On Festival days, processions were led by the clergy, who paraded into the city square. Behind the clergy marches the penitents who were dressed in Sanbenitos (yellow sacks painted with devils and flames), wearing pointed hats of shame and walking barefoot. The condemned Marranos followed. Some were carried in cages, for the injuries from the torture chambers left them deformed and immobile. Those who could walk held lit green candles. The sentences were read, and the condemned were marched out beyond the city gates to the quemadero, the place where the stakes were prepared for the auto de fe. The actual death by fire was carried out by secular law, for after the judgement was passed by the church, the condemned were turned over to the secular law enforcers. The justification of death by fire came from John 15:6. Armed with this Biblical passage, the collective population turned the act of faith into a macabre spectacle.
Hundreds of people came to watch and window seats around the square could be bought for a high price. Hordes of people threw rotten tomatoes and eggs at the victims, spat at them and shouted obscenities as they passed. Priests beseeched them to recant, crying, “Receive the sign of the cross which ye have denied and lost.” If the condemned Marranos recanted and embraced Christianity, they were granted death by strangulation before being consigned to the flames. Few recanted. Most of the men, women, and children bravely walked to the stakes and were tied there. It was considered an honor for an esteemed member of the nobility to light one of the pyres. But often, as the flames roared up, the Marranos would lift their faces to the darkening sky and recite, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheenu, Adonai Ehad” then die as marytrs. -Jane Francis Amler
In order to understand the Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection you must first understand the History of the Sephardim. If you read no more of this post, please take from this one tidbit of knowledge: The Sephardic Jews are a Diaspora people who originated in the Iberia/Spain. A handsome proud people, the Sephardic Jews are often, but not always, tall in height, have piercing blue eyes, dark or light in complexion, with dark brown or dark red hair. In a nutshell the Sephardic Jews are not your “Fiddler on the Roof” Jews. Please see here for Part I
A large number of pioneering Jews settled Iberia during the reign of King Solomon in about 496 B.C. History is silent regarding these Jews until the first century when the first rules restricting their rights began in 486 A.D. by the Council of Toledo. For the next three hundred years Visigoth Christians and Roman Catholics persecuted the Sephardic Jews.
The tides of fortune changed for the Sephardic Jews in 711 A.D. when Spain fell under the rule of the Muslim Moors. The Sephardim enjoyed relative peace for the next three hundred years. Both Jews and Christians lived under protection by Muslim law. Jews were given places of prominence in the royal courts. Intellectual and spiritual life flourished. Despite their minority status, the Jews were the wealthiest of Spanish citizens. Educated Jews excelled in languages, mathematics, philosophy, navigation, geography and exploration. Jews lived separately, but were allowed to have their own court system administered by Rabbis.
Islamic culture also influenced the Sephardic Jews. Muslim and Jewish names, customs and practices became intertwined. The Sephardic Jews adopted the practice of the Muslims by washing hands and feet before entering the Synagogue. Arab melodies became the music of the Sephardim. Jews wore the flamboyant style of the Moors, but were not allowed to wear silk, gold or furs. The women adored themselves in linen accented with silver bracelets and earrings.
Muslim Rule ended gradually as the Moors were pushed back from the 8th to the 13th Centuries. Beginning in the mid 13th century, as the Christians gained control, they began to exert pressure on the Jews to convert to Christianity. Some Jews willingly converted. Violent Anti-Jewish riots broke out in 1391 in several cities, under the threat of death, many converted to Christianity under duress. This was the beginning of the Spanish Crypto –Jewish or Converso culture. The Christianized Jews of Spain divided into two groups. True Conversos, those Jews who gave up all Judaic practices and beliefs in essence really converted to Christianity; and Crypto-Jews, who only pretended to convert. The Crypto Jews would attend mass, baptize their children, but on Jewish holidays and the Sabbath they worshipped in whispers behind heavy drawn curtains.
In both cases they usually married other Cryptos or Conversos. These descendants were called New Christians. The Old Christians often discriminated against the New Christians. The Old Christians, cursed the New Christians calling them Marrano (vulgar derogatory word meaning pig). This led to more problems as the Old Christians soon discovered the forced baptisms often resulted in the Christianized Jews resuming the practice of their faith. All New Christians were suspect even those who adhered faithfully to Catholicism. Persecution mounted and hundreds were tortured and burned at the stake. Many of the Converso’s joined in persecuting their former Jewish comrades either out of desperation or sadism.
Many of the wealthy Converso and Crypto Jews left Spain seeking business opportunities elsewhere. The descendants of these Conversos soon lost any knowledge of their Jewishness. The Crypto Jews continued to practice their faith in secret. Fearful that yet again, wealth and their lives would be lost, understandably paranoia set in as Crypto Jews became reserved, secretive and clannish. They keep their wealth and faith intact by marrying within the Crypto community, and by marrying cousins.
Soon the Catholic Church in Spain convinced Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand the Jews were expendable. In 1492 the Spanish Inquisition began and would last until 1834, Isabella and Ferdinand commanded that all Jews who refused to convert would be expelled. The Jews had three months to leave and to abandon or sell their property at low prices. It is estimated as many as 200,000 exiles spread throughout Europe and North Africa, and throughout the Ottoman Empire. Soon the Inquisition fever spread to Portugal, Italy and France driving these exiles to yet another place. Depending on where they landed determined whether they practiced openly or began Crypto practice. In order to blend into their new communities the Sephardic Jews often changed their names to reflect their newly adopted community. For those who were able to retain their public Jewish status, proud in manner and practice, they maintained a superior air in regards to the poorer Ashkenazi Jews of Europe.
Many Crypto Jews and Conversos were trapped in Spain. Some could not bear to lose property and others were too poor or unfortunate to leave. The Crypto/Converso Jews in Spain, numbered about 100,000. Those who adapted by becoming Crypto Jewish also practiced their faith in secret. This came as a price as many were taken from their homes late at night, tortured to confess, to reveal others, and then be burned at the stake. All New Christians were under suspicion for hundreds of years. Many New Christians escaped to the Americas. Until 75 to 100 years or so ago, Northern Mexico was home to dwindling numbers of practicing Crypto Jews. Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, and Colonial America also had Crypto Jewish communities. Interesting to note, many believe as much as 40% of Puerto Rico is of Sephardic Jewish descent from Converso/Crypto Jews who fled the Inquisition.
Congratulations on completing such a long reading assignment! Give yourself a big pat on the back and an “A+” for effort!