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Limpieza de sangre (Spanish: [limˈpjeθa ðe ˈsaŋɡɾe]), Limpeza de sangue (Portuguese: [lĩˈpezɐ ðɨ ˈsɐ̃ɡɨ], Galician: [limˈpeθa ðe ˈsaŋɡe]) or Neteja de sang (Catalan: [nəˈtɛʒə ðə ˈsaŋ]), literally "cleanliness of blood" and meaning "blood purity", played an important role in the modern history of the Iberian Peninsula.

It referred to those who were considered pure "Old Christians", without Muslim or Jewish ancestors, or within the context of the empire (New Spain and Portuguese India) usually to those without ancestry from the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Asia, or Africa.


By the end of the Reconquista and the conversion of Muslim mudéjars and Sephardi Jews, the population of Portugal and Spain was all nominally Christian. Out of Spain's population of 7 million, this included up to a million recent converts from Islam and 200,000 converts from Judaism, who were collectively referred to as "New Christians". Converts from Judaism were referred to as conversos or marranos, and converts from Islam were known as Moriscos. A commonly leveled accusation was that the New Christians were false converts, secretly practicing their former religion as Crypto-Jews or Crypto-Muslims. Nevertheless, the concept of cleanliness of blood came to be more focused on ancestry than of personal religion. The first statute of purity of blood appeared in Toledo, Spain, 1449,[1] where an anti-converso riot succeeded in obtaining a ban on conversos and their posterity from most official positions. Initially, these statutes were condemned by the monarchy and the Church; however, in 1496, Pope Alexander VI approved a purity statute for the Hieronymites.[1]

This stratification meant that the Old Christian commoners could assert a right to honour even if they were not in the nobility. The religious and military orders, guilds and other organizations incorporated in their by-laws clauses demanding proof of cleanliness of blood. Upwardly mobile New Christian families had to either contend with their plight, or bribe and falsify documents attesting generations of good Christian ancestry. The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were more concerned with repressing the New Christians and heresy than chasing witches, which was considered to be more a psychological than a religious issue, or Protestants, who were promptly suffocated.[citation needed]

The claim to universal hidalguía (lowest nobility) of the Basques was justified by intellectuals like Manuel Larramendi (1690–1766)[2] because the Umayyad conquest of Hispania had not reached the Basque territories, so it was believed that Basques had maintained their original purity, while the rest of Spain was suspect of miscegenation. The universal hidalguía of Basques helped many of them to positions of power in the administration.[3] This idea was reinforced by the fact that, as a result of the Reconquista, a large number of Spanish noble lineages were already of Basque origin.[4]

Tests of limpieza de sangre had begun to lose their utility by the 19th century; rarely did persons have to endure the grueling inquisitions into distant parentage through birth records. However, laws requiring limpieza de sangre were still sometimes adopted even into the 19th century. For example, an edict of 8 March 1804 by King Ferdinand VII resolved that no knight of the military orders could wed without having a council vouch for the limpieza de sangre of his spouse.[5]

Official suppression of such entry requirements for the Army was enacted into law on 16 May 1865,[6] and extended to naval appointments on 31 August of the same year. On 5 November 1865, a decree allowed children born out of wedlock, for whom ancestry could not be verified, to be able to enter into religious higher education (canons).[7] On 26 October 1866, the test of blood purity was outlawed for the purposes of determining who could be admitted to college education. On 20 March 1870, a decree suppressed all use of blood purity standards in determining eligibility for any government position or any licensed profession.[8]

The discrimination was still present into the 20th century in some places like Majorca. No Xueta (descendants of the Majorcan conversos) priests were allowed to say Mass in a cathedral until the 1960s.[9]


The earliest known case judging Limpieza de Sangre comes from the Church of Cordoba, that explained the procedure to judge the purity of blood of a candidate as follows: Kneeling, with his right hand placed over the image of a crucifix on a Bible, the candidate confirmed themselves as not being of either Jewish or Moorish extraction. Then the candidate provided the names of their parents and grandparents, as well as places of birth. Two delegates of the council, church or other public place would then research the information to make sure it was truthful. If the investigation had to be carried out of Cordoba, a person, not necessarily a member of the council, would be appointed to examine the witnesses appointed by the candidate. This researcher would receive a sum per diem according to the rank of the person, the distance traveled and the time spent. Having collected all the reports, the secretary or the notary must read them all to the council and a vote would decide whether the candidate was approved. A simple majority was sufficient, after which the candidate had to promise to obey all the laws and customs of the Church.[10]


The concept of Limpieza de sangre, was a significant barrier for many Spaniard to emigrate to the Americas, since some form of proof of not having recent Moorish or Jewish ancestors was required to emigrate to the Spanish Empire. However, within Spain's overseas territories the concept evolved to be linked with racial purity for both Spaniards and indigenous.[11] Proofs of racial purity were required in a variety of circumstances in both Spain and its overseas territories. Candidates for office and their spouses had to obtain a certificate of purity that proved that they had no Jewish or Muslim ancestors and in New Spain, proof of whiteness and absence of any in the lineage who engaged in work with their hands.[12]

Additionally, as early as the sixteenth century, shortly after the Spanish colonization of America was initiated, several regulations were enacted in the Laws of the Indies to prevent Jews and Muslims and their descendants to emigrate and settle in the overseas colonies.[citation needed] These provisions are repeatedly stressed upon on following editions of the Laws, which provides an indication that the regulations were often ignored,[13] most likely because colonial authorities at the time looked the other way, as the skills of those immigrants were badly needed. During the period when Portugal and Spain were ruled by the same monarch (1580-1640), Portuguese merchants, many of whom were so-called crypto-Jews (Jews passing as Christians) became important members of the merchant communities in the viceregal capitals of Mexico City and Lima. When Portugal successfully revolted in 1640 from Spain, the Holy Office of the Inquisition in both capitals initiated intensive investigations to identify and prosecute crypto-Jews, resulting in spectacular autos de fe in the mid seventeenth century.[14]


LIMPIEZA DE SANGRE (Sp., "purity of blood"), an obsessive concern in Spain and Portugal from the 15th century, based on the mythical goal of a society in which all but the most humble functions would be exercised by "pure-blooded" Christians. In varying degrees this obsession afflicted Spain until well into the 19th century; blood purity was still a requirement for admission to the military academy until 1860, when it was legally abolished. In Portugal all legal distinctions between Old and *New Christians were officially removed in 1773. Limpieza de sangre continues to be a matter of concern on the island of Majorca, where Christians of Jewish ancestry are disdainfully referred to as *chuetas and frequently suffer discrimination because of their "impure blood."

Although the pure-blood statutes established by the various communities of Spain in the 16th century adopted a routine formula directed against all Christians descended from Moors and heretics as well as Jews, the problem, both in its historical origins and in its later consequences, mainly concerned those of Jewish ancestry. The first such measure of which details are known, the so-called Sentencia-Estatuto adopted in Toledo in 1449 in the course of a popular uprising under the leadership of Pedro *Sarmiento against royal authority, was directed solely against the Toledan *Conversos. It prohibited them from testifying in legal proceedings and excluded them from all public office, especially notaryships which were most frequently in their hands, "under penalty of death and confiscation of all their goods."

This extraordinary measure against the Conversos or New Christians was a direct consequence of a series of anti-Jewish riots which swept through Spain in 1391. Protests against and denunciations of the Sentencia-Estatuto arose both among the affected converts as well as distinguished ecclesiastics of non-Jewish origin, including Pope Nicholas v. Nevertheless, the pure-blood statutes spread to such an extent that by 1500 most Spanish organizations, secular or religious, insisted on "blood purity" as a qualification for membership. The controversy concerning the legality and propriety of the limpieza de sangre discriminations continued until well into the 17th century, and Conversos were excluded from an increasing number of guilds, religious confraternities, most colleges, religious and military orders, and residence in certain towns. Churches and cathedrals reserved even their most humble benefices for Christians "without the stain of Jewish blood," leading one polemicist to observe that Jesus himself would have failed to qualify as a porter in Toledo Cathedral.

Spain's obsession with blood purity in the 16th and 17th centuries led to considerable social turmoil. A leading supporter of the limpieza de sangre statutes in the early 17th century was Juan Escobar del Corro in his Tractatus. His work suggests that the racial or ethnic grounds for the opposition to the Conversos cannot be canceled by religious and theological reasons. The limpieza de sangre was introduced when it was no longer possible to reject a descendant of Jews purely on religious grounds. As generations passed and the memory of the Jewish ancestry of Converso Spaniards faded, efforts were redoubled to unearth the traces of their long-forgotten "impure" forefathers. Communities vied with one another in the severity of their pure-blood statutes. The Old College of Saint Bartholomew of Salamanca, the source of Spain's most important leaders, took pride in refusing admittance to anyone even rumored to be of Jewish descent. Hearsay testimony and words spoken in anger to the effect that someone was a Jew, or a descendant of Jews, sufficed to disqualify a man, a kind of "civil death" understandably feared by Spaniards. As investigations into ancestries ranged even farther into the distant past, until "time immemorial" as some put it, even families considered Old Christian lived in constant fear lest some remote, forgotten "stain" be brought to light or a hostile rumormonger destroy their reputation.

Since no one could be absolutely certain of his blood purity "since time immemorial," limpieza de sangre ultimately became a qualification negotiated through bribed witnesses, shuffled genealogies, and falsified documents.

Américo Castro's attempt to demonstrate that the roots of the limpieza de sangre are to be found, not in the Christian-Iberian anti-Jewish feelings, but in much older sources, very distant from Spain, namely Jewish ones, has been rejected by scholars, such as B.Z. Netanyahu. Castro claims that the Jewsintroduced their racial beliefs into Spain, just as they introduced the Inquisition. Castro brings his evidence from ancient biblical sources, medieval rabbinic literature, and Spanish Jewish scholars, but is clearly unfounded and often based on mistaken views of the Jewish sources.



Casta is an Iberian word (existing in Spanish, Portuguese and other Iberian languages since the Middle Ages), meaning "lineage", "breed" or "race." It is derived from the older Latin word castus, "chaste," implying that the lineage has been kept pure. Casta gave rise to the English word caste during the Early Modern Period.

The idea of "purity of blood", limpieza de sangre, developed in Christian Spain to denote those without the "taint" of Jewish or Muslim heritage ("blood"). It was directly linked to religion and notions of legitimacy, lineage and honor following Spain's reconquest of Moorish territory. It was institutionalized during the Inquisition. The Inquisition in the New World aggressively prosecuted crypto-Jews (Jews passing as Christians), many of whom were Portuguese merchants in Mexico City and Lima, following the successful revolt of Portugal in 1640 against the Spanish Crown. Several spectacular auto-de-fes in New Spain in the mid-seventeenth century featured the public punishment of those convicted of being "Judaizers" (judaizantes).

In Spanish America, the idea of purity of blood was in a complex fashion linked to ideas of race, particularly pertaining to mixing of whites (españoles) and non-whites (Indians and mixed-race castas). Spaniards had become obsessed with lineage, following the expulsion of Moors and Jews, and forced conversion of those who chose to remain. Evidence of lack of purity of blood had consequences for marriage, eligibility for office, entrance into the priesthood, and emigration to Spain's overseas territories. Having to produce genealogical records to prove one's pure ancestry gave rise to a trade in the creation of false genealogies.

When the concept of purity of blood was transferred overseas, it retained the concerns about tainted ancestry of Jews or Muslims in a family line. During the early colonial decades, the Spanish in the New World had unions and marriages with indigenous women, resulting in generations of mixed-race children. In the late sixteenth century, some investigations of ancestry classified as "stains" any connection with Black Africans (negros and mulatos) and sometimes mixtures with indigenous that produced Mestizos. The idea that any hint of Blacks in a lineage was a stain continued to the end of the colonial period. It was illustrated in eighteenth-century paintings of racial hierarchy, known as casta paintings.

The idea in New Spain that Indian (indio) blood in a lineage may well have come about as the optimism of the early Franciscans faded about creating Indian Christian priests trained at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, which ceased that function in the mid-sixteenth century. In addition, the Indian nobility, which was recognized by the Spanish colonists, had declined in importance, and there were fewer formal marriages between Spaniards and indigenous women as during the early decades of the colonial era. In the seventeenth century in New Spain, the ideas of purity of blood became associated with "Spanishness and whiteness, but it came to work together with socio-economic categories", such that a lineage with someone engaged in work with their hands was tainted by that connection.

Indians in Central Mexico were affected by ideas of purity of blood from the other side. Crown decrees on purity of blood were affirmed by indigenous communities, which barred Indians from holding office who had any non-Indians (Spaniards and/or Blacks) in their lineage. In indigenous communities "local caciques [rulers] and principales were granted a set of privileges and rights on the basis of their pre-Hispanic noble bloodlines and acceptance of the Catholic faith." Indigenous nobles submitted proofs (probanzas) of their purity of blood to affirm their rights and privileges that were extended to themselves and their communities. This supported the república de indios, a legal division of society that separated indigenous from non-Indians (república de españoles).[12]

In the mid to late eighteenth century, the pace of race mixture (mestizaje) increased in New Spain, political changes of the Bourbon Reforms privileged peninsular Spaniards over American-born Spaniards, and casta paintings began to be produced in great numbers in Mexico. It was also the period when the power of the sistema de castas declined significantly.[13]

The History Learning Site  9 Mar 2015
Citation: C N Trueman "Blood Purity And Nazi Germany"

Blood purity was very important to the leaders of Nazi Germany. According to Hitler, blood purity would ensure the survival of the Aryan race and the ‘1000 Year Reich’. Laws were introduced to ensure blood purity within Nazi Germany and anyone who acted outside of these laws was deemed to have committed the crime of ‘rassenschande’, which translates roughly as ‘racial pollution’ or ‘racial crime’.

“Blood mixture and the resultant drop in the racial level is the sole cause of the dying out of old cultures; for men do not perish as a result of lost wars, but by the loss of that force of resistance which is contained only in pure blood. All who are not of good race in this world are chaff. And all occurrences in world history are only expression of the races’ instinct for self-preservation. What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfilment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe. Those who are physically and mentally unhealthy and unworthy must not perpetuate their suffering in the body of their children.” Hitler in ‘Mein Kampf’.  

At the start of the Nazi regime there was a degree of reticence as to what constituted a ‘blood crime’ that led to ‘blood defilement’. Roland Freisler, the future head of the feared People’s Court, stated in 1933 that any Aryan who had a relationship with any non-Aryan was guilty of ‘blood treason’; his comment was specifically targeted against the Jews. However, in the early days of Nazi rule, such a view did not receive wide support – not even from Hitler. Many were wary as the Nazis had yet to state what exactly a ‘blood crime’ was. Some were more cautious in their approach and argued that legislation might penalise those who simply were unaware that they might have distant Jewish blood in their family. Local Nazi officials took it upon themselves to ban those who wanted to proceed with what they deemed to be mixed marriages. But even in 1934, more than a year into power, a senior Nazi, William Frick, ordered these local officials to be more cautious. It was only in 1935 that Frick gave his support to those officials who used their local authority to delay such marriages.

The 1935 Nuremberg Laws finally gave clarity to ‘blood purity’ when mixed marriages and any form of relationship between Aryans and Jews was outlawed. Anyone classed as an Aryan who was caught engaging in a relationship with a Jew after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws faced a prison sentence. Any Jew caught breaking the laws faced a lengthy sentence in a concentration camp with no guarantee that he/she would be released. Freisler had finally got his way as ‘blood treason’ was now on the statue book.

However, the Nuremberg Laws created a problem that Frick had been concerned with in 1934. What about Aryan/Jewish marriages that had taken place before the Nuremberg Laws were passed? The laws did not nullify such marriages but under Nazi ideology any children born in such marriages could not be pure Aryan. The Nazi government approached this issue very simply: for a regime that preached the importance of marriage and family, it encouraged the Aryan partner in such a marriage to divorce.

The desire for blood purity continued into World War Two when anyone in Germany caught having sexual relations with any slave labourer brought into the country faced severe punishment.

The Nazi propaganda machine constantly pushed home the importance of blood purity. All avenues of themedia were used to spread the message. The Office of Racial Purity frequently wrote about the “honour of the German people” and how it could be diluted by “unacceptable relationships”. Films shown across Germany portrayed male Jews as sexual predators who abused the young women of Germany. There was a constant push to remind all those in Germany about the importance of blood purity and the consequences of ‘racial crimes’ or ‘blood treason’.

Education played an important part in spreading the message of ‘blood purity’. School teachers were given a very specific brief to teach. The Nazis assumed that by the time young children had grown up, they would accept blood purity as a normal and natural part of life. Older girls were warned about the dangers of engaging in a relationship with a non-Aryan. A pamphlet titled “The German National Catechism” was widely available in all schools. It gave a stark warning to girls who ignored the advice. It warned that a child born into a “mixed-marriage” would be a “lamentable creature, tossed back and forth between the blood of his two races”. It continued that “a woman defiled by a Jew can never rid her body of the foreign poison she has absorbed. She is lost to her people.” Children were taught to memorise poems about blood purity. They were told “keep your blood pure” as it is “your eternal life”.

The imagery of pure blood played a very important part in Nazi ceremonies. Hitler used the issue of spilt pure Aryan blood at the annual Nuremberg rallies. The so-called ‘Blood Banner’ (Blutfahne) was a special Nazi flag that had been supposedly drenched in the blood of “Nazi martyrs” at the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Each year at Nuremberg, Hitler would accept new party colours with one hand holding the new colours while his other hand grasped the ‘Blood Banner’. The Blood Order’ (Blutorden) was the highest honorary decoration given out by the Nazi Party and it was awarded to those still alive in 1933 who had participated in the Beer Hall Putsch  –  about 1500 in total.


Colonial Peru, the Caste System, and the “Purity” of Blood    South Americana




de sangre

de Sangre


Blood Purity
Nazi Germany