Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tomas de Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition

Sangre Limpia

The focus of Torquemada's obsessive quest to root out heresy in Spain was the marranos, Jews who outwardly converted to Catholicism (conversos) but secretly continued to observe their original faith. Torquemada and his followers felt that the marranos were undermining the teachings of Jesus Christ and endangering the Roman Catholic Church. Under the tyranny of the Spanish Inquisition, all conversos were suspect, and Catholics were urged to spy on their neighbors and inform on suspected marranos. Torquemada's office published a set of guidelines to help Catholics identify practicing Jews in their midst: "If you see that your neighbors are wearing clean and fancy clothes on Saturdays, they are Jews. "If they clean their houses on Fridays and light candles earlier than usual on that night, they are Jews. "If they eat unleavened bread and begin their meals with celery and lettuce during Holy Week, they are Jews. "If they say prayers facing a wall, bowing back and forth, they are Jews."
King Ferdinand of Aragon
King Ferdinand of Aragon
Ironically, the man charged with ridding the Spanish kingdoms of all Jewish influences was, according to author Beth Randall, the grandson of a converso. Torquemada's grandmother was a Jew. King Ferdinand also had Jewish ancestors, a fact he did not easily acknowledge. He was said to have struck the queen when she once brought up his mixed blood. The notion of sangre limpia, or pure blood, consumed the Spanish nobility. A person with untainted lineage was believed to be closer to God and naturally stood a better chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven after death. But many Spaniards, including those in high places, had Jewish ancestors. Jewish communities had thrived in Spain for centuries. More Jews lived in Spain than in any other area of Europe, and it was not that unusual for Jews to marry Christians.   A large population of Muslims also lived in the Spanish kingdoms at this time, but they were a secondary concern of the Spanish Inquisition under Torquemada. These Muslims, or mudejars as they were known, "lived on the margins of Christian society rather than intermingling with it, as the Jews did," according to historian Joseph Perez in The Spanish Inquisition: A History. "They posed a problem that was more social than religious." A full-scale persecution of the mudejars did not happen until the 16th Century, after the death of Torquemada. The Jewish and converso populations were an integral part of the Spanish economy in the 15th Century. Many Jewish merchants became rich operating on Spanish soil, and Jews profited from usury (lending money for a fee), a practice that was forbidden to Catholics. The Spanish Jews who had not converted to Catholicism were a thorn in Torquemada's side that he could not extricate because his mandate from the Vatican did not permit him to persecute individuals who openly practiced their own faith. He could target only the secret Jews. Still, he tried to handle the Jews beyond his ecclesiastical reach with a political solution, urging Ferdinand and Isabella to issue an edict commanding all Jews to either convert or leave Spain. The Jews countered his efforts by offering to pay the sovereigns 30,000 ducats to leave them alone. Ferdinand was tempted to take their offer, which infuriated Torquemada. The Grand Inquisitor went to the royal court, carrying a crucifix. "Judas Iscariot sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver," he cried. "Your Highness is about to sell him for 30,000 ducats. Here he is. Take him and sell him." Torquemada slammed the crucifix down on a table and stormed out of the room. Ferdinand decided not take the offer, and in 1492, the year Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, to find a new route to the East, Torquemada convinced the sovereigns to issue an order expelling all Jews from the country. Several members of Columbus's crew were Jews fleeing to beat the deadline set by the government. Conversos who secretly practiced Judaism were called marranos. A person accused of being a marrano immediately forfeited his property to the court. He was also required to walk through the streets wearing a sambenito, a yellow shirt covered with images of the cross that only came to the waist, leaving the rest of the body exposed. A public flogging followed this humiliation. At certain periods during the Spanish Inquisition, accused marranos were required to wear red patches on their outer garments to identify themselves. They were forced to live in walled neighborhoods called aljamas (ghettos), and their doctors were forbidden from practicing medicine. And this was the punishment for simply being a suspect.
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