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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]

See also: Casta

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]


On 2 January 1492, the Catholic Kings entered Grenada with great pomp and ceremony. The capture  of the remaining region in Spain controlled by the Muslims  strengthened the drive for complete religious homogeneity. To achieve this there were two obstacles, secret Jews and secret Muslims (Moriscos).  Restrictions of their rights was not enough. Purity of faith became a Spanish obsession:

Converts (conversos) became the victims of the purity obsession. Secret Jews were called Marranos (pigs) and their descendants were forbidden to occupy public office, to belong to corporations, colleges, orders, and live in some towns.

Public positions were restricted to Christians "of impeccable descent," that is those not suspected of Jewish ancestry. As no more Jews existed New Christians fitted the bill. As time went on more stringent efforts were made to exhume any overlooked trace of impure ancestors.

Until 1860 "purity of blood" was a prerequisite to being accepted into the Military Academy. The most prestigious of Spanish colleges, San Bartolome of Salamanca, boasted that they rejected any candidate against whom the slightest rumor existed of Jewish ancestry. Since no one could be sure of their "blood purity since time immemorial," the blemish was negotiable through bribed witnesses, shuffled genealogies, and falsified documents. Today a special aura is often attributed to this supposed "unity of faith" of classic Spain.

The obsession with purity of blood may be related to the frequency with which blood libels were fabricated in Spain. There are still Spanish priests who openly revere in their churches the false memory of a martyr boy ritually murdered by blood-drinking Jews. In the St. Nicholas Church in Sevilla there is an altar devoted to Dominguito del Val, "murdered by Jews in 1250."  The hate-filled atmosphere created by the libels generated collective hysteria. Not surprisingly, the 1492 expulsion took place the year after the blood libel of La Guardia, which gave birth to the cult venerating the memory of the "holy martyr boy."

With time, details have been added to this story which assumed epic proportions. Each century produced a literary masterpiece that reiterated the topic. In 1583 Fray Rodrigo de Yepes wrote the Story of the Death and Glorious Martyrdom of the Innocent Saint called de La Guardia (after almost a century of Jew-free Spain) and the plot of this work was the basis for Lope de Vega's The Innocent Child of La Guardia. During the eighteenth century, Jose de Canizares adapted it in The Very Image of Christ, as did Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1830-1870) in his story The Rose of Passion. In 1943 Manuel Romero de Castilla again published the libel under the title.

Of the two blood libels still celebrated worldwide, one is in Spain commemorating the time in 1415 when the synagogue of Segovia was confiscated and its leaders executed after an earthquake was interpreted as a divine punishment for Jewish blood rituals.

Infant John of Aragon took part in some of the accusations. In 1367 in Barcelona, several Jewish sages (Hasdai Crescas, Nissim Gerondi, and Isaac Ben Sheshet) were among those arrested when the whole community (including children) was locked up in the synagogue for three days without food. Since they steadfastly refused to confess to a blood crime, the king ordered that they should be freed and three Jews were executed. Ten years later there were similar cases in Teruel and Huesca.

The end of the Spanish Jewish community was tragic in the suffering involved, the collective memory of the demonic image of the Jews, and a fear of blood impurity. Rafael Cansinos Assens, one of the most important modern Spanish authors has said "With the edict of expulsion of 1490, the Jews disappeared from Spain and from its literature...the Jew is erased from the consciousness of the Spaniard."

The historical Spanish obsession with the purity of blood evolved into an elaborate caste system which reached its apogee with the colonization of South America and the subsequent intermingling of settlers with both South American Indians and imported African slaves whose mixed offspring needed a separate classification.


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