Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2001
Language:  English
Pages:   446

To feature this book on your website*, together with...

(*appropriate also for your online journal, blog, profile page, or on-line forums):

...cover, title, and metadata...

...title only...

...cover only, use

About the Book

The record of the "New Christians" is an inseparable part of the stories of Spain and Portugal, at the period of their greatest brilliance. It constitutes a fundamental, though tragic, chapter of ecclesiastical history. It touches on the life of every country of Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, at crucial points. It is the background to the biography of countless persons of the highest eminence, both in the Peninsula and abroad. It had important reactions in politics, literature, science and commerce. Throughout, it received lurid illumination from the flares of the autos-da-fe.



Introductory: The Antecedents of Crypto-Judaism

Chapter I. The Beginnings of Marranism

Chapter II. The Establishment of the Inquisition

Chapter III. The General Conversion in Portugal

Chapter IV. The Heyday of the Inquisition

Chapter V. The Inquisitional Procedure and the Autoda-Fè

Chapter VI. Saints, Heroes, and Martyrs

Chapter VII. The Religion of the Marranos

Chapter VIII. The Marrano Diaspora

Chapter IX. The Dutch Jerusalem

Chapter X. Resettlement in England

Chapter XI. The Marranos in the New World

Chapter XII. Some Marrano Worthies

Chapter XIII. The Literature of the Marranos

Chapter XIV. The Decline of the Inquisition

Epilogue: The Marranos of Today




An Excerpt from the Book

IN no branch of history, perhaps, does the record of individuals possess quite such fascination or importance as is the case in connection with the Marranos. No degree of rationalization of their romantic record can diminish this. The underlying phenomenon is not by any means difficult to understand. The forced assimilation to the general population of a large body of Jews at the close of the middle ages allowed the natural talents of the latter to assert themselves and afforded opportunities for instantaneous advancement perhaps unexampled in any other period of history. Freed from the dead weight of the disabilities from which they had previously suffered, the neophytes rose irresistibly to the top, like a cork suddenly released below the surface of the water. The process was discernible from the very beginning.

Already in the fifteenth century, the Marranos had begun to push their way forward, whether as poets, statesmen, Churchmen, explorers, or pioneers in any other branch of human endeavor. At a later period, in Portugal, the Jewish leaven was even more universal. Trade and commerce lay very largely in Marrano hands. Their blood permeated a large part even of the nobility. Natural aptitude was responsible for the fact that the most eminent physicians were of Jewish descent. The Marranos were important in literature, in science, in the universities, in the army, even in the Church. A list of those who may be identified, whether by reason of their ultimate flight or of their persecution, is nothing less than dazzling. Yet a majority indubitably escaped discovery, and, if they resisted the temptations to emigrate, maintained a crypto-Jewish existence to the end. What eminent figures are comprised in this category must remain a matter of conjecture.

The exiles continued this magnificent tradition in their new homes throughout Europe. In consequence, there grew up in Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and elsewhere an intellectual life as brilliant as any city in the Peninsula could boast, and no less distinctively Iberian in character. Coupled with their personal distinction there was the romance inherent in the career of almost every one of the refugees, enhanced in many cases by the amazing contrast between their former and their present circumstances. There was no branch of human activity which they did not touch and adorn. In the few following pages account will be taken only of a small selection of the eminent figures who actively proved their Jewish sympathies.

Of many, there has been occasion already to speak in detail. A mere recapitulation of their names is eloquent. In medicine, there was Juan Rodrigo, alias Amatus Lusitanus, of the old family of Habib, one of the greatest practitioners and theorists of his age, who escaped from Ancona in 1556, and subsequently practiced his art in Salonica; Felipe Rodrigues, alias Elijah Montalto, physician to Marie de Médicis who received special dispensation to make use of his services; and Rodrigo de Castro, creator of gynaecology. To these we may add Manoel Alvares, alias Abraham Zacuto (Zacutus Lusitanus), a friend of Menasseh ben Israel, whose reputation was second to none in his day; Joseph Bueno, who attended the Prince of Orange in his last illness; his son, Ephraim, the friend of Rembrandt; Ezekiel (Pedro) de Castro, who settled at Verona as a professing Jew, and published there some important scientific works; and many more, the enumeration of whom would fill pages.

In politics, there were João Miguez, Duke of Naxos, and Alvaro Mendes, Duke of Mitylene, both of whom exercised enormous power at the Turkish court; and Daniel Rodriguez, creator of the Free Port of Spalato. In literature, there were characters like Didaco Pyrrho, of Evora (Flavius Eborensis), who lived successively in Flanders, Switzerland, Ancona, and Ragusa, and was one of the outstanding Latin poets of the sixteenth century; Antonio Enriquez Gomez, the famous playwright; and several more. Philosophy was represented by Uriel Acosta; theology by Thomas de Pinedo; science by the Count Palatine, Immanuel Bocarro Frances, the friend of Galileo. Many were those who had attained distinction even in Holy Orders, like Vicente de Rocamora or Eleazar de Solis. A surprisingly large number studied on their return to Judaism with such a will that they became renowned rabbinic scholars: witness Jacob Zemah, apparently a lecturer in law in the Peninsula, who escaped to Palestine, embraced the medical profession, and became known as one of the most abstruse mystics of his day. Such lists of names could be continued almost indefinitely. It is a better plan to take in greater detail a few concrete instances. The plain, unadorned fact will outdo fiction in interest, though not in credibility.


The history of the Marranos – their origins and their fate – is subject of Cecil Roth's brilliant narrative. Written with subtlety and a sense for the illuminating detail, A History of Marranos is a fascinating chapter in the history of Spain, the history of Christianity, and the history of Jewish survival.

- Jewish Publication Society