, mobs massacred former Jews. Because of these excesses, the king began to believe that a Portuguese Inquisition might help control such outbreaks.
The Portuguese conversos worked to forestall such actions, and spent immense sums to win over the Curia and most influential cardinals. Spanish and Portuguese conversos made financial sacrifices. Alfonso Gutierrez, Garcia Alvarez "el Rico" (the rich), and the Zapatas, conversos from Toledo, offered 80,000 gold crowns to Emperor Charles V if he would mitigate the harshness of the Inquisition (Revue des Etudes Juives, xxxvii, p. 270 et seq.).
The Mendes of Lisbon and Flanders also tried to help. None were successful in preventing Portugal from introducing the Holy Office in 1478. The conversos suffered immensely both from mob violence and interrogation and testing by the Inquisition. Attacks and murders were recorded at Trancoso, Lamego, Miranda, Viseu, Guarda, and Braga.
At Covilhã, there were rumors that the people planned to massacre all the New Christians on one day. In 1562 prelates petitioned the Cortes to require conversos to wear special badges, and to order Jewish descendants to live in ghettos (judiarias) in cities and villages as their ancestors did before the conversions.
According to historian Cecil Roth, Spanish political intrigues had earlier promoted the anti-Jewish policies which culminated in 1391, when Regent Queen Leonora of Castile gave the Archdeacon of Ecija, Ferrand Martinez, considerable power in her realm. Martinez gave speeches that led to violence against the Jews, and this influence culminated in the sack of the Jewish quarter of Seville on June 4, 1391. Throughout Spain during this year, the cities of Ecija, Carmona, Córdoba, Toledo, Barcelona and many others saw their Jewish quarters destroyed and massacred.
It is estimated that 200,000 Jews saved their lives by converting to Christianity in the wake of these persecutions. Other Jews left the country altogether.
In 1449 feelings rose against conversos, breaking out in a riot at Toledo. Instigated by two canons, Juan Alfonso and Pedro Lopez Galvez, the mob plundered and burned the houses of Alonso Cota, a wealthy converso and tax-farmer. They also attacked the residences of wealthy New Christians in the quarter of la Magdelena. Under Juan de la Cibdad, the conversos opposed the mob, but were repulsed. They were executed with their leader. As a result, several prominent converso men were deposed from office, in obedience to a new statute.
Nearly 20 years later in July 1467, another riot occurred where a mob attacked conversos in Toledo. The chief magistrate (alcalde mayor) of the city was Alvar Gomez de Cibdad Real, who had been private secretary to King Henry IV of Castile. He was a protector of the conversos. Together with prominent conversos Fernando and Alvaro de la Torre, Alvar wished to take revenge for an insult by the counts de Fuensalida, leaders of the Old Christians. His intention was to seize control of the city, but fierce conflict erupted. Opponents set fire to houses of New Christians near the cathedral. The conflagration spread so rapidly that 1,600 houses were consumed. Both Christians and conversos perished. The brothers De la Torre were captured and hanged.
Tensions arose in Córdoba between Christians and conversos, where they formed two hostile parties. On March 14, 1473, during a dedication procession, a girl accidentally threw dirty water from the window of the house of one of the wealthiest conversos (the customary way to dispose of it.) The water splashed on an image of the Virgin being carried in procession in honor of a new society (from which conversos had been excluded by Bishop D. Pedro.) Thousands immediately joined in a fierce shout for revenge.
The mob went after conversos, denouncing them as heretics, killing them, and burning their houses. To stop the excesses, the highly respected D. Alonso Fernandez de Aguilar, whose wife was a member of the converso family of Pacheco, together with his brother D. Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova ("El Gran Capitán"), and a troop of soldiers, hastened to protect the New Christians. D. Alonso called upon the mob to retire. Its leader insulted the count, who immediately felled him with his lance. Aroused the people considered him a martyr. Incited by Alonso de Aguilar's enemy, they again attacked the conversos. Men, women, and children were all killed. The rioting lasted three days. Those who escaped sought refuge in the castle, where their protectors also took shelter. The government decreed that no converso should thenceforth live in Cordoba or its vicinity, nor should one ever again hold public office, as if that meant the people would never find a reason to riot.
In 1473 attacks on conversos arose in numerous other cities: Montoro, Bujalance, Adamuz, La Rambla, Santaella, and elsewhere. Mobs attacked conversos in Andujar, Úbeda, Baeza, and Almodovar del Campo also. In Valladolid groups looted the belongings of the New Christians. At Segovia there was a massacre (May 16, 1474). D. Juan Pacheco, a converso, led the attacks. Without the intervention of the alcalde Andreas de Cabrerafamily, all New Christians may have died. At Carmona, every converso was killed.
The conversos of Seville and other cities of Castile, and especially of Aragon, bitterly opposed the Spanish Inquisition established in 1478. They rendered considerable service to the king, and held high legal, financial, and military positions. The government issued an edict directing traditional Jews to live within a ghetto and be separated from conversos. Despite the law, however, the Jews remained in communication with their New Christian brethren.
"They sought ways and means to win them from Catholicism and bring them back to Judaism. They instructed the Marranos in the tenets and ceremonies of the Jewish religion; held meetings in which they taught them what they must believe and observe according to the Mosaic law; and enabled them to circumcise themselves and their children. They furnished them with prayer-books; explained the fast-days; read with them the history of their people and their Law; announced to them the coming of the Passover; procured unleavened bread for them for that festival, as well as kosher meat throughout the year; encouraged them to live in conformity with the law of Moses, and persuaded them that there was no law and no truth except the Jewish religion." These were the charges brought by the government of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile against the Jews. They constituted the grounds for their expulsion and banishment in 1492, so they could not subvert conversos. Jews who did not want to leave Spain had to accept baptism as a sign of conversion.
The historian Henry Kamen's recent Inquisition and Society In Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries questions whether there were such strong links between conversos and Jewish communities. Whilst historians such as Yitzhak Baer state, "the conversos and Jews were one people", Kamen claims, "Yet if the conversos were hated by the Christians, the Jews liked them no better." He documented that "Jews testified falsely against them [the conversos] when the Inquisition was finally founded." This issue is being debated by historians.
Threatened and persecuted by the Inquisition, many conversos left Spain, both in bands or as individual refugees. Many migrated to Italy, attracted by the climate, which resembled that of the Iberian Peninsula, and by the kindred language. When they settled at Ferrara, Duke Ercole I d'Este granted them privileges. His Alfonso confirmed the privileges to twenty-one Spanish conversos: physicians, merchants, and others (ib. xv. 113 et seq.).
Spanish and Portuguese conversos settled also at Florence and contributed to make Livorno a leading seaport. They received privileges at Venice, where they were protected from the persecutions of the Inquisition. At Milan they materially advanced the interests of the city by their industry and commerce. At Bologna, Pisa, Naples, Reggio , and many other Italian cities, they freely exercised the Jewish religion again. They were soon so numerous that Fernando de Goes Loureiro, an abbot from Oporto, filled an entire book with the names of conversos who had drawn large sums from Portugal and had openly avowed Judaism in Italy.
In Piedmont Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy welcomed conversos from Coímbra and granted them commercial and industrial privileges, as well as the free exercise of their religion. Rome was full of conversos. Pope Paul III received them at Ancona for commercial reasons. He granted complete liberty "to all persons from Portugal and Algarve, even if belonging to the class of New Christians." By 1553 three thousand Portuguese Jews and conversos were living at Ancona.
Two years later Pope Paul IV issued orders to have all the conversos thrown into the prisons of the Inquisition which he had instituted. Sixty of them, who acknowledged the Catholic faith as penitents, were transported to the island of Malta; twenty-four, who adhered to Judaism, were publicly burned (May, 1556). Those who escaped the Inquisition were received at Pesaro by Guidobaldo II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. Guidobaldo had hoped to have the Jews and conversos of Turkey select Pesaro as a commercial center; when that did not happen, he expelled the New Christians from Pesaro and other districts in 1558 (ib. xvi. 61 et seq.).
Many conversos also went to Dubrovnik, formerly a considerable seaport. In May, 1544, a ship landed there filled with Portuguese refugees.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, some conversos were able to get to New Spain, where they believed that they would be able to live without persecution. The Inquisition followed them in short order and records exist of executions of conversos by the Inquisition in México and other parts of New Spain.
From urban México, there was a migration of conversos into the area now known as New Mexico during the 1700s. An article in 1990 in The New York Times stated that about 1500 Hispanic families in northern New Mexico had Jewish backgrounds. The article raised a small number of responses from readers, some asking that the issue be dropped.
Similarly, Catholic priests in the southwestern United States have mentioned that they have occasionally been asked peculiar questions by parishioners about whether it was proper to light a candle on Friday afternoon for good luck and whether the candle should be covered by an olla or a basket.
At this same period the conversos were seeking refuge beyond the Pyrenées, settling at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Tarbes, Bayonne, Bordeaux, Marseille, and Montpellier. They lived as Christians; were married by Catholic priests; had their children baptized, and publicly pretended to be Catholics. In secret, however, they circumcised their sons, kept the Sabbath and feast-days as best they could, and prayed together. King Henry III of France confirmed the privileges granted them by Henry II of France, and protected them against such slanders and accusations as those which a certain Ponteil brought against them.
Under Louis XIII of France the conversos of Bayonne were assigned to the suburb of St. Esprit. At St. Esprit, as well as at Peyrehorade, Bidache, Orthez, Biarritz, and St. Jean de Luz, they gradually avowed Judaism openly. In 1640 several hundred conversos, considered to be Jews, were living at St. Jean de Luz; conversos who had returned to Judaism founded a synagogue at St. Esprit as early as 1660.
Upon reaching the Ottoman Empire, conversos openly declared their return to Judaism and later built important communities in cities such as in Salonika. They also migrated to Flanders, where they were attracted by its flourishing cities, such as Antwerp and Brussels. Conversos from Flanders and others direct from the Pyreneean Peninsula, went under the guise of Catholics to Hamburg and Altona about 1580, where they established commercial relations with their former homes. Some migrated as far as Scotland. Christian IV of Denmark invited some New Christian families to settle at Glückstadt about 1626, granting certain privileges to them and to conversos who came to Emden about 1649.
Large numbers of conversos, however, remained in Spain and Portugal, despite the extensive emigration and the fate of countless victims of the Inquisition. The New Christians of Portugal breathed more freely when Philip III of Spain came to the throne. By the law of April 4, 1601, he granted them the privilege of unrestricted sale of their real estate as well as free departure from the country for themselves, their families, and their property. Many, availing themselves of this permission, followed their coreligionists to North Africa and Turkey. After a few years, however, the privilege was revoked, and the Inquisition resumed its activity. Portuguese who were not affected by radicalism could see that no forcible measures would induce the conversos to fully turn away from the religion of their fathers.
Numerous New Christians migrated to London, from where their families spread to Brazil, where conversos had settled at an early date, and to other colonies of the Americas. The migrations to Constantinople and Salonika, where Jewish refugees had settled after the expulsion from Spain, as well as to Italy, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, and to Vienna and Timişoara, continued to the middle of the 18th century.
Late 20th century political and social changes in Spain caused reappraisal of Jewish and Muslim contributions to its culture. There has been much new scholarship on Sephardic Jews, Moors and the consequences of conversion and expulsion. In addition, there have been official governmental efforts to welcome tourists of both ancestries to Spain. Towns and regions have worked to preserve elements of Jewish and Moorish (Arab muslim) pasts.
By Spanish Civil Code Art. 22.1, the government created concessions for gaining citizenship to nationals of several countries and Sephardic Jews historically linked with Spain. It allows them to seek citizenship after five rather than the customary ten years required for residence in Spain. In October 2006, the Andalusian Parliament asked the three parliamentary groups that form the majority to support an amendment that would similarly ease the way for nationals of morisco descent to gain Spanish citizenship. The proposal was originally made by IULV-CA, the Andalusian branch of the United Left.
Marrano (plural Marranos)