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1506, LISBON MASSACRE OF JEWS

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In 1506, Lisbon suffered a plague and drought. Those who could, including the court, left leaving a hysterical atmosphere with citizens praying daily for water and compassion.

Professor Yosef Yerushalmi in the Hebrew Union College Annual Supplement, Cincinnati, 1976 describes the immediate cause of the massacre.

The Dominican Convent in Lisbon attracted crowds who were praying for relief. A light that seemed to be emanating from a crucifix over the altar of a chapel was interpreted to be a divine sign. It attracted large crowds of citizens eager for a miracle. The crowd one day included “one of the Hebrews recently enlisted in the ranks of the baptized,” a New Christian. He made a remark that was interpreted as blasphemy. According to one account, he asked, “How can a piece of wood work wonders?” An enraged crowd beat him to death, and his body was dismembered and burned in the square in front of the Convent. His brother, who complained about this outrage, met the same fate. This began a three-day massacre and burning of an estimated two to four thousand Conversos, also known as New Christians - Jews forcibly baptized in 1497. The mobs of citizens who roamed through Lisbon violating and killing Jews were incited by Dominican friars, one of whom preached a sermon against the “Jews” that day, accompanied by outbursts from other friars that included: “Heresy! Destroy this abominable people!”

King Manuel, under whose authority thousands of Jews had been forcibly baptized in 1497, was not in the city at the time. Upon his return he arrested the two Dominicans who had led the riot. They were executed, along with forty or fifty other conspirators. He then granted permission to all New Christians to leave Portugal, contradicting his order in 1497 that forbade any New Christian from leaving the country. King Manuel also abolished legal discrimination against New Christians. The lives and the property of the New Christians (Conversos) who remained in Lisbon were never endangered during the remainder of his reign. After his death in 1521 the persecution resumed.

The Lisbon massacre is the subject of a recent book by Susana Mateus Basto and Paulo Mendes of the Alberto Benveniste Centre for Sephardic Studies and Culture at the University of Lisbon, signalled a failure of King Manuel’s policy of integration. Most of the New Christians, outwardly Catholic, had remained Jewish in their hearts. The New Christian secret Jews became known as Marranos, from the Portuguese "marrar", i.e. forced, or from the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus, a forced one, like the widely used Hebrew term today, Anousim, although some historians claim the once pejorative term derives from the Castilian term for swine.

THE MASSACRE OF THE NEW CHRISTIANS OF LISBON IN 1506: A NEW EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT
University of Southampton. François Soyer  (CLICK ON LINK TO READ THE FULL PAPER )

On Sunday 19 April 1506, the city of Lisbon was convulsed by an explosion of bloodshed that lasted four days and is estimated to have resulted in the violent deaths of anywhere between 1,000 to 4,000 men, women and children. The victims were the so-called “New Christians”, the Portuguese Jews forced to convert to Christianity by King Manuel I in 1497. 1 The massacre of 1506 sent shockwaves throughout Europe and accounts of it exist in Portuguese, Jewish, Spanish and German sources. An anonymous German, who was present in Lisbon at the time of the massacre and personally witnessed the tragedy, wrote a vivid account that was printed in at least three different German editions.2 Likewise, the Spanish chroniclers Andrés Bernáldez and Alonso de Santa Cruz –who did not bother to mention the forced conversion of the Portuguese Jews in 1497 at all – both devoted an entire chapter in their works to the tragedy of 1506. 3 Some of these sources offer us stirring eyewitness accounts. The New Christian Isaac Ibn Faradj, for instance, was present in Lisbon during the massacre. He was fortunate enough to survive and later escaped from Portugal for Salonica in the Ottoman Empire where he reverted to Judaism. He wrote a brief account of the slaughter that still has the power to move a modern reader:

‘It happened on a Christian holiday (…). It was while the King and the Queen were absent from Lisbon, the capital, on account of the plague which raged there at that time, that a priest with a cross stood up, and wicked men with him, murderers and scoundrels, and they killed more than 1,400 Jews [i.e. New Christians], and burned their bodies, men and women, pregnant women and children. They burnt them in the streets of the city for three days on end, till the bodies were consumed and became ashes. I stole from the fire one half of the burned head of a dear friend of mine, and I hid it, kept it, brought it to Valona [most likely the town of Vlorë in modern-day Albania], and buried it in a Jewish burial-place. When King Manuel heard of the great wrong done to the Jews (sic) he came to Lisbon, and the priest was burnt at the stake, and forty murderers hanged

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