The Inquisition in 17th-Century Peru: Cases of Portuguese Judaizers

A watercolor painting by Francisco Fierro (Lima, CE1807 - Lima, CE1879) illustrates
to an individual held by the Inquisition and paraded through the streets of Lima.

-Henry C Lea (1829-1909)-

The most serious business of the tribunal, in the line of its proper functions, was with the apostasy of the Jewish New Christians. From the very foundation of the colonies . . . restrictions were laid on the emigration of Conversos and a law of 1543, preserved in the Recopilacion, orders that search be made for all descendants of Jews who were to be rigorously expelled. In spite, however, of the jealous care observed to preserve the colonies from all danger of Jewish infection, the commercial attractions were so powerful that the New Christians eluded all precautions. At first, however, they occupied but a small portion of the energies of the tribunal. . . . The first appearance of Jews is in the auto of October 29, 1581, when Manuel Upez, a Portuguese, was reconciled with confiscation and perpetual prison, and Diego de la Rosa, described as a native of Quito, was required to abjure de levi and was exiled - showing that the evidence against him was very dubious. . . .

The conquest of Portugal, in 1580, had led to a large emigration to Castile, where Portuguese soon became synonymous with Judaizer, and this was beginning to make itself manifest in the colonies. The auto of December 17, 1595, gave impressive evidence of this. Five Portuguese - Juan Méndez, Antonio Núñez, Juan López, Francisco Báez and Manuel Rodriguez - were reconciled. Another, Herman Jorje, had died during trial and his memory was not prosecuted. There were also four martyrs. Jorje Núñez, denied until he was tied upon the rack; he then confessed and refused to be converted, but after his sentence of relaxation was read he weakened and was strangled before burning. Francisco Rodríguez endured torture without confessing; when threatened with repetition he endeavored unsuccessfully to commit suicide; he was voted to relaxation with torture in caput alienum, and under it he accused several persons but revoked at ratification. He was pertinacious to the last and was burnt alive. Juan Fernández was relaxed, although insane; the Suprema expressed doubts whether he had intelligence enough to render him responsible. Pedro de Contreras had been tortured for confession and again in caput alienum; he denied Judaism throughout and was relaxed as a negativo; at the auto he manifested great devotion to a crucifix and presumably was strangled; in all probability he was really a Christian. . . .

In 1626 there commenced a trial which illustrates forcibly the inexorable discipline of the Church, rendering it the supreme duty of the Christian to persecute and destroy all heresy. Francisco Maldonado de Silva was a surgeon of high repute in Concepcion de Chile. He was of Portuguese descent. His father had suffered in the Inquisition, had been reconciled and brought up his children, two girls and a boy, as Christians. Francisco was a good Catholic until at the age of 18, he chanced to read the Scrutinium Scripturarum of Pablo de Santa Maria, Bishop of Búrgos - a controversial work written for the conversion of Jews. So far from confirming him in the faith it raised doubts leading him to consult his father, who told him to study the Bible and instructed him in the Law of Moses. He became an ardent convert to Judaism, but kept his secret from his mother and two sisters and from his wife, for he was married and had a child, and his wife was pregnant when he was arrested. During her absence, a year or two before, he bad circumcised himself. At the age of 35, considering that his sister Isabel who was about 33, was mature enough for religious independence, he revealed his secret to her and endeavored to convert her, but in vain, and he was impervious to her entreaties to abandon his faith. They seem to have been tenderly attached to each other; he was her sole support as well as that of her mother and sister, but she could not escape the necessity of communicating the facts in confession to her confessor. The prescriptions of the Church were absolute; no family ties relieved one from the obligation of denouncing heresy, and she could not hope for sacramental absolution without discharging the duty. We can picture to ourselves the torment of that agonized soul as she nerved herself to the awful duty which could cost her a lifetime of remorse and misery when she obeyed her confessor's commands and denounced her brother to the Inquisition.

The warrant for his arrest was issued December 12, 1626, and executed at Concepcion April 29, 1627. His friend, the Dominican Fray Diego de Ureña, visited him in his place of confinement, May 2, and sought to convert him, but he was resolved to die in the faith in which his father had died. So when transferred to Santiago, the Augustinian Fray Alonso de Almeida made similar efforts with like ill-success; he knew that he should die for the faith, he had never spoken to any one but his sister and she had betrayed him. He was received in Lima July 23d and was admitted to an audience the same day. When required to swear on the cross he refused, saying that he was a Jew and would live and die as such; if he had to swear it would be by the living God, the God of Israel. His trial went on through all the customary formalities, protracted by the repeated conferences held with theologians who endeavored to convince him of his errors. Eleven of these were held without weakening his pertinacity until, on January 26, 1633, the consulta de fe unanimously condemned him to relaxation.

A long sickness followed, caused by a fast of eighty days which had reduced him almost to a skeleton covered with sores. On convalescing, he asked for another conference, to solve the doubts which he had drawn up in writing. It was held June 26, 1634, and left him as pertinacious as ever. Meanwhile the prison was filling with Judaizers, of whom a number had been discovered in Lima. He asked for maize husks in place of his ration of bread, and with them made a rope by which he escaped through a window and visited two neighboring cells, urging the prisoners to be steadfast in their law; they denounced him and he made no secret of it, confessing freely what he had done. It was a mercy of God, we are told, that his prolonged fast had rendered him deaf, or he would have learned much from them of what had been going on.

The tribunal was so preoccupied, with the numerous trials on foot at the time, that Maldonado was left undisturbed, awaiting the general auto that was to follow. We hear nothing more until, after an interval of four years, a thirteenth conference was held at his request, November 12, 1638. It was as fruitless as its predecessors and, at its conclusion, he produced two books (each of them of more than a hundred leaves), made with marvellous ingenuity out of scraps of paper and written with ink made of charcoal and pens cut out of egg-shells with a knife fashioned from a nail, which he said he delivered up for the discharge of his conscience. Then on December 9th and 10th were held two more conferences in which his pertinacity remained unshaken. The long tragedy was now drawing to an end after an imprisonment which had lasted for nearly thirteen years. He was brought out in the great auto of January 23, 1639, where, when the sentences of relaxation were read, a sudden whirlwind tore away the awning and, looking up, he exclaimed "The God of Israel does this to look upon me face to face!" He was unshrinking to the last and was burnt alive a true martyr to his faith. His two paper books were hung around his neck to burn with him and assist in burning him.

This auto of 1639, the greatest that had as yet been held in the New World, was the culmination of the "complicidad grande" - the name given by the inquisitors to a number of Judaizers whom they had discovered. As they described the situation, in a report of 1636, large numbers of Portuguese had entered the kingdom by way of Buenos Ayres, Brazil, Mexico, Granada and Puerto Bello, thus increasing the already numerous bands of their compatriots. They became masters of the commerce of the kingdom; from brocade to sack-cloth, from diamonds to cumin seed, everything passed through their hands; the Castilian who had not a Portuguese partner could look for no success in trade. They would buy the cargoes of whole fleets with the fictitious credits which they exchanged, thus rendering capital unnecessary, and would distribute the merchandise throughout the land by their agents, who were likewise Portuguese, and their capacity developed until, in 1634, they negotiated for the farming of the royal customs.

In August, 1634, Joan de Salazar, a merchant, denounced to the Inquisition Antonio Cordero, clerk of a trader from Seville, because he refused to make a sale on a Saturday. On another occasion, going to his store on a Friday morning, he found Cordero breakfasting on a piece of bread and an apple and, on asking him whether he had not better take a rasher of bacon, Cordero replied "Must I eat what my father and grandfather never ate?" The evidence was weak and no immediate action was taken, but, in October, the commissioners were instructed secretly to ascertain and report the number of Portuguese in their several districts. The matter rested and, as nothing new was developed, in March, 1635, the evidence against Cordero was laid before a consulta de fe and it was resolved to arrest him secretly, without sequestration, so that the hand of the Inquisition might not be apparent. Bartolomé de Larrea, a familiar, called on him, April 2d, under pretence of settling an account, and locked him in a room; a sedan chair was brought, and he was conveyed to the secret prison. His disappearance excited much talk and he was supposed to have fled, for the supposition of arrest by the Inquisition was scouted, seeing that there had not been sequestration, Cordero confessed at once that he was a Jew and, under torture, implicated his employer and two others. These were arrested on May 11th and the free employment of torture obtained the names of numerous accomplices. The prisons were full and to empty them an auto in the chapel was hurriedly arranged and preparations were made for the hasty construction of additional cells. On August llth, between 12:30 and 2 o'clock, seventeen arrests were made, so quietly and simultaneously that it was all effected before the people were conscious of it. These were among the most prominent citizens and greatest merchants of Lima, and we are told that the impression produced on the community was like the Day of Judgement. Torture and inquisitorial methods elicited further information resulting in additional arrests; the affrighted Portuguese began to scatter and, at the request of the tribunal, the Viceroy Chinchon prohibited for a year any one to leave Peru without its license. . . .

One matter which vexed the souls of the inquisitors was the effort made by the threatened Portuguese to hide their property from sequestration. A proclamation was issued, ordering all who knew of such matters to reveal them within nine days under pain of excommunication and other penalties. This was successful to some extent, but the difficulties in the way were illustrated in the case of Enrique de Paz, for whom Melchor de los Reies secreted much silver, jewels and merchandise. Among other things he deposited with his friend Don Dionisio Manrique, Knight of Santiago, senior alcalde de corte and a consultor of the tribunal, a quantity of silver and some fifty or sixty pieces of rich silks. Manrique did not deny receiving them, but said that the same night Melchor ordered them taken away by a young man who was a stranger to him. The inquisitors evidently disbelieved the story; they reported that they had unsuccessfully tried friendly methods with Manrique and asked the Suprema for instructions.

The sequestration of so much property brought all trade to a stand-still and produced indescribable confusion, aggravated, in 1635, by the consequent failure of the bank. The men arrested had nearly all the trade of the colony in their hands; they were involved in an infinity of complicated transactions and suits sprang up on all sides. Creditors and suitors pressed their claims desperately, fearing that with delay witnesses might disappear, in the widening circle of arrests. There were many suits pending already in the Audiencia which were claimed by the tribunal and surrendered to it. It was puzzled by the new business thus thrown upon it; to a suit there had to be two parties, but the prisoners could not plead, so it appointed Manuel de Monte Alegre as their "defensor" to appear for them, and it went on hearing and deciding complicated civil suits while conducting the prosecutions for heresy. Mondays and Thursdays were assigned for civil business, and every afternoon, from 3 P.m. until dark, was devoted to examination of the documents. The inquisitors claimed that they pushed forward strenuously in settling accounts and paying debts, for otherwise all commerce would be destroyed to the irreparable damage of the Republic, which was already exhausted in so many ways. This did not suit the Suprema, which, by letters of October 22d and November 9, 1635, forbade the surrender of any sequestrated or confiscated property, no matter what evidence was produced of ownership or claims, without first consulting it. This exacting payment of all debts and postponing payment of claims threatened general bankruptcy when the rich merchants were arrested, for their aggregate liabilities amounted to eight hundred thousand pesos ' which was estimated as equal to the whole capital of Lima. To avert this, some payments were made but only on the strength of competent security being furnished. . . .

Meanwhile the trials of the accused were pushed forward as rapidly as the perplexities of the situation admitted. Torture was not spared. Murcia de Luna, a woman of 27, died under it. Antonio de Acuiia was subjected to it for three hours and when he was carried out, Alcaide Pradeda described his arms as being torn to pieces. Progress was impeded, however, by the devices of the prisoners, who were in hopes that influences at work in Spain would secure a general pardon like that of 1604. With this object they revoked their confessions and their accusations of each other, giving rise to endless complications. Some of the latter revocations, however, were genuine and were adhered to, even through the torture which was freely used in these cases. Besides this, to cast doubt on the whole affair, they accused the innocent and even Old Christians. . . . The inquisitors add that they abstained in many cases from making arrests, when the testimony was insufficient and the parties were not Portuguese.

The tribunal was manned with four inquisitors, who struggled resolutely through this complicated mass of business, and at length were ready to make public the results of their labors in the auto of January 23, 1639. This was celebrated with unexampled pomp and ostentation, for now money was abundant and the opportunity of making an impression on the popular mind was not to be lost, During the previous night, when their sentences were made known to those who were to be relaxed, two of them, Enrique de Paz and Manuel de Espinosa, professed conversion; the inquisitors came and examined them, a consulta was assembled and they were admitted to reconciliation. There was great rivalry among men of position for the honor of accompanying the penitents and Don Salvadoro Veldzquez, one of the principal Indians, sargento mayor of the Indian militia, begged to be allowed to carry one of the effigies, which he did in resplendent uniform. Conspicuous in a place of honor in the procession were the seven who had been acquitted, richly dressed, mounted on white horses and carrying palms of victory,

Besides the Judaizers there was a bigamist and five women penanced for sorcery. There was also the alcalde's assistant Valcdzar, who was deprived of his familiarship and was exiled for four years. Juan de Canelas Albarran, the occupant of a house adjoining the prison, who had permitted an opening through the walls for communications, received a hundred lashes and five years of exile, and Ana Maria González, who was concerned in the matter, had also a hundred lashes and four years of exile.

Of the Judaizers there were seven who escaped with abjuration de vehementi, various penalties and fines aggregating eight hundred pesos. There were forty-four reconciled with punishments varied according to their deserts. Those who had confessed readily as to themselves and others were let off with confiscation and deportation to Spain. Those who prevaricated or gave trouble had, in addition, lashes or galleys or both. Of these there were twenty-one, the aggregate lashes amounting to four thousand and the years of galleys to a hundred and six, besides two condemnations for life. In addition to these were the mother of the Murcia de Luna who died under torture, Doha Mayor de Luna, a woman of high social position, and her daughter Doha Isabel de Luna, a girl of 18, who, for endeavoring to communicate with each other in prison, were sentenced to a hundred lashes through the streets, naked from the waist up. There was also one reconciliation in effigy of a culprit who had died in prison.

There were eleven relaxations in person and the effigy of one who had committed suicide during trial. Of the eleven, seven are said to have died pertinacious and impenitent and therefore presumably were burnt alive, true martyrs to their belief. Of these there were two especially notable - Maldonado whose case has been mentioned above, and Manuel Bautista Pérez. The latter was the leader and chief among the Portuguese, who styled him the capitan grande. He was the greatest merchant in Lima and his fortune was popularly estimated at half a million pesos. It was in his house that were held the secret meetings in which he joined in the learned theological discussions, but outwardly he was a zealous Christian and had priests to educate his children; he was greatly esteemed by the clergy who dedicated to him their literary effusions in terms of the warmest adulation. He owned rich silver mines in Huarochiri and two extensive plantations; his confiscated house has since been known as the casas de Pilatos, and his ostentatious mode of life may be judged by the fact that when his carriage was sold by the tribunal it fetched thirty-four hundred pesos. He had endeavored to commit suicide by stabbing himself, but he never faltered at the end. He listened proudly to his sentence and died impenitent, telling the executioner to do his duty. There was one other prisoner who did not appear. Enrique Jorje Tavares, a youth of 18, was among those arrested in August, 1635. He denied under torture and after various alternations became permanently insane, for which reason his case was suspended in 1639.

The next day the mob of Lima enjoyed the further sensation of the scourging through the streets. These exhibitions always attracted a large crowd, in which there were many horsemen who thus had a better view, while boys commonly pelted the bigamists and sorceresses who were the usual patients. On this occasion the tribunal issued a proclamation forbidding horses or carriages in the streets through which the procession passed, and any pelting of the penitents under pain, for Spaniards, of banishment to Chile, and for Indians and Negroes, of a hundred lashes. There were twenty-nine sufferers in all; they were marched in squads of ten, guarded by soldiers and familiars, while the executioners plied the scourges, and the brutalizing spectacle passed off without disturbance, and with the pious wish of the tribunal that it would please God to make it serve as a warning.


From Henry C. Lea: The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies, 1908

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998

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