Manuscript discovered detailing Inquisition trials against Jews in Portugal

The 60-page document lists the dates and locations of autos-da-fé along with the number of victims at each trial. 

  18th century manuscript, found in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel, includes details from the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition in Lisbon, including numbers of the victims, charges and sentences (photo credit: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL)
18th century manuscript, found in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel, includes details from the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition in Lisbon, including numbers of the victims, charges and sentences
(photo credit: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL)

In a historically significant discovery, a manuscript detailing autos-da-fé in the Portuguese Inquisition was found in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, according to a Wednesday press release from the National Library.

The manuscript, titled “Memoria de todos os autos da fé que setem feito em Lisboa" ("An Accounting of All the Autos-da-Fé that Took Place in Lisbon"), was written in the 17th century and provides an organized account of the Inquisition tribunal’s activities in Lisbon, particularly with respect to trials conducted against Christians accused of secretly practicing Judaism,.

 Dr. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia, the director of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, wrote in a statement for the National Library that the Portuguese Inquisition featured cruel public punishments in autos-da-fé. These autos-da-fé were public rituals for Christian heretics and non-believers.

“These discoveries shed light on the realities of a complex chapter in Jewish history, as well as on the Inquisition's obsession with revealing any form of deviance, including traces of Jewish tradition."

Dr. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia, director of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People

The manuscript is meticulously detailed

The 60-page manuscript includes a great deal of information about autos-da-fé in Lisbon during the Inquisition’s first 130 years, from 1540-1669. Among the details listed are the number of victims at each trial, the dates and locations of the ceremonies and the names of priests who officiated. In addition, the number of people burned at the stake in each auto-da-fé is mentioned, per the release.

Many of the victims included in the manuscript were newly converted Christians accused of continuing to practice Judaism. Nevertheless, Christians who came from Christian backgrounds were also listed for crimes of sodomy, bigamy, possession of forbidden books and sacrilege, the release stated.

 18th century manuscript, found in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel, includes details from the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition in Lisbon, including numbers of the victims, charges and sentences (credit: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL) 18th century manuscript, found in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel, includes details from the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition in Lisbon, including numbers of the victims, charges and sentences (credit: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL)

Trials like these took place over a period of close to 250 years, and the Portuguese Inquisition was officially abolished in 1821. 

 

What sparked the Portuguese Inquisition?

In Portugal, the Catholic Church initiated the Inquisition in 1536 after anusim, Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity in Spain, immigrated to the country en masse. According to Ben-Ghedalia, the Portuguese Inquisition cut off hundreds of thousands of Jews from their Judaism through forced conversion and persecution.

 As time progressed, most Jews who converted to Christianity ceased to practice Judaism in any way that would be noticeable to the public in Portugal, such as circumcision, immersing in the mikveh and celebrating holidays at their proper times.

But, as Ben-Ghedalia spelled out in his statement, some “continued to observe Jewish rituals in their homes in secret, or commemorate holidays, often a number of days after the actual date. For example, to confuse the inquisitors, some would secretly celebrate Yom Kippur and Passover belatedly, or light Shabbat candles inside pottery vessels to conceal the flames.”

The discovery of the manuscript has provided significant information relating to both Jewish history and the nature of the Portuguese Inquisition, Ben-Ghedalia noted in the release.

“These discoveries shed light on the realities of a complex chapter in Jewish history, as well as on the Inquisition's obsession with revealing any form of deviance, including traces of Jewish tradition," he said. "We hope the newly discovered document will help scholars better investigate this fascinating and difficult period of history."