His Story after their Stories: Pedro de Villarreal

Unfortunately they were not the only members of the Lopéz-Villarreal family to face the Inquisition in Castile.

May 10, 2012 17:39
3 minute read.
Cathedral in Salamanca, Spain

Cathedral in Salamanca, Spain 370. (photo credit: thinkstock)


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The trials of a mother, María Lopéz, and her daughter, Isabel Lopéz, which transpired between 1516 and 1518, have been previously discussed in this column (“A 16th-century Judaizer from Castile,” May 13, 2011, and “Like mother, like daughter? The trial of Isabel Lopéz,” January 20). Unfortunately they were not the only members of the Lopéz-Villarreal family to face the Inquisition in Castile.

After these women had been imprisoned for two years, Pedro de Villarreal, María’s husband and Isabel’s father, had to confront the Holy Tribunal as well. Each of these three residents of the town of Cogolludo dealt differently with the prosecution’s accusations, but ultimately their fates were identical.

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The proceedings of mother and daughter are alike on many accounts; both differ significantly from de Villarreal’s. De Villarreal had been quite active in strategizing both women’s defense; one of his sons also came to their aid. Neither woman confessed, not even after being subjected to torture. The fact that the first two were coterminous affected de Villarreal’s responses, for after he realized that their defense tactics had failed, it would have been foolish to follow the same path. In addition, his psychological state, after losing his wife and daughter only two months after his arrest, cannot be ignored.

Pedro, originally Abraham, was 60 years old in 1518; along with the rest of his family (María and their four children), he converted in 1492 in Murcia. His parents died before the Expulsion, and he had no siblings.

The defendant was accused of joining others on Friday nights for prayers and ceremonies in a cellar where an oil lamp was lit. On these occasions, he wore clean and festive clothes. In addition, he removed fat from meat or had it removed before it was cleaned, rinsed and cooked. When he brought a leg of meat home, he supposedly removed the sciatic nerve, veins and fat prior to cooking it. He cooked and ate stews and Jewish dishes, and refrained from eating non-kosher animals and fish; he also ate meat on Fridays and aided and abetted heretics.

At first, the defendant only admitted to eating meat on days forbidden by the Church, albeit with the permission of his priest and doctor. He eventually confessed on March 19, 1519, during the sixth month of his trial, most likely hoping to succeed where his wife and daughter had failed. He admitted ordering the removal of fat and the sciatic nerve from meat and to wearing a clean shirt one Shabbat, but not because of Judaizing. He saw his wife prepare food and ate what was served. He did not mention prayers in any cellar, confessing only to some but not all of the Judaizing activities included in the eight witness testimonies presented to him.

Presumably he hoped to receive a lighter sentence; he seemed to have given serious thought to precisely how he would offer a confession that would spare his life because it contained less serious acts of heresy.


When questioned, he claimed not to be able to recall specific incidents, but insisted that he had eaten pork, and that when he had refrained from doing so it was due to illness. He prepared an additional lengthy reply in which he attempted to strengthen his contentions. Saying he ate no pork was “the greatest falsehood in the world”; he did not wear clean shirts on Shabbat or during the week. Having the fat and nerve removed from meat had nothing to do with wearing clean shirts on Shabbat. Nothing was enacted in honor of the Law of Moses.

Essentially he presented conflicting accounts, admitting to a small amount of Judaizing but later seeming to attempt to recant. He insisted that the witnesses had perjured against him, but his defense was weak and destined to fail. By admitting to some Judaizing, he had unintentionally informed the court that the members of his family had never been faithful Catholics. The accounts his wife and daughter had presented were most likely intended to cover up their activities; such was the essence of Judaizing.

On October 4, 1519, he was relaxed at an auto-da-fé; his fate, like his story, was eternally intertwined with his wife’s and daughter’s.

The writer is a professor of Jewish history and dean at the Schechter Institute as well as academic editor of the journal Nashim. She has published books and articles on Sephardi and Oriental Jewry and on Jewish women.

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