Monday, April 21, 2014

The Lisbon Massacre

A memorial in Lisbon*
We touched on the Lisbon Massacre, in which between 1000 and 2000 (and maybe more) Jews were slaughtered, in the post on Crypto-Jews. Here is a little more detail.

To be precise, no "Jews" were slaughtered in Lisbon; technically, they were all "New Christians," Jews who had grudgingly converted years earlier, rather than be expelled from their home. Portugal in 1506 was in dire straits for everyone, however, because drought had brought famine; also, a plague was sweeping through. The people gathered to pray for deliverance from these problems.

History tells us that one of the devout, while praying at the Saint Domingo of Lisbon Convent on 19 April 1506, said he saw the face of Christ appear on the altar. This miraculous manifestation was taken as a sign that better times were coming. One parishioner who was present, however, said it was probably just a trick of reflection. This second opinion came from a New Christian. The devout Christians around him objected to this mundane interpretation, and they dragged him outside and beat him to death.

Suddenly, blaming New Christians for their troubles seemed like a good idea. It was reinforced by Dominican friars—by now the Dominicans were thoroughly entwined with the papal inquisition—who preached forgiveness of all sins for the previous 100 days to whomever killed heretics. The result was about 500 deaths that day. New Christians hid in their homes, but by Monday the fervor of the crowd could not be stopped. They dragged New Christians from their homes and burned in public. By Tuesday the number of victims had approached 2000.

King Manuel had been out of Lisbon, avoiding the plague. When he learned of the slaughter, he sent emissaries to stop it. Major malefactors were tried and had their possessions confiscated; some were executed. The two Dominicans were defrocked and burned at the stake, meeting the same fate that they had just meted out to hundreds of others.


*The inscription reads: “In memory of the thousands of Jews victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism, murdered in the massacre started on this square on the 19th of April 1506.”

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