Book Comment, Portuguese Jewish history

Inquisição e Independência, Um Motim No Fundao-1580
Inquisition and Independence, A Riot in Fundão-1580

Author, Maria Antonieta Garcia autographing books at a recent book launch in Lisbon

Book Comment, Portuguese Jewish history

Inquisição e Independência, Um Motim No Fundao-1580
Inquisition and Independence, A Riot in Fundão-1580

Maria Antonieta Garcia, Alma Azul, Coimbra, 2006, 227pp


This book is about a riot in the 16th century in Fundão (near Belmonte), the only known public act of resistance against the unHoly Office of the Inquisition to have occurred in Portugal.

On November 22, 1580, in the town of Fundão, in the Beira region, not far from Belmonte, Damião Mendes, a bailiff of the unHoly Office of the Inquisition reported that he was received at the door of a church by Estêvão Sampaio, the senior alderman in the town, and armed men who meant to kill him. He said they confronted him with the intention of impeding the work of the unHoly Office of the Inquisition. Bailiff Mendes complained of being pushed and knocked down, that the armed men broke his rod and took away his sword, that he was left without his hat and cape, and that he fell to the ground. They cut loose his horses and roughed up one of his men. He alleged that Sampaio spoke harshly to him and was rude, that he told him that he would take his rod and, lhe meteria pelo cu acima, and other such vulgar words.

As was customary in that period, the bailiff would have arrived in Fundão secretly, then made an announcement to the population to attend church on Sunday in honour of some saint. When the church was full, the doors would be locked by guards and the Old Christians would be called upon to identify the New Christians who would be handcuffed and led away to the subterranean jail cells of the unHoly Office, except this time, the secret was discovered and the bailiff was in for a surprise.

Esther Muznick, vice-president of the Israeli Community of Lisbon described the book as a good crime novel at the launch of the book in Lisbon. There is an excellent bibliography, several annexes of historical and documents, and twenty pages of the names of the victims of the Inquisition from Fundão from 1582 to 1754.

Maria Antonieta Garcia, born in Fundão, a retired professor of Sociology at the the University of Beira Interior where she founded the Centre for Jewish Studies, is the author of numerous books on Portuguese Jewish history including the critically acclaimed, Judaismo no Feminino (1999), an analysis of the community of Belmonte. Regrettably, none of her books have been translated to English, something the Friends of Marranos hopes to change.

Historical Background, and Portugal’s Marrano King*

In 1578, with the disappearance of King D. Sebastian (unmarried) at the ill-fated battle of Alcacer Quibir (yet another attempt to invade Morocco), Cardeal D. Henrique, Inquisidor general, acceded to the throne. The Cardinal was the only brother of King John III who brought the Inquisition to Portugal after Marrano bribes paid to the Pope and Cardinals were no longer effective. In 1580, with the death of Cardinal Henrique, three nephews/nieces claimed the throne, D. Catarina de Bragança, daughter of the Infante (i.e. prince) D. Duarte and D. Isabel of Bragança, Filipe II of Spain, son of D. Isabel of Portugal and Emperor Charles V, and D. Antonio, Prior of Crato, son of the Infante D. Luis, Lord of Covilha, and Violante Gomes, a New Christian.
The major opposition to Filipe II of Spain was D. Antonio, Prior of Crato. He was acclaimed King in Santarem (a city north of Lisbon, the wealthiest Jewish community at the time of the taking of Lisbon in 1147), in June of 1580. He proceeded to Lisbon where he was received with great jubilation. However, the nobles sided with Philip of Spain and Antonio was defeated in August, in Alcantara. His reign lasted two months, although he attempted to rule Portugal from the island of Terceira (with English and French support) until a Spanish fleet defeated him in 1582. It was during this period of uncertainty and political crisis that the riot of Fundão occurred. The author flushes out this historical setting in the book and annexes several historical documents.

From the Back cover of the book

In July, Fundão, the town where the riot occurred, Estêvão de Sampaio, captain, was the eldest alderman. New Christians struggled against the Inquisition, and everyone, New Christians, and Old Christians, opposed the claim of jurisdiction by neighbouring Covilha and Guarda. They defended the autonomy of their municipality. This is the only known episode of resistance to the Inquisition in Portugal.

1. Fundão is in the Beira region (near Belmonte). This area, a refuge for Jews, grew demographically since 1391 after the progroms in Barcelona, Sevilha, Toledo, Valencia and Cordova when entire Jewish communities were wiped out. In Sevilha, in 1391, over 4,000 Jews were killed in one day. Following the Edict of expulsion of 1492, the Jewish population of Portugal, and especially Beira swelled again. The street name, Rua Nova (New Street), found in many towns and cities in Portugal is often associated with expansion of the Judiarias during the 15th century. Antonieta Garcia accepts that no less than 120,000 Jews entered Portugal in 1492.

*Marrano, at one time a pejorative term applied to Jews who were forcibly baptized in Spain in 1391 and in Portugal in 1497, is in common usage by some academics in Portugal who attribute its origin to the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus, a forced one, like the widely used Hebrew term today, Anousim. Converso or New Christian often replaces the term, but not all Conversos or New Christians, a term adopted by Christianity, were necessarily forced. The term Marrano is used because of its acceptance in Portugal, its association with the forced baptism of 1497 and the Inquisition, and its growing meaning as a badge of identity and resistance to the unHoly Office of the Inquisition (which still exists).


The author Susana Bastos Mateus with Yaacov Gladstone at the Alberto Benveniste Centre for Sephardic Studies at the New University of Lisbon.

Authors Susana Bastos Mateus and Paulo Mendes Pinto
at recent book launch in Lisbon


Lisboa 1506, O Massacre Dos Judeus
Lisbon, 1506, The Massacre of the Jews

Susana Bastos Mateus, Paulo Mendes Pinto, 2007, Alêtheia Editores, Lisboa.

By mlopesazevedo

This is the first non-fiction book in Portuguese, about the massacre in Lisbon of 4,000 Marranos*, Jews who were forcibly baptized in Portugal in 1497. During three days at Pessach (Passover), in April 1506 (Nisan, 28,29,30, 5266), an unruly mob, incited by fanatical Dominican monks killed between 1,000 and 4,000 innocent men, women, and children.
Apart from reference in Alexandre Herculano's classic, History of the Origin and Establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal in the mid 19th century, there has been virtually nothing written by modern Portuguese authors on the subject. The massacre was described in one of the earliest books written in Portuguese, Samuel Usque’s Consolação às Tribulações de Israel, Ferrara, 1553,

Among these were two Dominican friars, who went through the city of Lisbon with crucifixes on their shoulders, inciting the people and calling for all to join them to avenge the death of their god…they attacked the weak and defenceless group of ill-baptized New Christians with spears and unsheathed swords. They killed four thousand of them…

(English translation of Martin A. Cohen, Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1977, p. 205)
The co-authors of this small but well organized book, instructors at the Alberto Beneviste Centre for Sephardic Studies at the New University of Lisbon, refer not only to Usque and other contemporary accounts but also review modern articles and reviews such as Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s, Le Massacre de Lisbonne en 1506 et l’image du roi dans le Shebet yehudah, Sefardica, Paris, Chandeigne, 1998.
The book starts with a much needed succinct overall history of Iberian Jews, including their mass migration to Portugal in the 14th and 15th century, especially after the Edict of Expulsion of 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs which resulted in over 100,000 Jews entering Portugal, then with a population of about one million. Although in December 1496, King Manuel, under pressure from his Spanish in-laws, ordered Jews to leave by October 1497, he changed his mind, prohibited their departure and forcibly baptized them in 1497.
The massacre occurred at the height of the plague when over 100 people were dying each day in Lisbon. The Jews were of course blamed for the plague and the prolonged drought. The King had fled Lisbon. During a service on Sunday afternoon at St. Dominic’s church (still standing in Lisbon, next to the Rossio), a New Christian questioned a claim of a supposed miracle involving the crucifix, perhaps pointing out that a piece of wood was incapable of a miracle (the contemporary narrations differ). He was dragged out to the square in front of the church, beaten and quartered before being burned. His brother met the same fate. For three days the rioting and looting continued. The elderly and the young were not spared. At one point there was a mound of over 400 dead bodies in the Rossio (the main square of downtown Lisbon). At one point, German merchants paid for wood for the pyre, which had run out.
Soon after the massacre the King ordered the public execution of the two Dominican monks and about 60 ringleaders. He withdrew certain privileges and imposed sanctions on the city of Lisbon. He renewed for another 20 years, the period in which the former Jews would not be subjected to inquiries about their private religious practices (hence the formation of a unique Marrano culture in Portugal). He also permitted the New Christians to leave the realm and sell their possessions.
The authors offer a historical and political analysis of the consequences of the massacre as well as generous historical explanatory notes throughout the text, making this a useful text to
ordinary readers. A review of Jewish and non-Jewish literature, as well as an extensive bibliography should also appeal to scholars.
The occasional black and white image, mostly of Inquisitorial scenes (there is only one known contemporary image of the massacre itself) lends the work an aura of authenticity and sombreness.
This book a welcome addition to a growing body of recent books on Portuguese Jewish history which are slowly uncovering the constructed memory loss which has concealed the true history of Portugal for far too long. For a fictional account of the Lisbon massacre, see Richard Zimler's 1998 novel, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, available in several languages. The Friends of Marranos ( are accepting donations for the translation and publishing of this book into English.

*Marranos, at one time a pejorative term applied to Jews who were forcibly baptized in Spain in 1391 and in Portugal in 1497, is in common usage by some academics in Portugal who attribute its origin to the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus, forced one, like the widely used Hebrew term today, Anousim. Christianity adopted the nomeclature of Converso or New Christian, who were not necessarily Marrano. The term Marrano is used here because of its association with the forced baptism of 1497 and the Inquisition, its acceptance in Portugal, and its growing meaning as a badge of identity and resistance to the demonic unHoly Office of the Inquisition (which still exists!).