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South America

From: The Inquisition in the New World

By Clara Steinberg-Spitz


"O, mal haya el tribunal del Santo Oficio qui se no hubiera en este reino, yo contara los cristianos por estos dedos".

("Or, bad to have the Court of Santo Oficio qui is there in this realm, I counted Christians by these fingers.")

Luis de Carvajal "El Mozo" , 1596)

The story of the Carvajal family, especially that of Luis el Mozo, is found in detail in several books. This family and about thirty other Jews introduced a new type of Jewish family -- one which observed Jewish rites. From their seeds stemmed three communities in Mexico City, and others in Puebla, Veracruz and Guadalajara. In March 1589, Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva, known as "el Conquistador", governor of the New Kingdom of León in northern Mexico, was arrested at the behest of the Inquisition and by personal order of the viceroy of New Spain. Carvajal and his wife Guiomar were of partial New Christian descent. Personally, Carvajal was the devoutest of Catholics. As a young man he had even studied for a short period of time in a seminary. Unknown to him, his wife was a secret Jewess; his sister Francisca and her husband, Francisco Rodríguez de Matos, both of whom he had brought to Mexico, were committed judaizers. So were eight of their nine children, and most of their nephews and nieces. The only exception was a son, Gaspar de Matos, who became a Dominican priest, and was unaware of his family's true faith until 1589. Upon the death of their father, most of the Rodríguez de Matos family adopted the name of their illustrious uncle, Carvajal. In 1589 the judaizing activities of an older daughter, Isabel, became too flagrant to be ignored. She was arrested, and within the next two days the Inquisition had arrested the rest of the family, including the governor himself. Of the sons and daughters living at home, only two eluded capture. The governor's sister, Doña Francisca, was savagely tortured and soon confessed to everything the Inquisition accused her of, implicating all her children, nieces, nephews, and in- laws. Most of the others collapsed under torture or terror, including the entirely innocent priest, Fray Gaspar. In early 1590, after months of imprisonment, the third son, Luis de Carvajal, -- a namesake of his famous uncle and known as "El Mozo" (the Younger) -- emerged as a spiritual leader of the family. In his cell, he performed the circumcision on himself using an old pair of scissors, affirming his loyalty to Judaism; from then on, no torture could shake his commitment. While admitting his own Judaism, he refused to implicate other family members. In an auto de fé in February of 1590 a posthumous punishment was imposed on the late Don Francisco, whose remains were exhumed and publicly burned. There were forty five Jews in the auto de fé of December 8, 1596 in Mexico City. Nine Jews were burned, five of them females. Luis, his mother, and his sisters Leonor, Isabel, and Catalina, were burned at the stake; Doña Francisca and her daughters agreed to embrace the church and were "mercifully" garroted, and only their corpses were burned. Luis spurned reconciliation and was burned alive. Another sister, Marianne, was declared insane by the inquisitors, but by 1601 she was presumed to have regained her sanity, and she met her faith in the auto of March 21, 1601. The youngest sister, Ana, affectionaly called, Anica, was released because she was a child, and consigned as a penitent to the custody of a Catholic family. Later she married a secret Jew, and bore four children. She is known as Ana de León "the Saint". She died in an Inquisition cell in 1647 and her bones were disinterred and burned in the auto de fé of 1649. Luis' brothers Baltazar and Miguel escaped. One became a physician in Venice and the other a chief rabbi in Salonica. It was Governor Luis de Carvajal himself who endured, perhaps, the most traumatic sentence of all. Found guilty of "abetting and protecting" judaizers, he was stripped of his office and estate, condemned to six years in exile from New Spain, then remanded to his cell for transport back to Spain. Four months into his imprisonment, still awaiting transfer to the homeland, he perished of undetermined causes.