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Sunshine and Shadows
Travels in Spain
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Wendy Wippel

Last week, in the shadow of Seville's beautiful 600-year old cathedral and warmed by the Spanish sun, I enjoyed lunch in the charming old-world Plaza de San Francisco. The same plaza in which 704 Jews (1481-1799) were burned alive in the Spanish Inquisition. Funny. None of the tour guides mentioned that.

Although the Inquisition wasn't limited to Spain (the first execution of a Jew considered to be part of the official Inquisition occurred in Troyes, France) it was in Spain that the model began and it was in Spain that the official inquisition (1288-1826) was most enthusiastically embraced.

Probably because it was in Spain that most of the Jews who had fled Jerusalem (after its destruction in 70 AD) ended up.

And they lived there quite happily until the Roman Empire started to fall apart. By that time, "Christians" (using the term loosely) had arrived and there the trouble started. The Visigoth king Recared (with his capital in Toledo, Spain), after converting to Roman Catholicism, limited Jewish rights in the kingdom (507), and by 613 (under the Visigoth King Sisebut) orders to either convert or be expelled from Spain had already begun.

Which, of course, set the stage for an inquisition. Why?

Well, what, exactly, is an "inquistion"?

An inquisition is an "inquiry", i.e., an investigation, into the sincerity of a Jewish conversion to Christianity. And when conversions are forced (go figure) there tends to be a lot of doubt about their sincerity.

And doubt about the sincerity of a conversion requires an "inquisition".

Sisebut ordered conversions in 613, and by 633 laws had been passed which required children be taken away from "false" converts to Christianity to be raised in Christian families, and by 653 anyone caught practicing Judaism were to be burned at the stake or stoned.

(No wonder that, when the Muslim invasion conquered most of Visigoth Spain in 711, they were viewed by Spain's Jewish population as a liberating force.)

During my tour of Spain, our tour guides did tell us many times that historically Spain was a country in which Arabs, Muslims, and "Christians” lived in peace.

But reality, at least for the Jews, was not quite that tidy. Pressure from the Catholic population continued, with various edicts issued that legalized allowing persecution of all "infidels".

The Crusades (beginning in 1095) stirred up fervor against Spain's internal infidels, prompting attacks against the Jewish population of the Visigoth capital Toledo (1212), followed by massacres of Jews across Spain in 1366, and culminating in a series of anti-Semitic campaigns led by a priest (Ferrand Martinez) in 1378.

Martinez used Seville's squares to exhort the good "Christians" of Seville to destroy the synagogues, restrict the Jewish population to a "ghetto" and to have no peace until their Jewish neighbors were either converted (involuntarily, typically, through forced baptisms) or dead.

Martinez rose in position in the church as well as popularity, and on June 6, 1391, his enthusiasm for the extinction of Judaism birthed a bloodthirsty crowd in Seville who then descended on the Jewish ghetto. What started in Seville spread to Cordoba, then Toledo. And from Toledo, to Barcelona. And from Barcelona, to Lerida, with similar results.

All of Spain's Jews either buried, banished, or baptized.

Many were, in fact buried, as an eyewitness recorded of the massacre in Seville:

"Those of them who refused to accept baptism were immediately slain, and their corpses, stretched in the streets and the squares, offered a horrendous spectacle."

Some managed to flee, escaping the carnage.

It is believed that most, ultimately surrendered to baptism, with estimates that as many as 600,000 Jews accepting baptism to avoid being killed. 

For his success, Martinez was made a saint.

For the church in Spain, his success created a huge problem: 600,000 Jews who "converted" by accepting baptism on pain of death? Plenty of reason to doubt their sincerity, and, in fact, most Jews who "converted" became Christian in name only and continued to practice their own faith secretly.

Which led directly to the official, infamous Spanish inquisition-- officially beginning with creation of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1478, with the first burning of a Jew judged to be insincere in his Christian faith occurring in Seville in 1481.

Death sentences, typically calling for the accused being burned at the stake, were issued in the church but carried out in a public square, in which a facility large enough to accommodate the crowds expected to attend the spectacle was erected. Those to be executed were provided with special clothing called a samarra, on which, both back and front, was a likeness of the doomed in the process of being consumed by the flames and surrounded by demons.

"Christians" were, in fact, encouraged to attend the executions: Nicolas Eymeric, in the "Manual for Inquisiteurs", recommended attendance because "it is a sight which fills the spectators with terror and is an awful picture of the last judgment. Such fear and such sentiments ought to be inspired, and are fraught with the greatest advantages."

Incredibly enough, attendees were even promised special blessings. An official announcement of an execution held in Madrid in 1680 proclaimed:

"The inhabitants of the town of Madrid are hereby informed that the Holy Office of the Inquisition of the city and kingdom of Toledo will celebrate a general Auto da Fé on Sunday, the 30th of June of the present year, and that all those who shall in any way contribute to the promotion of or be present at the said auto will be made partakers of all the spiritual graces granted by the Roman Pontiff."

No surprise, then, that the carrying out of these death sentences (for being insincere Christian converts) were attended by larger audiences than the even-then popular bullfights.

You may have noticed that the announcement above calls the execution of secret Jews an "auto da Fe". The term "auto da Fe" comes from the Latin term "Actus Fidei", or Act of Faith. In the twisted version of Christianity practiced by Catholicism in ancient Spain, it was considered an act of faith, like taking communion or being baptized, to carry out, participate in, or witness the executions of these infidels.

Which makes it pretty interesting that Jesus tells His Jewish audience just before He dies, that after He dies, both His disciples and the Holy Spirit will continue to testify about Him, and that;

"the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. (John 16:2 NKJV)

Killing God's chose people. An "Act of Faith", with special blessings (from the Pope) for all participants. A chilling fulfillment of that prophecy.

Jesus continued:

"And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them."

It was interesting, when I visited Toledo, that I got to speak with one of the only two Jewish families left there, a city that was a thriving Jewish enclave in Spain's past.

What God says to Israel is this:

Remember these, O Jacob, And Israel…you will not be forgotten by Me! I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:21)

What God says to the church is this:

Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:21-26)

Why can't we, even today, keep that straight?

Wippel" href="http://www.omegaletter.com/content/?Bio_Wendy_page">About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Wippel" href="http://www.omegaletter.com/articles/articles.asp?ArticleID=7779">People of Yehudah (But not Judah)

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