The Spanish Inquisition II

The Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews

In 1478 the Spanish Inquisition arose after the issuance of a bull by Pope Sixtus IV by which its control was granted to the Catholic Monarchs.

The Dominican friar Tomás de Torquemada was the First Inquisitor General. He had ancestors who were converts, and was a confessor to Queen Isabella the Catholic.

The Inquisition did not move against the adherents of other religions, but it did against heretics and false converts.

In 1391 there were major revolts against the Jews, with looting, killings and the destruction of the Jewish quarters of Seville, Córdoba, Toledo and Barcelona, etc., producing forced conversions to the Catholic faith.

After the revolts of 1449 in Toledo a sentence/statute was issued requiring “pure blood”, compelling one to demonstrate that he descended from an “old Christians” and barring converts from municipal offices and other institutions.

This prompted a large number of Jews to convert to Christianity in the 15th century, giving rise to a new social group: Jewish converts (judíos conversos), aka “New Christians”, viewed with suspicion by both Jews and Christians, as many of them continued to secretly practice their former faith.

The reality is that conversion was the only way to escape potential persecution and to access positions that they could not hold otherwise.

In fact, many of these converts managed to rise to important positions, even within the Church.

Precedents leading up to the Jews’ expulsion included:

  • The Catholic Monarchs’ power unification policy
  • The preaching of the Archdeacon of Écija, in Seville, also played an important role.
  • Finally, there were the rivalries between Jews and converts, and the insincere practices of crypto-Jews.

In 1492 the expulsion of the Jews from Castile and Aragon was ordered by the Catholic Monarchs through the Edict of Granada; these Jews came to be called “Sephardic”, from the Hebrew Sepharad, meaning “Spain”.


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