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).