The Poetry of Leonor De Carvajal and The CryptoJewish Tradition In New Spain

This is based on two articles The prime source was: “La poesá­a de Leonor de Carvajal y la tradición de los cryptojudá­os en Nueva Esapaña” by Michelle M Hamilton (University of California Berkeley) which appeared in Sefarad Año 60 Fasc 1 Madrid 2000 Additional information was obtained from an article by Moshé Shaul in Aki Yerushalayim Both Ms Hamilton and Mr Shaul have given permission to quote from their works 

Translations from Spanish and Ladino by Arthur Benveniste with assistance from Dolores J Sloan

When the archives of the Inquisition in the countries of Latin America were opened to the public we gained a better understanding of the history of crypto Jews judged and condemned by the Inquisition for their being faithful to the Jewish religion in Mexico Peru and other countries of the continent

One of the best known of the victims of the Latin American Inquisition was Luá­s de Carvajal who rather than allow the Inquisition to intimidate him by confessing and asking for pity in order to avoid torture proclaimed openly his faith in the Jewish religion and maintained this position with great courage and dignity through many years of trial until he was burned in an Auto Da Fe

Less well known is the case of his sister Leonor de Carvajal who also was tried and condemned to the flames

Leonor was the seventh of nine children of Francisco Rodriquez de Matos and Francisca da Carvajal who had gone to New Spain (today Mexico) at the end of the sixteenth century seeking a better life than could be had in Spain Between the years 1589 and 1590 most of the members of her family were condemned as “judaizers” They were imprisoned for one or two years forced to pay a heavy penalty and finally “reconciled” to the Catholic religion But despite this in 1595 the family was again accused and its members arrested by the Inquisition for “judaizing”

After being interrogated several times on Friday June 2 1595 Leonor de Carvajal could no longer resist the torture and she began to testify against herself her family and her friends These confessions revealed that the family had been practicing Jewish rites for at least the three years preceding their trial

The trials of Leonor and Luá­s de Carvajal resulted in their being condemned to death by fire Leonor her family and her Jewish friends were garroted and their corpses were burned on Saturday December 8 1596 Luá­s de Carvajal as noted above refused to confess his “sins” and stayed firm to the end in his Jewish faith He was burned alive as a true martyr

The testimony of Leonor Carvajal is more important than the others because it contains detailed description of the rites and ceremonies practiced by the cryptoJews of New Spain One of the most important aspects of these ceremonies was the use of songs and poems as prayers Leonor recited dozens of these songs and poems and gave detailed descriptions of their meanings and of their importance in the religious system of the cryptoJews

This testimony also shows the importance of women in the transmission of Jewish religious traditions in the hearts of the CryptoJews In the absence of a rabbi to function as spiritual head of the community the duty of transmitting the religious beliefs prayers and songs from one generation to another fell to the cryptoJewish women These women had memorized many poems that were recited and sung in the families’ religious ceremonies Leonor was the first to describe and sing to the Inquisition the typical Shabbat songs of Jewish communities of Spain and Portugal of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries

In the protocols of the trial of Leonor de Carvajal there are fourteen religious poems Some of them are complete and others consist of only one or two stanzas Among them are songs of moaning and of supplications to God a Dekalogue in the form of a verse and songs of praise to God

The Following poem is found in the transcript of her trial:

Cantemos con alegria
Alavanças al Señor
Le a faltado su favor
Cantemos como esparando
El sancto rey Josaphat
Por piedad aguardando
En tiempo de adversidad
La divina Magistad
Mostro para su loor;
Que nadie que de el se fia
No le falta su favor
Estaba un cuento de gentes
Y otras muchas millaradas
Que cubrian tierra y mares
Contra este sancto obedients
Mostro el Omnipotente
Verdardero defenssor;
Que nadie que El se fia
No le falta su favor
Enbiole Dios un propheta
Que a los suyos animasse
Y que con voluntad recta
En el siempre confieasse
Porque sin que peleasse
Le mostrará­a el Señor;
Que nadie que El confia
No le falta su favor

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

Let us sing with joy
Of the glory of the Lord
Though His favor is lacking
Let us sing with hope
Of the holy king Josaphat
For granting mercy
In times of adversity
The divine majesty
He showed to his glory
May no one who believes in Him
Lack his favor
There is a legend of people
And many billion others
Who carry this holy order
Over land and sea
The true defender
Shows his omnipotence
May no one who believes in Him
Lack his favor
God sends a prophesy
To those whom he has given life
And willingly and righteously
On him we always rely
He showed us the Lord
Because without a struggle
May no one who relies on him
Lack his favor

This fragment of a poem appears only in the trial of Leonor and does not figure in the trials of the rest of the family:

Yo dixe con gran dolor
¡Ay! Que en medio de mis dá­as
Volvá­ as las puertas sombrá­as
De esta carçel por mi herror
Y por las maldades má­as etc

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

I say with great pain
Ay! That in the middle of my days
I returned to the dark doors
Of this cell because of my error
And because of my bad deeds

This poem warns against lighting Sabbath candles lest one would forget the terrible consequences

En todas vuestras moradas
Fuego no ençendáis
En el sábado que holgáis
Porque serán condemnadas
Las almas si tal obráis

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:
In all of your homes
Do not light a flame
On the Sabbath of rest
Because your soul will
Be condemned for this act

Charles Faulhaber of the The Bancroft Library Berkeley writes “The Bancroft Library has the original trial records of three of the members of the Carvajal family along with about 100 other Mexican Inquisition trial records The complete listing may be found at: http://wwwoaccdliborg/” This is the home page for the Online Archive of California Go to “Browse/Search Finding Aids” and search for “Inquisition” in the search box at the bottom of the page Mr Faulhaber’s email address is: cfaulhab@libraryberkeleyedu

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