The history of the Jewish community on the island of Majorca as well as that of
the conversos and their descendants (known as chuetas) differs from that of the
rest of Spain. There is very limited documentation from the early period of
inquisitorial activity there, but Natalie Oeltjen, who recently received a PhD
from the University of Toronto, has uncovered some material that she presented
at the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem this past
Thus, we have access to information about a woman named
Escalaramunda Bertran, who offered a voluntary confession to the tribunal in
1488 as well as in 1490. She was not alone in choosing this path; it turns out
that over 300 conversos confessed during each of these grace periods and were
subsequently reconciled to the church.
Bertan’s father, Pere Pardo, was
not from Majorca, but rather from Valencia; he relocated to the island about
five years after the forced conversions of 1391. The Pardo family maintained
ties with Valencia while creating new ties in Majorca, as various members
married nobility from both locales.
When the penitent appeared the first
time in order to confess, she gave the impression of being a well-spoken woman
with a strong sense of honor. Oeltjen’s translation of part of her confession
includes the following: “You know, reverend fathers, that up until this point I
have lived by divine grace in the world honorably, and coming to this
examination could not be without much shame; but recalling the well-being of my
soul, I have decided to state everything that I have done against the faith, and
not to hide any part of the truth maliciously… because I am not liked by many
people and I do not want [them] to inflict something terrible upon
She proceeded to admit to having observed the fast of Yom Kippur a
few times; she learned this from a Barcelonan Jew since there were still Jews on
the mainland prior to the expulsion of 1492 (but after 1435, not in Majorca).
Her godmother, also a conversa, had advocated fasting on this day as
In her second confession, in 1490, Bertran referred to Jewish
prayers as another heretical activity. She had procured a prayer book from
Barcelona; it was probably written in Catalan, in Latin script, like the prayer
books possessed by some conversos on the mainland. However, most Jewish
vernacular texts appeared in Hebrew letters (aljamiado). She recited portions of
Psalm 31 in Hebrew, part of which can be found in the Catalan siddur.
had learned and memorized this from a fellow converso named Vidal Prohencal, who
told her that the messiah was yet to come; he claimed to be knowledgeable in
Jewish law as well.
Oeltjen points out that the verse recited was one
that was traditionally said prior to retiring at night; likewise it was part of
the Catholic liturgy, and among the final words attributed to Jesus in the Book
All the other prayers were known only in Catalan, although the
transcript that is extant is recorded in Castilian. She knew the confession that
is part of the Yom Kippur liturgy (and is also recited on the deathbed), and
recited it in the first person; her recitation included most of the sins listed
in the original. Her instructor had also exposed her to what she described as
the “seven psalms in the vulgar language.” She seemed to know part of Psalm 6,
also a Catholic penitential psalm, but did not allude to the “Father, Son and
the Holy Ghost”; she considered it to be part of her observance of the Mosaic
Because the Psalms were available in Christian vernacular editions
at this time, the conversos had access to them. As a result, they assumed that
knowing these prayers would not raise suspicion, and they felt a special
relation to them since they were written by King David.
attributed her learning to various men, but was exposed to certain attitudes and
practices by women. Her godmother taught her about Yom Kippur, Passover and not
to believe in painted saints, whereas she learned about other fasts from her
mother-in-law. She was fortunate that the court was satisfied with collecting
the confessions of hundreds of conversos and reconciling them to the Church,
even if some of them, like Bertran, appeared twice to confess what she claimed
to remember each time, and were not punished for their sins. The author is a
professor of Jewish history at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in
Jerusalem, and the academic editor of the journal Nashim.
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