His story and her story

The trials of Sancho de Ciudad and his wife, Maria Diaz.

Couple watching sunset (photo credit: Wikicommons)
Couple watching sunset
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
The trials of Sancho de Ciudad and his wife, Maria Diaz, took place between November 14, 1483, and January 30, 1484; both defendants were absent because they had fled.
The prosecutor was undaunted by their absence and methodically provided 32 witnesses for the prosecution.
The first of them was the converso Lope de Villarreal of Segovia, who had lived with Sancho 20 years earlier. He considered Sancho and his family to be the equivalent of “pure Jews,” for they not only prayed in a tower in their home, but kept Shabbat as well.
Besides, Sancho had supposedly informed him of his intention to return to the Law of Moses. It was not always safe to trust one’s fellow Jew or converso; this witness testimony is clear proof of that.
Another converso witness was Juan de Fez, who testified at numerous additional trials. He and the male defendant had traveled together, but when Friday night approached, Sancho refused to continue any further. In addition, he did not use money on Shabbat, only ate meat that was slaughtered according to Jewish law, and had even tried to convince de Fez to join him.
The next witness was none other than the daughter of the defendant, who described her parents’ judaizing activities and how she herself observed Jewish law only while living with them, because during that time she was subject to their authority.
Catalina de Ciudad confirmed the fact that her parents had fled the Inquisition.
Most of the other witnesses provided additional details regarding the judaizing activities of Sancho and Maria. One referred to group observance of Shabbat in their home; another had accompanied her mistress there, but was sent home while she and various conversos engaged in prayer. Others described these prayer sessions in detail, whether on Shabbat or other occasions: Sancho read from books that might well have been in Hebrew, and sometimes read or prayed aloud. Ferrando de Toledo described a visit to their house when he saw conversos praying with their faces turned to the wall; he inquired if it was a synagogue.
Elvira witnessed groups of conversa women arriving in twos and threes; from what she could surmise, they entered a tower on Friday night and did not leave until Saturday night. Fernando de Mora claimed that Sancho stopped at sundown to pray for half an hour, while a female witness heard him reading and saying blessings for about two hours, just like a rabbi. Another witness referred to a prayer made over the wine, but did not specify if it was recited on Friday night or on Saturday night. Other festivals such as Yom Kippur and Passover seem to have been observed as well. At the same time, Sancho apparently prayed in the vineyard or in other locations if he was unable to attend prayers in the tower.
This extremely large number of witnesses leaves an overwhelming impression that would have been hard to refute. All of them had seen Sancho and Maria judaize. Each played a central role in the judaizing community of Ciudad Real. Because this was a well known fact, they had no recourse but to flee before the arrival of the Inquisition, but they were tried anyway and burned in effigy.
Haim Beinart discovered that Sancho was circumcised in 1463 (at an undetermined age) and after that he no longer hid (or could hide) his Jewish way of life. (For details on these trials, see Beinart’s Records of the Trials of the Spanish Inquisition in Ciudad Real, 1: 1-39, Jerusalem, 1974.) Later, when this couple was captured in Valencia and tried in Toledo, it was extremely difficult to disprove the prosecutor’s case no defense could succeed with a circumcised male defendant on trial.
The inevitable could not be avoided: Sancho and Maria were condemned once again (no date is recorded) and died together as martyrs.
The writer is a professor of Jewish history at the Schechter Institute and the academic editor of the journal Nashim. She is currently a fellow in the School of Historical Studies at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.