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The Inquisition & the Jews

Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together on Mallorca under the rule of the Moors for 300 years without a problem. Jewish scholars often acted as money lenders, translators, artisans and craftsman and they lived in the Call district, around Calle de Montsion, in the southeast corner of the city, and worshipped at two synagogues (see the Calatrava webpage of the Palma City section).

the inquisition and jews in mallorcaEven though King Jaime the Conqueror captured Mallorca in the name of the Catholic Church, the Jewish community thrived under Christian rule for over a century. The Mallorcan Jews became prosperous from Mediterranean trade and while times were good, they were the chief money lenders. However, when times were bad, during plagues, famines or crippling tax rises, the Jews were made the scapegoat.

The Church helped to stir up resentment and in August 1391 the mobs took to the streets and sacked the Call district. Around 300 of the 2,500 strong community were killed, many were injured and many houses were burnt to the ground. Some of the survivors emigrated, fearing for their lives but the rest moved to the narrow streets around Sant Eulalia Church and many are still named after the Jewish tradesmen which worked there.

the inquisition and jews in mallorcaThe Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or face death as a heretic in 1435 and they were called Conversos meaning the Converted, or Xuetes, a derogatory term meaning bacon or pork fat. Families had to change their names to Christian versions and were persuaded to hand over money and property to the Church to ease their conversion. Their synagogues were also rededicated as places of Christian worship. While the Christians and Conversos returned to living side-by-side once again without a problem, trouble was soon brewing on the mainland.

Ferdinand married Isabella in 1469 and they acceded to the thrones of Castile and Leon in 1475 as King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I. But they had inherited a troubled land, with no administration, no church rule and general lawlessness. Something had to be done to restore order and when Isabella spent time with the Dominican Brother Alonso de Hojeda in Seville during the winter of 1477/78, she found the answer. He persuaded her that many of the Conversos were secretly practicing Judaism while plotting to undermine the new King and Queen. Isabella agreed to set up an Inquisition to deal with the heretics and Ferdinand appointed the first inquisitors in 1480; the interrogations followed swiftly. Initial questioning was followed by threats and culminated in torture. The first Conversos were burnt at the stake in 1481; penances, prison sentence, fines and floggings followed but so did civil order as fear spread across Spain.

the inquisition and jews in mallorcaFray Tomas de Torquemada became the first Inquisitor General in 1483 and he was soon overseeing a network of inquisitors who pried into every aspect of life. Five years later the Inquisition appointed secular council nicknamed 'La Suprema' . Everyone became suspicious as Christians, Conversos and Jews were anonymously denounced to settle scores, remove political opponents and even to avoid paying debts. The property of the guilty was signed over to the Crown and Inquisition, making them both rich and powerful. Threats and tortures made some turn in friends and associates in the hope of saving themselves and for many the only way to escape the Inquisition was to emigrate.

The same happened in Mallorca and a new headquarters was built in Plaza Major; it was soon given the name the Casa Negra or the Black House (see the Plaza Major webpage of the Palma City section). Prisoners were taken to the Temple on the east side of the city and once inside they were subjected to indescribable terrors. The guilty could be burned at the stake, a ceremony known as the Auto-de-Fe. The burnings were held outside the city at what is now Plaza Gomila below Bellver Castle and thousands gathered to see the gruesome spectacle.

the inquisition and jews in mallorcaAround 330 Conversos denounced themselves when the Inquisition was revived in Palma, reducing their guilt but they still had to pay huge amounts to the Crown and the Church. The inquisitors were then kept busy investigating several hundred other cases and over 500 Xuetes emigrated between 1488 and 1531; many were executed in effigy when the authorities found out they had left.

Having driven most of the Converso community away, the Inquisition made sure the Church kept a tight grip on all aspects of life, stifling free thought and debate. While it supported Church schools, it made sure Rome's messages were hammered home while opposing the teaching of new ideas.

All was quiet for the Inquisition until a Europe wide famine led to disturbances across Mallorca in 1674. The barons aggravated the situation by raising taxes and they needed a new scapegoat. They chose Portuguese Conversos who had recently moved to the island to escape persecution in their own country. They were an easy target and the Inquisition burnt their first victim in 1675.

Two years later accusations of a plot against the government led to widespread arrests and a record amount of money was seized from the Conversos, both Portuguese and Mallorcan, settling the island's debts. Over the next ten years around 40 people were burnt at the stake while another 40 mock executions were held of those who had fled. The largest group of Xuetes were tried after failing to escape. After paying an English sea captain to take them off the island but were caught when their ship was forced back to Palma by stormy seas.

the inquisition and jews in mallorcaBy the end of the 17th Century Spain had a new problem. After 35 years on the throne, the physically and mentally weak Charles II had not produced an heir. The War of the Spanish Succession followed between 1701 and 1715 as Europe fought over the possible unification of France and Spain under a Bourbon monarch, Felipe V, who reigned for 45 years, the longest in modern Spain. A movement known as the Enlightenment, which worked to modernise the country's government and institutions slowly eroded the Inquisition's power.

In Mallorca, the remaining 300 Xuetes families decided in 1773 that it was time to a fair deal out of Enlightenment and they sent six representatives to King Carlos III to appeal for an end to discrimination. Their application was accepted but while restrictions on the Xuetes were officially lifted, they were often imposed by the Mallorcan authorities.

During the Spanish War of Independence against the French (otherwise known as the Peninsula War), the Spanish Cortes produced the new Constitution of 1812. The Constitution mainly dealt with the administration of Spain but it also abolished the Inquisition after 300 years of suppression and terror. While the clergy protested against the abolition, the crowds rejoiced and broke into the Casa Negra to destroy their records; the building was demolished soon afterwards.

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