'[Carrie logo]



      THE great fires which burned out the Jewish ghettos of Spain in 1391 were lit from the mouth of Archdeacon Ferdinand Martinez, canon of the cathedral of Seville. A man "more saintly than learned," one of his admirers once described him, on the widely held premise that these two qualities are mutually exclusive. He is, all the same, a type that History has always had to reckon with. Whether he be the Lord's Jew-Roaster in Germany, a prophet from the dungheaps of France, or a Spanish archdeacon in clerical weeds, he everywhere exhibits the stigmata of the inspired nihilist: virtue undefiled by honor, piety triggered by hate, and a sense of conviction which equates tolerance with treason-all fused into holy madness by a passion for violence and murder.

      Martinez the Archdeacon had a single mission in life -- to wipe out the Jews. With a mighty eloquence he preached the gospel of slaughter to excited mobs in the streets and churches of Seville. The Jews, he said, were infidel dogs, and their synagogues were houses of the Devil where three times each day they cursed Christ and all His sheep. It was therefore the sacred duty of Christians to kill the wicked sons of Moses. This was not Martinez the man speaking; these were the words of the ancient Prophets and of Christ Himself, transmitted through their agent in Seville. He was accordingly in a position to guarantee absolution from all sin and the eternal bliss of Paradise to Jew-killers. And, with a sharp eye for terrestrial concerns, he promised his hearers that the royal authority would likewise concur in the heavenly scheme.

      Whatever the Host of Heaven thought about the archdeacon's claims, their secular representatives - the kings of Castile - had some definite reservations. As we have seen, Henry of Trastamara had a taste for killing Jews himself: during his successful war against his brother Peter the Cruel he had massacred them by the thousands. However, his actions in that affair had stemmed from a calculated policy of statecraft. It was all right for the king to abuse the Jews-they were his property to do with as he pleased. But he was not going to allow his subjects to take the law into their own hands.

      Henry's son, John I, shared his father's view. He too gratified his needs by an occasional persecution, but that


was his royal right. The zeal of Archdeacon Martinez, he said, is "saintly and good," for the Jews indeed are a "wicked and perverse" people. Nevertheless, he insisted, they are "part of our treasure" and "under my protection and authority," and any necessary punishments will be administered "according to the law." For years the roads from Seville to the royal court were traveled by couriers bearing petitions from the Jews begging for royal protection against the "lies and slanders" of the archdeacon. The Crown, in turn, sent repeated warnings to Martinez to stop agitating the populace to violence and sedition. To the complaints of the Jews Martinez replied with volleys of invective, asserting that if he had his way he would personally kill them all and level their synagogues to the ground. He also refused to concede that the king had any authority to interfere with the inalienable right of Christians to kill Jews or with the holy mission of the Lord's personal representative on earth-Martinez, that is. In 1389 Martinez suddenly found himself facing a really formidable threat to his power. He had announced, in a recent sermon, that not even the Pope had the authority to allow Jews to build synagogues and live among Christians. For fourteen years the ecclesiastical shepherds had been standing silently by while the archdeacon vomited his hate on the Jews. But now he had ventured to question the authority of the Pope; now he was preaching not just mass murder, but heresy. His superior> the archbishop of Seville, immediately convoked a solemn council of learned theologians who summoned Martinez to appear before them and explain himself. By this time Martinez was


beyond all authority except that from God above and the People below, and he told the council he would allow his opinions to be judged only by the good folk of Seville. Furious, the archbishop and council declared him to be a "contumacious rebel, obstinate in his error, and suspect of heresy," and ordered him to stop preaching, under pain of excommunication.

      What happened next almost persuades us that Martinez did have a supernatural ally in the wings. The archbishop of Seville died within a few months and until his replacement could be sent in, Martinez was first in command.

      At almost the same time, King John I fell off his horse in a freak accident and was killed. He left a sickly son of tender years to succeed him and a conflict immediately broke out between opposing factions at the court over who was to run the government until the boy grew up. The result was political chaos, bringing a temporary halt to effective government in Castile.

      Archdeacon Martinez would certainly have gone on with his work in any case. Mere human objections were nothing to a man whose head buzzed with heavenly voices. However, the fortuitous deaths of both the king and the archbishop suddenly opened the way to the ghetto of Seville. On March 15, 1391, Martinez celebrated Ash Wednesday with a thunderous sermon in the public square.

      The People, assembled in great numbers, howled and applauded. When they were well heated up, their Leader sent them out to scour the streets. Running in packs they began beating up Jews and robbing them. Those who escaped ran to the ghetto and locked themselves in.

      At any moment it seemed the whole city would be turned


upside down. The governor and a body of magistrates, hoping to stop the disturbance short of revolution, seized two of the ringleaders and had them publicly flogged.

      This only enraged the mob even more and considerable bloodshed and plunder followed before the authorities were able to restore some semblance of order. Three months later the final storm broke. At the first flush of dawn on June 6, 1391, by an obviously prearranged plan, the People of Seville suddenly burst from their houses, joined ranks all over town and converged on the ghetto. In their first onslaught they smashed down the gates and stormed over the walls. All day they raped, murdered, looted and burned. Men, women and children were axed, hammered, bludgeoned and chopped to death, while the hot voice of Archdeacon Martinez kept urging his army on to even greater slaughter in the name of the Lord. In one single day four thousand Jews were murdered. More thousands averted death by shouting out their desire for Christian baptism. Others fled into the country to become wanderers in a hostile land. A miserable remnant somehow survived and slowly gathered itself together after the horror had passed. The ghetto became a Christian prize.

      The houses and shops were taken over by the Faithful and the synagogues were purified with holy water and transformed into Christian churches. A whole Jewish community of thirty thousand souls, rich in the accumulated traditions of centuries, had disappeared in one day.

      Even stranger than the convulsive suddenness of the disaster of Seville was the incredible speed with which


similar massacres broke out all over Spain. During the next three months the spirit of Ferdinand Martinez erupted in violence and murder in at least seventy cities. In the north the bloody tide spilled across the Pyrenees into France; in the east it ran red into the Mediterranean Sea; in the south and west it did not stop until it reached the frontiers of Moorish Granada and Portugal. At Cordova, the birthplace of Moses Maimonides, greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval world, the ancient Jewish quarter was reduced to ashes and two thousand corpses were left rotting in the streets. A like fate struck Toledo, center of European learning in the West, where Jewish savants kept alive the forgotten wisdom of the ancients. There the largest Jewish community in Spain was destroyed August 5, on the Fast Day when the Jews were mourning the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonian armies two thousand years before. Holy days, particularly Christian ones, were a popular choice for massacres. The first outbreak in Seville occurred on Ash Wednesday. The Toledo massacre fell on a Jewish Fast Day which was also the Christian Feast of Saint Dominic. The Feast of Saint Lorenzo was celebrated by wholesale atrocities in Perpignan and Gerona on opposite sides of the Pyrenees. One of the most spectacular of all Feast Day celebrations took place in Valencia in honor of Saint Christopher, barely a month after the purging of Seville. Refugees from the archdeacon's crusade began arriving at the port of Valencia with tales of horror and violence in other places. The appearance of these wretched wanderers stimulated the normally sluggish pulses of the local


riffraff, who began stoning Jewish men and growling lewd songs to the women. Within a few days the Jews had locked themselves inside their houses and the city fathers had posted heavy guards to patrol the ghetto day and night. Children, as every child soon discovers, make a game of everything, including persecution. The following Sunday morning a band of forty or fifty Valencian moppets, intoxicated by the assurance of their elders' approval, in the public square for a little sport with Jews. Waving small wooden Crosses and a large blue banner emblazoned with a white Crucifix, they marched on the Jewish quarter, a chorus boy sopranos singing praises to the Savior and insults to His Murderers. Other kids rushed to join the fun and by the time they arrived at the ghetto they made a considerable little army. They milled around outside the entrance, hurling jeers and catcalls at the Jews inside, warning them that Archdeacon Martinez himself was on his way to clean up the city. This was the the Jews' last chance -- they could take their choice between baptism and death.

      The Jews quickly into the ghetto, but not before a few of the boy soldiers in the front ranks were pushed inside by their comrades in back. One of the boys let out a bloodcurdling howl when the door slammed shut on his hand. His companions on the outside went wild; they raced through streets shouting that the Jews were killing boys in the ghetto. The whole town came running, their nubers (and courage) reinforced by a detachment of soldiers who had been hanging around the town looking for excitement while waiting


to be shipped overseas to Italy. The mob began battering at the gates, which the Jews had hurriedly braced with heavy beams and chains. The town officials, whose frightened efforts to restore order almost got them killed as Jew-loving spoil- sports, scurried off to the palace of the bishop of Valencia. There they begged their royal visitor, Don Martin of Aragon, brother of the king, to save the city from revolution. His Excellency mounted his horse. gathered his retinue about him, and set out for the ghetto. At the sight of the royal colors the besiegers grudgingly laid down their battering rams and opened a path for their duke. The latter called upon the Jews to open the gate so the People could see that their young Christian soldiers were unharmed. In return he promised to station his personal guard inside the ghetto to guarantee its safety.

      Paralyzed by fear, the Jews either would not or could not open the barrier, and the royal effort to thwart the People's pleasures was dissipated in a renewed thrust at the gate, which suddenly gave way under the sheer weight of numbers. In this first assault one of the attackers was killed. A terrible silence-the aura of doom-fell over the crowd while the body was reverently passed through the mob and laid at the feet of the duke.

      For one brief moment the world seemed to stand still, and the smell of Death hung heavy in the air. Then a roar from ten thousand throats split the skies, heralding the return of mankind to the kingdom of the jungle. A boiling mass of humanity poured into the ghetto through the gate, over the walls and from the windows of adjoining houses. In blind terror the Jews locked themselves up


in their homes, which quickly became their funeral pyres. Others ran into the synagogue seeking refuge in the otherworldly wisdom of their rabbis and elders. A pitifully small number, hoping to repeat the miracles of Gideon, armed themselves with crossbows and fought hopelessly until they were overwhelmed and slaughtered where they stood. The attacking horde set fire to the houses, beat down the doors of the warehouses and shops, looting them of property and women and killing the men and children. What they could not carry with them they smashed to rubble. Witnesses to these scenes reported that no sooner had one group abandoned a building they had just sacked when another band moved in behind them and stripped it right down to the nails in the walls.

In a short time (we are told) the entire ghetto was assaulted and looted and hundreds of bodies of both sexes and all ages lay strewn about in the streets and houses. Those Jews who escaped the killing ran. carrying came crosses in their hands, to the churches, crying for baptism. The synagogues were purified and converted into churches. The ghetto of Valencia had disappeared. Its unfortunate inhabitants were scattered throughout the land, some in hiding. many others pretending a conversion which had been forced upon them, and all of them weeping over the loss of their worldly goods, their friends and their families.

      From the political point of view, which automatically excludes any moral considerations, the most disturbing


aspect of the Massacres of 1391 was the complete: breakdown of public order. In Seville and Valencia the local authorities were generally ignored. In other places they were not so lucky. The governor of Palma had his horse shot out from under him and was himself wounded while trying to quell the disorders there. The mob at Lerida stampeded right over the local magistrates and set fire to the town fortress, burning to death all the Jews inside along with the mayor who tried to protect them.

      It was in Barcelona, where a Jewish community of ten thousand people disappeared via the twin roads of baptism and murder that the Great Massacre took on the dimensions of a proletarian revolution. On the Feast Day of Saint Dominic, a crowd of peasants, workers and screaming women, together with a group of sailors returning from the crusade at Valencia, set fire to the ghetto. Through the whole day and all during the night they murdered and plundered. The fleeing Jews took refuge in the great castle fortress in the center of town and the local governor posted a heavy cordon of troops around it to discourage the "little people" from further attacks. The following morning-Sunday-he threw some forty of the ringleaders in jail and on Monday he sentenced them to hang as an example to the rest. But when the martyrs were brought out for execution their homespun disciples, to the chant of "Long live the People," hurled themselves on the governor and his colleagues, killing one of them and trampling the rest under foot. They broke into the jail and freed all the prisoners. Then they chopped down the city gates while others climbed up to the bell towers of the churches and rang the bells to summon the peasants


from the fields to join the revolution. All through the night on Monday the "little people" swirled around the city brandishing torches and shouting dark vengeance on the "big people" who were trying to oppress them.

      On Tuesday they stormed the city hall and ransacked it, building great bonfires of the public documents and town records. Then they threw themselves at the castle fortress, demanding death or baptism for the Jews inside. The defenders, including the Jews themselves, fought back desperately and the battle raged until the next day before the castle fell. Some of the Jews killed themselves with their own hands; others flung themselves from the walls. The remainder were called upon to accept immediate baptism. those who refused were killed on the spot and their corpses dragged about the city streets; the rest were hustled off to the baptismal font and purified. The Jews who had somehow escaped were rooted out of their hiding places and destroyed without mercy.

      By the end of the summer of 1391 many of the Jewish communities of Spain, for centuries the repositories of learning, culture and industry for the whole Peninsula, had entirely disappeared. Some of them never recovered. Others were painfully rebuilt to provide future sport for the next generation of destroyers until their final extinction under the relentless holiness of Torquemada. The spoils were divided among the Christian victors: synagogues were converted into churches, the Faithful moved into former Jewish homes and took over their shops and warehouses. In Ciudad Real even the Jewish cemetery was the object of an untidy legal squabble among the Crown, nobility and Church. The latter finally


secured possession and the Dominican order apparently sanctified the old graveyard with a new monastery, setting a pious example for Torquemada to follow in Avila a century later.

      The number of ,Jews killed in the Massacres of 1391 is usually estimated at fifty thousand. Nobody will ever really know how many perished, however, for it is only in modern times, with its enthusiasm for bookkeeping, that Westerners have begun to keep records of the Jews they murder. Nor can we do more than guess at the number of refugees, although we do know that many of the North African towns along the Barbary Coast were flooded with Jews seeking peace under the rule of the Moslems.

      By far the greatest number accepted baptism in preference to death. An official report made five days after the massacre at Valencia announces that the Jews there begged for baptism in such large numbers that the supply of holy oil would long since have diminished had it not been replenished by a happy succession of miracles. In some towns the Jews forestalled a massacre by asking for baptism at the first sign of trouble. The total of such conversions throughout Spain in the spring and summer of 1391 varies from half a million to over two million, depending on whose guess the reader prefers. And once a Jew had committed himself to Christianity. no matter the circumstances, there was no turning back. Tn Teruel, for example, a young woman "convert" was heard to say in public that she still felt a yearning for the faith of Moses. The next morning she was found in a ditch at the edge of town with a knife through her heart. The conclusion of local criminologists was that she had done herself


in "at the suggestion of the Devil." which the townsfolk accepted as a perfectly reasonable solution to the whole affair.

-I- Saint Vincent Ferrer

Not so many years ago (writes a contemporary of Torquemada) there was a man, a native of the city of Valencia, named friar Vincent Ferrer, of the order of Preachers. He was a very famous theologian and wondrous preacher, a person of very pure life and saintly habits. In his lifetime he never ceased to illuminate the divine cult and exalt the Holy Faith. In public he preached and taught, exhorting, admonishing, advising and persuading, not only with fitting words and holy doctrine but by wondrous examples and habits and lessons. And as a result of the miracles which God performed because of this man's merits, Pope Calixtus ## canonized him and recorded his name among the Blessed. For God, who rewards the good, performed miracles through his works during his life and after his death. So it was that, being of such a holy life and great eloquence, and imbued with such saintly doctrine, he pointed out to the Jews, by strong arguments and evident reason, all the errors and manifest deceptions by which they were blinding themselves. And in this manner he converted many of them to the holy faith. Having learned from him that the Christian religion, our faith, was both holy and true, they were baptized of their own free will and received all the sacraments of the Church.


      Perhaps. There are, however, more prosaic accounts of friar Vincent's work by those who knew him when he was a mere man. From these we learn that he first came into public prominence during the Massacre of 1391 in his native city of Valencia. He appeared suddenly at the height of the slaughter, calling upon the Jews to accept the saving waters of Christian baptism. Inspired by the vast number of conversions he made that day, he thenceforth dedicated his life to missionary work among the Jews. For the next twenty years he traveled the length and breadth of the Spanish Peninsula, winning souls to Christ. His eloquence, it is reported, was stupendous. Although his speech was Catalan, his words were clearly understood by Greeks, Moors, Frenchmen, Italians, Hungarians and Germans. So great were his powers that his mere presence was enough to heal the sick and restore the dead to life.

      Friar Vincent was fired by apocalyptic visions. Convinced that the end of the world was at hand, he knew that mankind could be saved only by adopting the True Faith. Through the land he marched, escorted by a company of flagellants and spearmen, a Crucifix in one hand and the Torah in the other, calling on the Jews to accept the Redeemer and save their souls from perdition. Where he went, holiness stalked the streets, purifying the world for the coming Day of Judgment. From a special platform in the center of town he recited with sobs the sufferings of Jesus and the horrors of permitting Jews to mingle freely with Christians, calling on Heaven and the king to separate from the Faithful all Jews who refused to see the Truth. By night his company of


disciples marched through the streets in great torchlight parades flogging themselves with knotted cords, singing psalms and summoning repentant sinners to salvation.

      In most cases these pyrotechnics were enough to bring results, for the Jews had already been coaxed by the Massacres of 1391 into a willingness to accept baptism. But when they still proved to be obstinate, friar Vincent could show his claws. Raising his Crucifix on high, and backed by the excited mob, he would thrust his way into the synagogues, drive the money changers from their temple and consecrate it in the name of the Blessed Virgin as a Christian church.

      Meanwhile, the Crown of Castile, in response to the People's voice and its own inclinations, was contemplating new and more extensive legal restrictions on the Jews who still persisted in clinging to their ancestral faith. Action was temporarily delayed by the death in 1406 of Henry (III) the Invalid. His son and successor, John II, was only two years old, so once again the government reverted to a regency, this time in the persons of the Queen-mother Catalina and her brother-in-law Don Ferdinand of Antequera.

      Despite the exhortations of friar Vincent and his like-minded colleagues at court, the regents of Castile were exasperatingly slow to take action against the Jews. But then that sure stimulus to action - the Ritual Murder charge-was brought into play to help achieve the desired end. By a truly remarkable coincidence, during a visit of Queen-mother Catalina to Segovia in 1410, a group of local Jews were accused of attempting abominations on a consecrated Communion wafer. After stabbing it for a


while they threw it into a cauldron of water. To their horrified amazement the wafer kept out of the water and remaining suspended in the air. Some of the Jews were so impressed by this miracle that they were converted on the spot and ran with the wafer to the nearby Dominican monastery where they blurted out the whole story.

      The news was immediately conveyed to the Queen-mother. who ordered a vigorous investigation. Among those implicated was Don Meyer Alguades, royal physician. Under protracted torture not only confessed to participating in the wafer plot but also to poisoning the late king (Henry III). He and his accomplices were dragged through the streets of Segovia, then hanged, then pulled apart and their synagogue was turned into the Church of Corpus Christi as grim reciprocity for their sacrilege on Body of our Lord.

      Friar Vincent was called immediately to the court for consultation, he urged the Queen-mother to the strongest possible measures against those Jews whose blind obstinacy still shut out the Light of the Evangel. On January 2, 1412, Queen Catalina issued the celebrated Ordinances of 1412. His work at court completed, friar Vincent took his departure parts where there still remained much to be done.

      Where Martinez of Seville had sown, Vincent of Valencia had reaped a harvest. The Ordinances of 1412 were the act of a deadly drama which opened at Seville in 1391. (The final act only awaited the coming de Torquemada.) The Jews were now all to ghettos. which were to be completely walled in and


provided with only one gate. They were forbidden to leave the country or even to change their residence from one town to another. Contact with Christians was likewise taboo: they could not transact business with them nor hire Christians as servants or as nurses for their children, nor eat, drink or bathe with Christians, nor work in Christian houses or on Christian lands, nor attend feasts, weddings or funerals with them. Christians were not allowed to enter the ghetto, and both Christians and Jews were forbidden to visit each other in sickness, exchange gifts, or engage one another in conversation.

      Jews were further barred from public office, service as tax-collectors, and the practice of medicine and surgery. In fact, all but the most menial employments were denied to them: they could no longer work as grocers, apothecaries, farriers, blacksmiths, peddlers, carpenters, tailors, barbers or butchers. To make identification easy and contamination difficult, rigid rules of dress and toilet were laid down. Jews were required to put aside all jewelry and refinements of dress in favor of a standardized long cloak of the coarsest materials, decorated only by a red Jew badge which they must wear at all times. Both men and women were forbidden to cut their hair, and the men were also prohibited from trimming their beards.

      The degradation of the Jews was virtually complete, and one Solomon Alami, an unhappy victim of the People's voice, wrote:

They forced strange clothing on us. They kept us from trade, farming and the crafts. They forced us


to grow our beards and our hair long. Inmates of palaces were driven in to wretched hovels and dark low huts. Instead of the rustle of silk, we were forced to wear miserable clothes, which drew scorn and contempt upon us. The rich tax-farmers sank into poverty. for they knew no trade by which to make a living. The artisans found no work because their trades were closed to them. Starvation stared everyone in the face. and children died on their mothers' knees from exposure and starvation.

      The mass murders of 1391, the militant evangelism of Vincent Ferrer, and the uncompromising Ordinances of 1412, had erected a permanent wall of death and persecution around the Jews of Spain. Their only escape was through the doors of the Holy Church. A vast number chose baptism as the way out. As the number of Jews dwindled, a new class arose, like Phoenix, from the ashes of the ghetto. The "Marrano," the "Anusim," the "Converso" became a unique phenomenon in the historical landscape of the Spanish Peninsula.


Go to chapter 2       Return to the Index       Go to chapter 4

logo Return to Carrie Home Page - Return to the Carrie Donated E-Books Home Page