Portuguese Jews

Portugal to naturalise descendants of Jews expelled centuries ago.

A few days ago, I read this news article on the BBC website. I was fascinated by the fact that it was about people that left Portugal more than 500 years ago…

Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and many of them fled to Portugal. After King Manuel I came to the throne of Portugal, it was arranged that he would marry princess Isabel of Spain, but only under the condition that he was to expel the Jews from Portugal as well. He conceded but later decided the Jews had to convert to Christianity or otherwise leave Portugal without their children. Ironically, Isabel died less than a year after her consequential marriage with the king.

Jews that converted to Christianity were called New Christians. The Jews that fled the country often did so to Morocco. Their children were sent to São Tomé, a newly discovered Island near the coast of Africa. According to one source it was inhabited by lizards, snakes and other venomous reptiles, and was devoid of rational beings. It seems fair to assume there was no public library or health care to speak of. The same source mentions  that most children were swallowed up by the huge lizard on the island. Most of the remaining children perished.

The New Christians didn’t fare much better.

During the so called Easter Slaughter of 1506, an estimated two thousand New Christians were believed to be killed in Lisbon. Men and women were beaten to death or burnt alive, while their children were ripped apart by the raging hordes. A German who was in Lisbon describes how women with child were flung from the windows and caught on spears by those standing underneath. Interestingly, this happenend during a Christian holiday. Sailors from foreign ships, notably from Holland, France and Germany, that lay in the harbour, joined in the killing.

Easter slaughter

Woodcut depicting the massacre. It is on display in the São Domingos de Lisboa Convent, the place where the pogrom began.

The Portuguese Inquisition, established 30 years later, was for more than 200 years not nearly as deadly for the Jews as that single eruption of hatred that occured during those fateful days in 1506.

For those with a philosophical inclination it might be interesting to learn that Baruch Spinoza, the famous Dutch philosopher, was of a Portuguese Jewish family.

When I was reading the article on the BBC webiste, I was wondering how many people could this law potentially effect? To get an idea: the General Society of Mayflower Descendants states that “tens of millions” descent from the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower who sailed to America in 1620. It’s easy to see that the number of descendants from several thousands of Jews more than a century before that, must be far larger…

To learn more, I visited the Faro Jewish Heritage Centre which was situated at the old Jewish cemetry. The caretaker let me view a DVD about the history of Jewish Heritage Centre which was exceptionally boring. Then he took me around and showed me the cemetry. He told me about it’s history which was tedious beyond believe (no lizards). Finally, after one hour, he let me go after I payed him 3 euros. I politely declined the offer to buy some memorial stamps.

I made some pictures at the cemetry, but they are not very interesting, so here are some pictures of me on the beach instead:

Faro beach with me on it.

Faro beach with me on it.

This is my National Geographic posture, lecturing interesting stuff about the beach.

This is my impersonatino of a National Geographic presenter, lecturing interesting stuff about the beach.

I let go of the National Geographic posture...

I let go of the National Geographic impersonation…


3 thoughts on “Portuguese Jews

  1. Gerjan

    Hi Peter,
    Er gaat niets boven wat vrolijke verhalen over moord en doodslag. Goed te horen dat de Nederlanders zich niet afzijdig hielden. We schiJnen er goed in te zijn op de verkeerde momenten del te willen nemen aan ‘rechtvaardige zaken’
    Groet, Gerjan

    1. peteronthemove Post author

      Tja, het hielp nogal dat de meute werd opgehitst door Dominicaanse monniken die het gepeupel een aflaat voor hun zonden van de voorgaande honderd dagen in het vooruitzicht stelden. Zullen wel wat op hun kerfstok gehad hebben, die Hollanders.

      Maar jet ziet, ik heb tijd zat om wat schrijfoefeningen uit te voeren… Altijd leuk, geschiedenis…


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