Scientists seek remains of Don Quixote’s crypto-Jewish author

Theories relating to Cervantes Saavedra’s birth in Sanabria, Zamora, and to his Jewish origins are growing in number.

OUTSIDE THE village of Cervantes (from left) are Prof. Leandro Rodriguez (third), Prof. Jesus Jambrina (fifth) and Marion Fischel. (photo credit: Courtesy)
OUTSIDE THE village of Cervantes (from left) are Prof. Leandro Rodriguez (third), Prof. Jesus Jambrina (fifth) and Marion Fischel.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A team of researchers have begun to search a Madrid convent for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), author of Don Quixote and a descendant of forced converts, the Zamora News website reported last week.
Theories relating to Cervantes Saavedra’s birth in Sanabria, Zamora, and to his Jewish origins are growing in number, reports Ana Pedrero of Zamora News.
Although Cervantes Saavedra did not advertise his Jewish connection, there are many encrypted references to it in his texts, she said.
It is thought that he was buried in 1616 in a 250-sq.m. church in Madrid, although, Pedrero said, there are those who believe that his remains were transferred elsewhere when the monastery was enlarged.
Scientists and technicians used a geo-radar and a thermo graphic camera in an attempt to find his remains and the results of their investigation are to be published next month.
The choice of this location is based on a study by the Spanish Royal Academy, published by Mariano Roca de Togores, marquis of Molíns, in 1870, called “Cervantes’s burial,” which documents the event as taking place in the San Ildefonso convent of the Trinitarian Mothers.
Additionally, Luis Astrana Marín, in his biography of Cervantes, also refers to “a modest convent,” close to a street renamed Cervantes, in which Cervantes was buried on April 23, 1616.
Historian Fernando de Prado described the aim of the project as: “The localization, underground, in the church of that convent in Barrio de las Letras [‘the literary quarter’] of Madrid, the remains of a male, some 70-yearsold with wounds suffered at the battle of Lepanto [in 1571].”
Pedrero writes that doubt has been cast on what was believed to be Cervantes Saavedra’s official baptism certificate – a document that appeared in the mid-18th century, naming “Juan Cerbantes Cortinas” as baptized in Alcalá de Henares, with a handwritten “Miguel,” added in the margin of the document.
Until the 1970s it was taken for granted that the area referred to in Cervantes Saavedra’ magnum opus was a stretch known as Castilla-La Mancha, and it was presumed that the action in the book took place there.
But Prof. Leandro Rodriguez, who then worked in the University of Geneva – who has now invested half a century into studying this Cervantes Saavedra – realized that there were constant references in the text to “the mountains of Leon,” and intimate knowledge of that area’s places and customs.
This would make the village of Cervantes Saavedra, in Sanabria, part of the province of Zamora in the north of Spain, the birthplace of the writer.
In the village there is a house known as “the writer’s house” and its cemetery is full of people whose family name is Saavedra – his mother’s surname.
In fact, today, thanks to his work, the “Ruta del Quijote” has been put on the map.
Last July, following a conference on Zamora’s Jewish past, organized by Prof. Jesus Jambrina of Viterbo University, Wisconsin, The Jerusalem Post participated in a tour during which Rodriguez said that the route was a way to get from Spain to Portugal while avoiding “the long arm” of the Inquisition – which investigated many forced-converts who were still practicing Judaism in secret. The group was able to see the “writer’s house,” and was told by Rodriguez that the particular design above its door, although unusual for the village of Cervantes, was a common sight in Trancoso, Portugal – thus suggesting a connection.
The Post attended Seders with Crypto- Jews preparing to return to their ancestral Jewish status in Trancoso last month.
Michael Freund’s organization, Shavei Israel, which aims to gather lost Jews from around the world, has built a synagogue in Trancoso where the original one once stood. The area of the town that houses it is full of crypto- Jewish crosses and designs.
Pedrero wrote of another Cervantes Saavedra expert – Spanish author Santiago Trancon – who spoke at the Zamora conference in July 2013 and said that Cervantes Saavedra’s converso origin had already been mentioned by Américo Castro and that there were plenty of clues in Don Quijote.
Don Quijote never says that he is an “old Christian,” although his sidekick Sancho does, he just says that he is a Christian.
He never eats pig, except on Saturdays when he eats a dish that he refers to in his text – using converso slang – as “duelos y quebrantos” (mourning and breaking).
“Duelos y quebrantos” is a dish made with eggs, pork-fat and pork-sausage and was traditionally eaten on Saturday in order to prove that one was not a Jew.
“Mourning and breaking” refers to having to break the laws of kashrut to prove that one was not a “Judaizer.”
According to a spokesman for the Madrid Municipality, reported Pedrero, the technicians used antennas of varying frequencies to be able to pick up all the information available in the different layers of the church in order to create a three-dimensional map – using visible spectrum photography and infrared thermography (IRT) that will spread to the walls of the church up to a height of 2 m.
The first phase of the search is sponsored by the Madrid Municipality and will cost €12,000, Europa Press reported. The total cost of the project is estimated at €100,000.
The second phase is set to be led by anthropologist Francisco Extebarria, and the final stage is to take place under the auspices of de Prado.
The project is supported by Madrid’s Complutense University and the University of the Basque Country.
Many of the greatest writers in the Spanish language, said Trancon at the Zamora conference, were of converso origin. The list includes such figures as Luis Vives, Antonio de Nebrija, Jorge de Montemayor, Fray Luis de León, Juan de la Cruz, Teresa de Jesús, Vélez de Guevara, Tirso de Molina, Luis de Góngora, Fernando de Rojas, Francisco Delicado and Mateo Alemán.
Zamora News’ Pedrero concludes by calling the effort to cover up their origins, and thus erase the Hebrew footprint from the country, “absurd.”