New Christians

New Christians a name for Jews who were obliged by the edicts of the Inquisition to embrace Christianity in the 15th century, to avoid unheard-of tortures and death for conscience' sake. Many, rather than quit their homes, embraced the faith for which they had no fervor. (From that time the term New Christians has designated Jewish converts to Romanism.) SEE MARANOS. Romanism, however, was not content to make converts. It sought ardent followers, and the inquisitors, finding that, though there were "New Christians" in the land, there were yet Jewish services secretly performed and Jewish practices scrupulously observed, determined to have the property of those rebels or unsubmissive ones if it could not own their souls. The inquisitors therefore, on January 2, 1481, issued an edict, by which they ordered the arrest of several of the New Christians who were strongly suspected of heresy, and the sequestration of their property, and denounced the pain of excommmunication against those who favored or abetted them. The number of prisoners soon became so great that the Dominican convent of St. Paul, at Seville, where the Inquisition was established, proved not large enough to contain them, and the court was removed to the castle of Triana, in a suburb of Seville. The inquisitors issued subsequently another edict, by which they ordered every person, under pain of mortal sin and excommunication, to inform against those who had relapsed into the Jewish faith or rites, or who gave reason for being suspected of having relapsed, specifying numerous indications by which they might be known. Sentences of death soon followed; and in the course of that year (1481) 298 "New Christians" were burned alive in the city of Seville, 2000 in other parts of Andalusia, and 17,000 were subjected to various penalties. The property of those who were executed, which was considerable, was confiscated. The terror excited by these executions caused a vast number of "New Christians" to emigrate into Portugal, where numerous communities of Portuguese Jews already existed, who had come to be treated with comparative fairness. In Portugal, e.g., the Jews had long been allowed to appoint judges of their own people, and were otherwise favored. They had consequently attained a high degree of culture: they cultivated medicine, science, and letters. Among a rude people of warriors and husbandmen, the Jews succeeded, to some extent, to the place left vacant by the Moors. They were the authors, the merchants, and the physicians of the nation; they founded a famous academy in Lisbon, which produced several eminent mathematicians, grammarians, poets, theologians, botanists, and geographers. The first book printed in Portugal was printed by a Jew. By perseverance, union, and talent, the Jews very soon became possessed of enormous influence in that country. But this influence naturally caused a feeling of jealousy in the populace, who could not calmly behold a people whom they considered abandoned by God enjoying such prosperity. This feeling of rancor finally brought about the edict for the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal, which for a time appeased the popular fury. It was, however, but the calm preceding a violent eruption, which exploded on those victims who, bound to the land by ties of family affection or interest, sacrificed their faith to their emotions. Detested by the Christians, who were the authors of their apostasy, and humiliated in their own opinion, the New Christians of Portugal, with those from Spain, cherished in their souls the deepest devotion to their ancient faith, but hoped that hypocrisy might be proof against the numberless opportunities of revenge which their riches afforded. Finally the day came which proved the St. Bartholomew to these poor Jewish converts of the Iberian peninsula. In the spring of 1506 the plague raged in Lisbon. The people, suffering all its horrors, were stricken also by famine, and offered up prayers in their churches for divine intercession, and on Sunday, April 19, while celebrating their service in the church of San Domingo, a brilliant light was seen to illumine the figure of Christ. Among those who doubted the miracle was one of the unfortunate apostates, who dared publicly to express his incredulity. This was sufficient to instigate the brutal and superstitious populace, who immediately seized the unhappy man, and burned him to death. It besides proved the spark that fired a horrible persecution of the apostate Jews. During the three following days upwards of 2000 victims were sacrificed; old men, women, and children were not spared, but dragged from their homes to the fires raging in the public squares. Only on the third day of these horrors the authorities were enabled to restore some tranquillity. The king, Don Manuel, who was absent from Lisbon, received the fearful news with profound indignation, and immediately ordered summary justice on the leaders. Several were put to death, among them being two friars who had been the first instigators of the people's fury. The magistrates, who through fear or negligence had not exerted their authority to quell the massacre, had their property confiscated; and, finally, a decree of May 22 condemned Lisbon to the loss of many ancient privileges. In vain the corporation sued the king for mercy; he replied that an example was necessary to punish the ferocity of the bloodthirsty and the pusillanimity of the timid. Yet, notwithstanding these generous actions of the king, the Jews and Jewish converts suffered so terribly that many of them left the Iberian peninsula and sought a home on the Continent, especially in Holland, where they enjoyed unlimited toleration. The prudent king Emanuel, seeing that his realm was likely to lose a large number of valuable citizens, and yet satisfied that it would be impossible to prevent the exodus, finally commanded that all children under fourteen should be detained and converted to Christianity. There can be no doubt that this cruel but politic order induced many Jews to embrace Christianity. The Jewish histories dwell on the complete national exodus, both from Spain and Portugal, and they paint in strong colors the heroic adherence to their religious convictions both of Spanish and Portuguese, and the terrible sufferings they underwent in consequence; nevertheless, the evidence of physiognomy and of family tradition are all against this alleged universality of the movement, and, it a change of name had not been made compulsory in the days of persecution, so also undoubtedly would be the evidence of names. There are, unquestionably, innumerable families of Jewish lineage in Portugal, and Israelitish blood flows in the veins of many noble Portuguese families. It is related that when that foolish liguot, king John (Don Juan III), proposed to his minister Pombal that all Jews in his kingdom should be compelled to wear white hats as a distinctive badge, the sagacious minister made no objection, but when next he appeared in council it was with two white hats. "One for his majesty and one for himself," explained Pombal, and the king said no more about his proposal. It was during the reign of this king that the Inquisition was introduced into Portugal, but it was milder than in Spain, and the New Christians were suffered so long as they continued in public professions of the Christian faith.

In modern times the descendants of unfortunate apostates, under the name of New Christians, have been gradually losing all traces of the religion of their ancestors. Their family names alone point them out, such as Sequeira, Costa, Marques, Lucas, Pinto, Cardoso, Castro, and many others, now borne by Roman Catholic families. There are still to be found, even in distant provinces of Portugal, some who keep up a few vestiges of former rites, especially the observance of the great Day of Atonement. A few families do not eat bread during the Passover, and many treasure the Jewish sacred prayer, the Shemang Israel. See Lindo, History of the Jews of Spain and Portugal, ch. 22 sq.; Da Costa, Israel and the Gentiles, p. 309 sq.; Grutz, Gesch, der Juden, 8:61 sq.; Barnum, Romanism, p. 378. (J. H. W.)

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