‘Forget Your People and Your Father’s House’: Teresa de Cartagena and the Converso Identity

Teresa de Cartagena
Teresa de Cartagena
Teresa de Cartagena

“Forget Your People and Your Father’s House”: Teresa de Cartagena and the Converso Identity

Rita Ríos de la Llave (University of Alcalá) Università di Pisa


Religion is a very important factor to take into consideration in discussions about the identity of the conversos [converts] or New Christians, an emerging group in 15th-century Castile. Some historiographers believe they were really Jews who practised their religion in secret, while others consider that the Jewish identity of the conversos was stimulated by the Spanish Inquisition, and that most were in fact true Christians. But the question of the converso identity is even more complex, as the case of Teresa de Cartagena shows. She was a nun who lived in Castile during the 15th century and who practised Christianity in an orthodox way without renouncing her Jewish origin (though it is never declared explicitly).

In the mid 15th century, Christians in the Iberian Peninsula considered conversos to be of Jewish lineage, which, for them, was more important than the fact they were Christians. In this context, Teresa de Cartagena’s reflections about her people and her father’s house (which she identifies with her family) are highly significant. She refused to hide her origins and never pretended to be an old Christian, although this attitude would have resulted in stigmatization from Christian society.

This chapter examines Teresa de Cartagena’s testimony and compares it with that provided by Christian society and other conversos. This enables us to reflect about the importance of religion in defining individual and collective identity, oppositions between society and individual when identity is established, and about ways in which individual identity is reaffirmed.

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