Members of Portugal's Jewish community said prayers in a downtown Lisbon square Wednesday to mark the 500th anniversary of a massacre of thousands of Jews in the Portuguese capital's streets. Chronicles from the time recount that at least 2,000 Jews were butchered and burnt alive when Catholic crowds, incited by a small group of priests, ran amok for three days in 1506. The violence was said to have broken out after a local Jew questioned the validity of a supposed miracle. Lisbon at the time was gripped by hunger amid a prolonged drought and was threatened by an outbreak of the plague. Locals, encouraged by the Inquisition, sought divine help. About 50 members of Lisbon's Jewish community, estimated to number around 1,000, gathered on Wednesday at dusk in a square next to the Maria II National Theater, which was built on the site of an old Inquisition court. Participants declined to speak to reporters, citing a religious prohibition. Portugal's King Manuel I forced all Jews in his country to convert to Catholicism in 1496. Some fled, but those who stayed were subjected to humiliating public baptisms. They were designated "New Christians" or "Marranos," Iberian slang for pigs. Even then, they remained at risk from religious persecution and lived in designated Jewish quarters. In 1988, Portugal's then-president Mario Soares formally apologized to Jews for the persecution.