The Mexican Inquisition in Nuevo Leon 15501821

The Holy Office followed Spanish settlers to New Spain
How did this affect everyday life for cryptoJews in the area to the North near Monterrey?

What is now Mexico endured as the Spanish colony New Spain from 1521 to 1821 Within this territory crypto Jews had immigrated from Europe the Azores and the Middle East They were Catholics outwardly while they still practiced and taught their children Judaism in secret They preserved their traditions clandestinely for almost three centuries Some of them perished at the stake for heresy Those who survived were fearful and cautious It was not until the twentieth century that they dared to document their heritage openly

Wives and families accompanied these crypto Jews who fled to New Spain in the late 1500s They yearned for a new life better than what they had known in Spain Historian Cecil Roth defined crypto Jews or conversos with the same misconception common to most other scholars He said they were “of the weaker sort who had embraced Christianity in order to save their lives” Even Seymour B Liebman wrote that “The earliest colonial Jews were undistinguished by learning morals or skills as were their Christian contemporaries” 1

Even in Nuevo Leon now the state of Monterrey these conversos kept up the appearance of being Catholics while secretly revering the old Jewish ways and teaching their children the laws of Moses Nativeborn Mexican crypto Jews appeared different from their oldworld parents and grandparents who revealed the stunted emanations of Spanish internal turmoil and bitter conflicts with the Moors The children born in the new world were well fed cradled in sunshine and tall as cornstalks They had a peculiar accent however which lacked the euphony of standard Spanish but retained a charming Spanish idiom and the pronunciation of another era Liebman concluded that “The new immigrants created not only a great revival of learning and ritual observance but also the beginning of a definite Jewish community” 2

The Church monitored the lives of the citizens of New Spain from baptism to burial In time especially among the Indians the priests were teachers and judges and could arrest Indians and others who failed to pay burial or baptism charges in full Whippings by parish priests were common Even women were whipped exposing their buttocks or breasts in the public square3

In 1571 the Holy Office of the Inquisition was instituted to enforce the faith in New Spain As viceroy from 1584 to 1585 the archbishop Pedro Moya de Contreras expanded the Inquisition so that its power was felt as far as remote Nuevo Leon Its purpose was to root out crypto Jews Protestant corsairs and even clergymen and government officials suspected of questionable political or social ideas Detailed archives of the draconic Inquisition from the 1500s reveal how colonists accused their economic competitors of being Jews whether they were Jewish or not thus hoping to be rid of competition4 There were no courtroom heroics and most trials were brief Even in Nuevo Leon prison guards incarcerated Jews The prisoners were never classified or segregated by age sex or gravity of crime Women shared the same common cells with men first offenders with hardened recidivists inoffensive civil debtors with muggers and clerkly forgers with murderers They were all criminals and that was final5

Once found guilty of moral offenses or heresy condemned Jpws wore penitential garb with pointed hoods and were often burned at the stake From the reviewing stand the viceroy bishops and high dignitaries with their ladies viewed the grisly display Mexico City as well as the town of Monterrey conducted its Inquisitional punishments with solemn ceremony Other captives died in prison of illness neglect torture or suicide Those accused of lesser offenses like adultery bigamy and blasphemy were flogged fined sentenced to the galleys or exile A few escaped without punishment One saying went “One can leave the Inquisition without being burned but he will assuredly leave scorched” Inquisition and criminal records revealed other humiliating and sadistic punishments and also told something about the victims’ daily lives The questions posed by the inquisitors were adapted to gather information on specific religious acts The cherished beliefs these Jews held as meaningful were recorded as heresy and apostasy 6

This oppressive environment in Nuevo Leon discouraged crypto Jews from keeping candid diaries intimate letters or poems Few written family traditions survived these chilling times Prohibited books sometimes slipped through the cracks but book dealers and publishers were monitored Any heresy was inscribed in the records of the hostile courts’ Scholars have scrutinized the tragedy of Nuevo Leon’s distinguished Jewish Carvajal family Nine relatives were burned at the stake in Monterrey on December 8 1596 One significant crypto Jew Luis Carvajal the younger perished with his mother and sister According to Richard Greenleaf this intelligential figure composed letters memoirs and testaments which today are priceless records of social and intellectual history9

Expecting to elude the Inquisition most crypto Jews lived as merchants doctors and traders They avoided trades with physical dangers For instance metal founders who cast slugs for printings often died paralyzed with lead poisoning; glassblowers’ lungs collapsed from silicosis Hairdressers were prone to lung disease through inhaling the mineral powder used to whiten wigs and tailors sometimes went blind from eyestrain As Spaniards these Jews spoke of Spain as “home” They formed strong friendships despite the repression As in the rest of colonial New Spain gossip and politics were popular themes of conversation

When compared with its Spanish counterpart the New Spain Inquisition in time became passive and depended on denuncias (denunciations) Thus they prosecuted fewer cases This laxity was due to the overwhelmingly vast regions with treacherous deserts and mountainous territory that had to be explored and the relatively few subjects over which the Inquisition had jurisdiction such as crypto Jews and victims of treacherous political acts in the interior of New Spain These exiled Jews met face to face with the awesome lonely terrain inhabited by crafty belligerent Indians 10

During the 1600’s the Nuevo Leon Inquisition saw the crypto Jews who escaped into remote wilderness as dispatched into oblivion To the Inquisition sin led to more sin creating irrevocable steps for these Jews down the easy road to Hell If nothing else the Inquisition aspired to create a society of people who no longer knew who they were or where they came from In the eyes of the Inquisition they were consigned to bitter poverty and oblivion’ 2

In the 1700’s most of North America was little known to Europeans A saying among crypto Jews prevailed “To go north is to die and space itself is our jail”

Nevertheless they aspired to become a vigorous people gazing into the rising sun turning their back on the dark crouching shadows of the past” 13

At first these settlers had no ploughs or draft animals It was all hackandpeck hoe cultivation exhausting labor for businessmen whose muscles had gone soft The land appeared fertile but it proved arid reluctant and incomprehensible As farmers they feared death As shepherds they encountered a lonely life tending sheep and often were the first white men to bear the revenge of Indians with their deadly silent arrows Common sense dictated that they sidestep tribal warfare

While the men struggled to feed their families the women endured terrible suffering after losing children due to disease hardships or hunger Caution prevailed in the Jewish settlements in what is now Northern Nuevo Leon along the Salado River region and Coahuila Most of them settled along the Rio Grande River in what is now the Tamaulipas and Texas border All liaisons needed religious and legal ties to prevent disorderly women lonely idle men and abandoned children To keep relationships legal and to escape further detection from the Inquisition baptism in the Church was essential The sexism of European society flourished in the New World and was amplified by laws and customs Jewish or Gentile women in New Spain needed unusual strength of character not to be overcome by assumptions based on traditional prejudice 14

Though the Inquisition in Mexico was not as consistently enforced as that of Spain occasionally some fanatical viceroy might set out to lay down the law more fiercely A Nuevo Leon document on May 27 1816 recorded that the ruthless Viceroy Felix Maria Calleja del Rey announced that hardnosed Inquisitors would be reinstated in 1816 (The Inquisition had been abolished in 1814) To stop zealous rebels for an independent Mexico he expropriated Inquisition assets and obtained loans from local merchants for the cause As a viceroy Calleja del Rey used the callous Inquisition to execute the patriotclergymen Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Maria Morelos The church complained bitterly at these viceroy policies Finally on September 20 1816 the detested Calleja del Rey was compelled to return to Spain The Inquisition disintegrated on January 18 1821 in Nuevo Leon and Mexico proclaimed September 16 1821 as Independence Day 15

By 1800 a Nuevo Leon record stated that an inventory of documents in archives at a county seat included “antique illegible and disordered papers” During this era some Inquisition records and other colonial archives were lost “papeles en la Arca” c 1800 Miscellaneous Mexican Colonial Records Carlos Larralde private library

When compared with its Spanish counterpart the New Spain Inquisition in time became passive and depended on denuncias (denunciations) Thus they prosecuted fewer cases This laxity was due to the overwhelmingly vast regions with treacherous deserts and mountainous territory that had to be explored and the relatively few subjects over which the Inquisition had jurisdiction such as crypto Jews and victims of treacherous political acts in the interior of New Spain These exiled Jews met face to face with the awesome lonely terrain inhabited by crafty belligerent Indians 10

During the 1600’s the Nuevo Leon Inquisition saw the crypto Jews who escaped into remote wilderness as dispatched into oblivion To the Inquisition sin led to more sin creating irrevocable steps for these Jews down the easy road to Hell If nothing else the Inquisition aspired to create a society of people who no longer knew who they were or where they came from In the eyes of the Inquisition they were consigned to bitter poverty and oblivion’ 2

In the 1700’s most of North America was little known to Europeans A saying among crypto Jews prevailed “To go north is to die and space itself is our jail”

Nevertheless they aspired to become a vigorous people gazing into the rising sun turning their back on the dark crouching shadows of the past” 13

At first these settlers had no ploughs or draft animals It was all hackandpeck hoe cultivation exhausting labor for businessmen whose muscles had gone soft The land appeared fertile but it proved arid reluctant and incomprehensible As farmers they feared death As shepherds they encountered a lonely life tending sheep and often were the first white men to bear the revenge of Indians with their deadly silent arrows Common sense dictated that they sidestep tribal warfare

While the men struggled to feed their families the women endured terrible suffering after losing children due to disease hardships or hunger Caution prevailed in the Jewish settlements in what is now Northern Nuevo Leon along the Salado River region and Coahuila Most of them settled along the Rio Grande River in what is now the Tamaulipas and Texas border All liaisons needed religious and legal ties to prevent disorderly women lonely idle men and abandoned children To keep relationships legal and to escape further detection from the Inquisition baptism in the Church was essential The sexism of European society flourished in the New World and was amplified by laws and customs Jewish or Gentile women in New Spain needed unusual strength of character not to be overcome by assumptions based on traditional prejudice 14

Though the Inquisition in Mexico was not as consistently enforced as that of Spain occasionally some fanatical viceroy might set out to lay down the law more fiercely A Nuevo Leon document on May 27 1816 recorded that the ruthless Viceroy Felix Maria Calleja del Rey announced that hardnosed Inquisitors would be reinstated in 1816 (The Inquisition had been abolished in 1814) To stop zealous rebels for an independent Mexico he expropriated Inquisition assets and obtained loans from local merchants for the cause As a viceroy Calleja del Rey used the callous Inquisition to execute the patriotclergymen Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Maria Morelos The church complained bitterly at these viceroy policies Finally on September 20 1816 the detested Calleja del Rey was compelled to return to Spain The Inquisition disintegrated on January 18 1821 in Nuevo Leon and Mexico proclaimed September 16 1821 as Independence Day 15

By 1800 a Nuevo Leon record stated that an inventory of documents in archives at a county seat included “antique illegible and disordered papers” During this era some Inquisition records and other colonial archives were lost “papeles en la Arca” c 1800 Miscellaneous Mexican Colonial Records Carlos Larralde private library

ENDNOTES

1 Cecil Roth History of the Marranos (Philadelphia: Jewish Publications Society 1959) 65 See Seymour B Liebman “They Came With Cortes” Judaism January 1969 91103 Seymour B Liebman The Jews in New Spain: Faith Flame and the Inquisition (Coral Gables Florida: University of Miami 1970) 120

2 Liebman The Jews in New Spain 152

3 William B Taylor Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in EighteenthCentury Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University 1996) 213 215 219

4 Seymour B Liebman A Guide to Jewish References in the Mexican Colonial Era: 15211821 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania 1964) 14 Liebman revealed only two suspects who were investigated but not tried from 1540 to 1570° See also Richard E Greenleaf The Mexican Inquisition of the Sixteenth Century (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico 1969) 111

5 Michael C Meyer and William L Sherman The Course of Mexican History fourth edition (New York: Oxford University 1991) 195199 365366

6 Quote from Meyer and Sherman 199 Taylor 219

7 See Seymour B Liebman “Research Problems in Mexican Jewish History” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society December 1964 165 Kathleen Myers “Testimony for Canonization or Proof of Blasphemy?: The New Spanish Inquisition and the Hagiographic Biography of Catarina de San Juan” in Mary E Giles eds Women in the Inquisition: Spain and the New World (Baltimore: John Hopkins University 1999) 271272

8 Jacqueline Holler “More Sins than the Queen of England: Marina de San Miguel before the Mexican Inquisition” in Giles 212 Greenleaf 169171178179

9 Greenleaf 171

10 See endnote 2 of Myers in Giles 370 and Solange Alberro La Actividad del Santo Officio de la Inquisition en Nuevo Espana 15711700 (Mexico DF: INAH Coleccion Cientifica 1981) 8284

11 Carlos Larralde “Chicano Jews in South Texas” (UCLA: PhD Dissertation 1978) See Gregory Cuellar ” The Mishnah and the Masa of the Corn Tortilla” Halapid: The Journal of the Society for CrytoJudaic Studies winter 2004 1 See also Carlos Larralde “Tomas Sanchez Founder of Laredo” Halapid summer 2005 1

12 Interview with Seymour B Liebman January 23 1978 Document of the Holy Office on the Commissioner of the Holy Office Dr D Marino Gamboa Riano y Rios “Senor” April 11 1775 Pontifical University of Mexico Mexican Inquisition Records Larralde library

13 Interview with Francisca Reyes Esparza November 12 1972 The Francisca Reyes Esparza Papers Larralde library reveals much of her research On Esparza see the Handbook of Texas (Texas State Historical Association 1997)

14 Interview with Seymour B Liebman January 23 1978 Seymour B Liebman Papers Larralde library reveals some of his personal comments on his research

15 Taylor 467 Viceroy Felix Maria Calleja del Rey’s notice on the Inquisition May 27 1816 Monterrey Nuevo Leon Mexican Inquisition Records Larralde library Juana VasquezGomez Dictionary of Mexican Rulers 13251997 (Westport: Connecticut: Greenwood Press 1997) 52 The conservative Fernando VII who declared in “La Regencia de Reyno el Decreto que sigue” February 23 1813 supported the Inquisition On the abolition of the Mexican Inquisition a draft copy was drafted on January 181821 of memos and official orders Cerralvo Nuevo Leon Mexican Inquisition Records Larralde library

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