AskDefine | Define marrano

Dictionary Definition

Marrano n : (medieval Spain) a Jew or Moor who converted to Christianity (especially those who professed conversion in order to avoid persecution but continued to practice their religion secretly) [syn: Converso]

Extensive Definition

Marranos or Secret Jews (Spanish and Portuguese, literally "pigs" in the Spanish language, originally a derogatory term from the Arabic محرّم muharram meaning "ritually forbidden," stemming from the prohibition against eating the flesh of the animal among both Jews and Muslims), were Sephardic Jews (Jews from the Iberian peninsula) who were forced to adopt the identity of Christians, either through coercion as a consequence of the persecution of nominally converted Jews by the Spanish Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition, or who, for form's sake, became Roman Catholic converts. Many Marranos maintained their ancestral traditions as crypto-Jews, by publicly professing Roman Catholicism but secretly adhering to Judaism.
In both Portuguese and Spanish, the term marrano acquired the meaning of "swine" or "filthy" (but in contemporary Spanish it has no association with Jews); and in Portuguese it was used for Jews because they did not eat pork.
These "conversos" (converts), as they were also called in Spain and Portugal, numbered over 100,000 in all of Iberia. They were also known by the name of "Cristianos nuevos" and "Cristãos novos" (New Christians) in Spain and Portugal, respectively, "Xuetes" (Xua, a Catalan word referring to a pork recipe that was consumed publicly by Xuetes to demonstrate the sincerity of their Catholicism) in the Balearic Isles, and "Anusim" (constrained) by Hebrew-speakers. ("Anusim" is a general word for forced converts from Judaism, and is not specific to this period.)

Types of Marranos (Conversos, or Judíos Escondidos - hidden Jews- Anoussim)

The Marranos and their descendants may be divided into three categories.

Conversos - New Christians

The first category comprised those that legitimately converted to Christianity, whether for expedience or faith, and since their conversion considered themselves Christians, and raised their families as such. These were called "New Christians" or "Conversos."
A number of Spanish poets belong to this category, such as Pero Ferrus, Juan de Valladolid, Rodrigo Cota, and Juan de España of Toledo, called also "El Viejo" (the old one), who was considered a sound Talmudist, and who, like the monk Diego de Valencia, himself a baptized Jew, introduced in his pasquinades Hebrew and Talmudic words to mock the Jews. There were also many who, for the sake of displaying their new zeal, persecuted their former co-religionists, writing books against them, and denouncing to the authorities those who wished to return to the faith of their forefathers, as happened frequently at Valencia, Barcelona, and many other cities (Isaac b. Sheshet, Responsa, No. 11).

Crypto Jews

The second category consisted of those who held on to the Jewish faith in which they had been reared. These were known as "Judíos Escondidos" - hidden Jews. They preserved the traditions of their fathers; and, in spite of the high positions which some held, they secretly attended synagogue, and fought and suffered for their religion. Many of the wealthiest Marranos of Aragon belonged to this category, including the Zaportas of Monzón, who were related by marriage to the royal house of Aragon; the Sanchez; the sons of Alazar Yusuf of Saragossa, who intermarried with the Cavalleria and the Santangel; the very wealthy Espes; the Paternoy, who came from the vicinity of Verdun to settle in Aragon; the Clemente; the sons of Moses Chamoro; the Villanova of Calatayud; the Coscon; and others.

Temporary Conversos

The third category, which includes by far the largest number of Conversos, comprised those who yielded through stress of circumstances, but in their home life remained Jews and seized the first opportunity of openly avowing their faith. They did not voluntarily take their children to the baptismal font; and if obliged to do so, they on reaching home washed the place which had been sprinkled. They ate no pork, celebrated Passover, and gave oil to the synagogue. "In the city of Seville an inquisitor said to the regent: 'My lord, if you wish to know how the Marranos keep the Sabbath, let us ascend the tower.' When they had reached the top, the former said to the latter: 'Lift up your eyes and look. That house is the home of a Marrano; there is one which belongs to another; and there are many more. You will not see smoke rising from any of them, in spite of the severe cold; for they have no fire because it is the Sabbath.' Pretending that leavened bread did not agree with him, one Marrano ate unleavened bread throughout the year, in order that he might be able to partake of it at Passover without being suspected. At the festival on which the Jews blew the shofar, the Marranos went into the country and remained in the mountains and in the valleys, so that the sound might not reach the city. They employed a man specially to slaughter animals, drain away the blood, and deliver the meat at their homes, and another to circumcise secretly". The Jews of that time judged the Marranos gently and indulgently; in Italy a special prayer was offered for them every Sabbath, asking that "God might lead them from oppression to liberty, from darkness to the light of religion."
To the Conversos who lived in secret conformity with Jewish law, the Rabbis applied the Talmudic passage: "Although he has sinned, he must still be considered a Jew"; and Anusim, who took the first opportunity of going to a foreign country and openly professing Judaism, might act as witnesses in religious matters according to rabbinic law.

In Portugal

The Portuguese Conversos or Cristãos Novos clung much more faithfully and steadfastly than their Spanish brethren to the religion of their fathers, bearing the most terrible tortures for the sake of their faith. The scholar Simon Mimi of Lisbon, who would not renounce Judaism even in prison, his wife, his sons-in-law, and other Conversos were enclosed in a wall built up to their necks, the prisoners being left for three days in this agonizing situation. As they would not yield the walls were torn down, after six of the victims had died, and Mimi was dragged through the city and slain. Two Conversos who served as wardens in the prison buried the body of the martyr in the Jewish cemetery at the risk of their lives (Abraham Saba', "Ẓeror ha-Mor," p. 105b; Grätz, "Gesch." viii. 398).
Samuel Schwartz in the early 20th century discovered a few Crypto-Jewish communities in North Eastern Portugal (namely in Belmonte, Bragança, Miranda, Chaves, among others), that managed to survive more than four centuries without being fully assimilated by the Old Christian population. The last remaining community, in Belmonte, officially returned to Judaism in the 1970s, and opened a synagogue in 1996. In 2003, the Belmonte Project was founded under the auspices of the American Sephardi Federation, in order to raise funds to acquire Judaic educational material and services for the community, who now number 160-180.

Massacre at Lisbon

The church considered the Conversos neither Christians nor Jews, but atheists and heretics and the cause of a months-long plague that affected the city in 1506. On April 17, 1506, several Conversos were discovered who had in their possession "some lambs and poultry prepared according to Jewish custom; also unleavened bread and bitter herbs according to the regulations for the Passover, which festival they celebrated far into the night." Several of them were seized, but were released after a few days.
The populace, which had expected to see them punished, swore vengeance. On the same day on which the Conversos were liberated, the Dominicans displayed in a side-chapel of their church, where several New Christians were present, a crucifix and a reliquary in glass from which a peculiar light issued. A New Christian, who was so incautious as to explain this ostensible miracle as being due to natural causes, was dragged from the church and was killed by an infuriated woman. A Dominican roused the populace still more; and two others, friar João Mocho and the aragonese friar Bernardo ,crucifix in hand, went through the streets of the city, crying "Heresy!" and calling upon the people to destroy the Conversos. Many foreigners left their ships, sailors from Holland, Zealand and many other people from countries that had ships in the port of Lisbon, joined the Dominicans and together with local men started to pursue the Conversos of Lisbon.
All New Christians found in the streets were killed; and a terrible massacre ensued. More than 500 Conversos were slain and burned on the first day; and the scenes of murder were even more atrocious on the day following. The innocent victims of popular fury, young and old, living and dead, were dragged from their houses and thrown upon the pyre. Even Old Christians who in any way resembled Conversos were killed. Among the last victims, and the most hated of all, was the tax-farmer João Rodrigo Mascarenhas, one of the wealthiest and most distinguished Conversos of Lisbon; his house was entirely demolished. In this manner at least 2,000 Conversos perished (as many as 4,000 by some accounts) within forty-eight hours. By the third day there were no more Conversos in town because they had been taken away from town by good honorable Portuguese. King Manuel severely punished the inhabitants of the city that took part in the killings. The ringleaders were either hanged or quartered, and the Dominicans who had occasioned the riot were garroted and burned. All local persons convicted of murder or pillage suffered corporal punishment, and their property was confiscated, while religious freedom was granted to all Conversos for twenty years. Lisbon lost Foral previleges. The foreigners that took part in the massacre left in their ships with the pillage and without punishment. In 2006, the Jewish community of Portugal held a ceremony in Lisbon to commemorate this event.
The New Christians of Portugal, who were distinguished for their knowledge, their commerce, and their banking enterprises, but were bitterly hated, despised, and reviled by the Christians, were led to entertain better hopes for the future by the appearance of a foreign Jew, David Re'ubeni. Not only was this Jew invited by King John to visit Portugal; but, as appears from a letter (Oct. 10, 1528) of D. Martin de Salinas to the infante D. Fernando, brother of the emperor Charles I of Spain, he also received permission "to preach the law of Moses" ("Boletin Acad. Hist." xlix. 204). The Conversos regarded Re'ubeni as their savior and Messiah. The New Christians of Spain also heard the glad news; and some of them left home to seek him. The rejoicing lasted for some time; the emperor Charles even addressed several letters on the matter to his royal brother-in-law. In 1528, while Re'ubeni was still in Portugal, some Spanish Conversos fled to Campo Mayor and forcibly freed from the Inquisition a woman imprisoned at Badajoz. The rumor spread at once that the Conversos of the entire kingdom had united to make common cause. This increased the hatred of the populace, and the New Christians were attacked in Gouvea, Alentejo, Olivença, Santarém, and other places, while in the Azores and the island of Madeira they were even massacred. These excesses led the king to believe that the Portuguese Inquisition might be the most effective means of allaying the popular fury.
The Portuguese Conversos waged a long and bitter war against the introduction of the tribunal, and spent with some satisfactory results immense sums to win over to their cause the Curia and the most influential cardinals. The sacrifices made by both the Spanish and the Portuguese New Christians were indeed astonishing. The same Conversos who from Toledo had instigated the riot of the communes in 1515, Alfonso Gutierrez, Garcia Alvarez "el Rico" (the wealthy), and the Zapatas, offered through their representative 80,000 gold crowns to Emperor Charles V if he would mitigate the harshness of the Inquisition (Revue des Etudes Juifs, xxxvii. 270 et seq.). All these sacrifices, however, especially those made by the Mendes of Lisbon and Flanders (see Gracia Nasi), were powerless to prevent or retard the introduction of the Holy Office into Portugal. The Conversos were delivered over to the popular fury and to the heartless servants of the Inquisition. They suffered unspeakably. At Trancoso and Lamego, where many wealthy Conversos were living, at Miranda, Viseu, Guarda, Braga, and elsewhere they were robbed and killed. At Covilhã the people planned to massacre all the New Christians on one day; and to achieve this the more easily, the prelates petitioned the Cortes in 1562 that the Conversos be required to wear special badges, and that the Jews in the cities and villages be ordered to live in ghettos (judiarias) as before.

In Spain

The large numbers of the Conversos, as well as their wealth and influence, aroused the envy and hatred of the populace, whom the clergy incited against them as unbelieving Christians and hypocrites. The New Christians were hated much more than the Jews, and were persecuted as bitterly as their former coreligionists had been. According to historian Cecil Roth, political intrigues in Spain promoted anti-Jewish policies, which culminated in 1391, when Regent Queen Leonora of Castile gave the Archdeacon of Ecija, Ferrand Martinez, considerable power in her realm. Martinez gave speeches that led to violence against the Jews, and this influence culminated in the sack of the Jewish quarter of Seville on June 4, 1391. Throughout Spain during this year, the cities of Ecija, Carmona, Córdoba, Toledo, Barcelona and many others saw their Jewish quarters destroyed and massacred. It is estimated that 200,000 Jews saved their lives by converting to Christianity in the wake of these persecutions. Another riot against them broke out at Toledo in 1449, and was accompanied with murder and pillage. Instigated by two canons, Juan Alfonso and Pedro Lopez Galvez, the mob plundered and burned the houses of Alonso Cota, a wealthy Converso and tax-farmer, and under the leadership of a workman they likewise attacked the residences of the wealthy New Christians in the quarter of la Magdelena. The Conversos, under Juan de la Cibdad, opposed the mob, but were repulsed and, with their leader, were hanged by the feet. As an immediate consequence of this riot, the Conversos Lope and Juan Fernandez Cota, the brothers Juan, Pedro, and Diego Nuñez, Juan Lopez de Arroyo, Diego and Pedro Gonzalez, Juan Gonzalez de Illescas, and many others were deposed from office, in obedience to a new statute.
Another attack was made upon the New Christians of Toledo in July 1467. The chief magistrate (alcalde mayor) of the city was Alvar Gomez de Cibdad Real, who had been private secretary to King Henry IV of Castile, and who, if not himself a "converso," as is probable, was at least the protector of the New Christians. He, together with the prominent Conversos Fernando and Alvaro de la Torre, wished to take revenge for an insult inflicted by the counts de Fuensalida, the leaders of the Christians, and to gain control of the city. A fierce conflict was the result. The houses of the New Christians near the cathedral were fired by their opponents, and the conflagration spread so rapidly that 1,600 houses were consumed, including the beautiful palace of Diego Gomez. Many Christians and still more Conversos perished in the flames or were slain; and the brothers De la Torre were captured and hanged.

Riots at Córdoba

The example set by Toledo was imitated six years later by Córdoba, in which city the Christians and the Conversos formed two hostile parties. On March 14, 1473, during a procession in honor of the dedication of a society which had been formed under the auspices of the fanatical Bishop D. Pedro, and from which all conversos were excluded, a little girl seems to have accidentally thrown some dirty water from the window of the house of one of the wealthiest Conversos, so that it splashed over an image of the Virgin. Thousands immediately joined in the fierce shout for revenge which was raised by a smith named Alonso Rodriguez; and the rapacious mob straightway fell upon the Conversos, denouncing them as heretics, killing them, and plundering and burning their houses. To stop the excesses, the highly respected D. Alonso Fernandez de Aguilar, whose wife was a member of the widely ramified Converso family of Pacheco, together with his brother D. Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova ("el gran Capitan"), the glory of the Spanish army, and a troop of soldiers, hastened to protect the New Christians. D. Alonso called upon the mob to retire, but instead of obeying, the smith insulted the count, who immediately felled him with his lance. The people, blinded by fanaticism, regarded their slain leader as a martyr. Incited by Alonso de Aguilar's enemy, the knight Diego de Aguayo, they seized weapons and again attacked the Conversos. Girls were raped, and men, women, and children were pitilessly slain. The massacre and pillage lasted three days; those who escaped seeking refuge in the castle, whither their protectors also had to retire. It was then decreed that, in order to prevent the repetition of such excesses, no Marrano should thenceforth live in Cordoba or its vicinity, nor should one ever again hold public office.
Like the persecution of the Jews in 1391, the attack on the Conversos in 1473 spread to other cities. At Montoro, Bujalance, Adamuz, La Rambla, Santaella, and elsewhere, they were killed, and their houses were plundered. At Jaén the populace was so bitter against them that the constable Miguel Lucas de Iranzo, who undertook to protect them, was himself killed in church by the ringleaders (March 21, 22). The Conversos were fiercely attacked by the populace in Andujar, Úbeda, Baeza, and Almodovar del Campo also. In Valladolid the populace was content with plundering the New Christians, but the massacre was very fierce at Segovia (May 16, 1474). Here the attack, instigated by D. Juan Pacheco, himself a member of a Converso family, was terrible; corpses lay in heaps in all the streets and squares, and not a New Christian would have escaped alive had not the alcalde Andreas de Cabrera interfered. At Carmona every Converso was killed.

Introduction of Inquisition

The introduction of the Spanish Inquisition was bitterly opposed by the Conversos of Seville and other cities of Castile, and especially of Aragon, where they rendered considerable service to the king, and held high legal, financial, and military positions. As D. Miguel Lucas de Iranzo, Constable of Castile, had been slain in the cathedral of Jaen, so the inquisitor Pedro Arbues was assassinated twelve years later in the cathedral of Zaragoza, the former by Christians, the latter by Conversos. The murderers of De Iranzo went scot-free, while those of the inquisitor were punished most cruelly. Together with the introduction of the Inquisition an edict was issued that henceforth the Jews must live within their ghetto and be separated from the Conversos. Despite the law, however, the Jews remained in communication with their New Christian brethren. "They sought ways and means to win them from Catholicism and bring them back to Judaism. They instructed the Marranos in the tenets and ceremonies of the Jewish religion; held meetings in which they taught them what they must believe and observe according to the Mosaic law; and enabled them to circumcise themselves and their children. They furnished them with prayer-books; explained the fast-days; read with them the history of their people and their Law; announced to them the coming of the Passover; procured unleavened bread for them for that festival, as well as kosher meat throughout the year; encouraged them to live in conformity with the law of Moses, and persuaded them that there was no law and no truth except the Jewish religion." All these charges were brought against the Jews in the edict issued by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, and formed the grounds for their banishment from the country. The decree of expulsion materially increased the number, already large, of those who purchased a further sojourn in their beloved home by accepting baptism.
Recent studies into the Conversos and the Inquisition carried out in Henry Kamen's ‘Inquisition and Society In Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’ questions the links between Conversos and Jewish communities. Whilst historians such as Yitzhak Baer state, ‘the conversos and Jews were one people', Kamen claims that ‘Yet if the conversos were hated by the Christians, the Jews liked them no better.’ The hatred even went so far that ‘Jews testified falsely against them [the conversos] when the Inquisition was finally founded.’ The area is still under debate by historians.


The Conversos, who were constantly threatened and persecuted by the Inquisition, tried in every way to leave the country, either in bands or as individual refugees. Many of them escaped to Italy, attracted thither by the climate, which resembled that of the Iberian Peninsula, and by its kindred language. They settled at Ferrara, and Duke Ercole I d'Este granted them privileges, which were confirmed by his son, Alfonso, to twenty-one Spanish Conversos, physicians, merchants, and others (ib. xv. 113 et seq.).
Spanish and Portuguese Conversos settled also at Florence; and New Christians contributed to make Leghorn a leading seaport. They received privileges at Venice, where they were protected from the persecutions of the Inquisition. At Milan they materially advanced the interests of the city by their industry and commerce, although João de la Foya captured and robbed large numbers of them in that region. At Bologna, Pisa, Naples, Reggio, and many other Italian cities they freely exercised their religion, and were soon so numerous that Fernando de Goes Loureiro, an abbot from Oporto, filled an entire book with the names of the Conversos who had drawn large sums from Portugal and had openly avowed Judaism in Italy. In Piedmont Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy welcomed the Conversos from Coimbra, Pablo Hernando, Ruy Lopez, and Rodriguez, together with their families, and granted them commercial and industrial privileges, as well as the free exercise of their religion. Rome was full of Conversos. Pope Paul III received them at Ancona for commercial reasons, and granted complete liberty "to all persons from Portugal and Algarve, even if belonging to the class of New Christians." Three thousand Portuguese Jews and Conversos were living at Ancona in 1553. Two years later the fanatical Pope Paul IV issued orders to have all the Conversos thrown into the prisons of the Inquisition which he had instituted. Sixty of them, who acknowledged the Catholic faith as penitents, were transported to the island of Malta; twenty-four, who adhered to Judaism, were publicly burned (May, 1556); and those who escaped from the Inquisition were received at Pesaro by Duke Guido Ubaldo of Urbino. As Guido was disappointed, however, in his hope of seeing all the Jews and Conversos of Turkey select Pesaro as a commercial center, he expelled (July 9, 1558) the New Christians from Pesaro and other districts (ib. xvi. 61 et seq.). Many Conversos were attracted to Dubrovnik, formerly a considerable seaport. In May, 1544, a ship landed there filled exclusively with Portuguese refugees, as Balthasar de Faria reported to King John.

In France

At this same period the Conversos were seeking refuge beyond the Pyrenees, settling at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Tarbes, Bayonne, Bordeaux, Marseille, and Montpellier. They lived apparently as Christians; were married by Catholic priests; had their children baptized, and publicly pretended to be Catholics. In secret, however, they circumcised their children, kept the Sabbath and feast-days as far as they could, and prayed together. King Henry III of France confirmed the privileges granted them by Henry II of France, and protected them against such slanders and accusations as those which a certain Ponteil brought against them. Under Louis XIII of France the Conversos of Bayonne were assigned to the suburb of St. Esprit. At St. Esprit, as well as at Peyrehorade, Bidache, Orthez, Biarritz, and St. Jean de Luz, they gradually avowed Judaism openly. In 1640 several hundred Conversos, considered to be Jews, were living at St. Jean de Luz; and at St. Esprit there was a synagogue as early as 1660.

The rest of the world

Next to the Ottoman Empire, where conversos had openly declared their return to Judaism upon reaching its shores and where they had later built important communities such as in Salonika, the Conversos turned chiefly to Flanders, attracted by its flourishing cities, such as Antwerp, where they settled at an early date, and Brussels. Conversos from Flanders, and others direct from the Pyrenean Peninsula, went under the guise of Catholics to Hamburg and Altona about 1580, where they established commercial relations with their former homes. Some went as far as Scotland. Christian IV of Denmark invited some New Christian families to settle at Glückstadt about 1626, granting certain privileges to them and also to the Conversos who came to Emden about 1649.
Large numbers of Conversos, however, remained in Spain and Portugal, despite the extensive emigration and the fate of countless victims of the Inquisition. The New Christians of Portugal breathed more freely when Philip III of Spain came to the throne and by the law of April 4, 1601, granted them the privilege of unrestricted sale of their real estate as well as free departure from the country for themselves, their families, and their property. Many, availing themselves of this permission, followed their coreligionists to Africa and Turkey. After a few years, however, the privilege was revoked, and the Inquisition resumed its activity. But the Portuguese who were not affected by radicalism perceived that no forcible measures could induce the Conversos to give up the religion of their fathers.
Individual New Christians, as Antonio Fernandez Carvajal and several from Spain, Hamburg, and Amsterdam, went to London, whence their families spread to Brazil, where Conversos had settled at an early date, and to other countries of America. The migrations to Constantinople and Salonica, where refugees had settled after the expulsion from Spain, as well as to Serbia, to Romania and Bulgaria, and even to Vienna and Timişoara, continued down to the middle of the 18th century.

See also


  • Cecil & Irene Roth, A history of the Marranos, Sepher-Hermon Press, 1974.
  • Cecil Roth, A history of the Jews. New York: Schocken Books, 1961.
This article draws on the corresponding article in the Jewish Encyclopedia''. Further relevant material can be found in their article on South and Central America.
marrano in German: Marranen
marrano in Spanish: Marrano (judeoconverso)
marrano in French: Marranisme
marrano in Italian: Marrano
marrano in Hebrew: אנוסים
marrano in Japanese: マラーノ
marrano in Polish: Marrani
marrano in Portuguese: Marrano
marrano in Russian: Марраны
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