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The Spanish Jews and Converts in Late Medieval Thought: Statutes of Purity of Blood and the Tract of Juan de Torquemada

The Spanish Jews and Converts in Late Medieval Thought: Statutes of Purity of Blood and the Tract of Juan de Torquemada

By Masao Hisaki

Deviations and Alienations of Marginalized People in Medieval European Communities: The Seventh Korean-Japanese Symposium on Medieval History of Europe (2010)

Introduction: Jews were one of several marginalized minorities in Europe, including under the reign of the Christian kingdoms in medieval Spain. The Jewish issue in Spain, however, took a significant turn in the end of 15th century. In 1492, the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand II and Isabella I, decreed that Jews would be expelled from Spain. After this, Jews officially did not reside in Spain. Jews were forced to choose either emigration to other countries or conversion to Christianity. Those who converted from Judaism and their descendents were called conversos (converts).

These conversos did not first appear in 1492, but already had existed in the Middle Ages. Although they became Christians and could participate in Christian society, they could not completely assimilate. Conversos came to be a new marginal group and were distinguished from other old Christians because they were suspected of secretly professing and practicing Judaism. There was discourse that conceived the conversos as Jews. Though Jews were absent from early modern Spain, these “absent Jews” paradoxically continued to be present. This presence of “absent Jews” overshadowed at least some phenomena, though there are different views about their degree of influence on Spanish society. In short, the Jewish issue in Spain was not only about Jews but also conversos.

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