Spain and the Inquisition

These developments in Spain were similar to those occurring throughout Europe. Already in 1215, Pope Innocent III stipulated in the Fourth Council of the Lateran how Jews should dress. From time to time, the Talmud was forbidden and burned. When in the years between 1348 and 1353, the Black Death ravaged the whole of Europe; the Jews were assumed to be the cause for the epidemic and were persecuted. In Spain, from 1391 onwards, Jews officially had to choose between forced baptism and execution. With the introduction of the Inquisition in the year 1480 under the reign of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, not only were Jews targets for persecution, but also those who had merely converted to Christianity outwardly (conversos), in order to escape death.
A large number of these Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism became victims of the Inquisition and were burnt at the stake. Between 1481 and 1808, over 200,000 Jews were brought to trial before the Spanish Inquisition. At least 30,000 of them were publicly executed. Last but not least, on 31st March 1492, at the order of Pope Innocent VIII, the certified Great Inquisitor, Thomas de Torquemada, banished all Jews from Spain, with the exception of the conversos. In 1497, Jews were also banished from Portugal.

Christopher Columbus opens up the way to the New World

Some of the exiled Sephardim settled in Latin America. Christopher Columbus, whose actual name was Cristóbal Colón had paved the way for them. He called himself a "slave from the House of David". New sources claimed that he was actually a Jew who had been forced to be baptized. The first trip was financed by Luis de Santagel, the son of a baptized Jew.
Columbus must have had good connections with him. In 1492, as the fleet reached Cuba on 28th October, Columbus sent two Maranos on land as scouts. Thus, the Sephardim were the first Europeans to set foot in Cuba. It was the concern of Columbus, Santagel and Sanchez to find a new homeland for the Spanish Jews who had been ousted and had had their property confiscated.

The second expedition was financed with Jewish money, which the sovereign rulers had acquired through the sale of Jewish properties, which had been confiscated.

Many Jews and 'conversos' later found a new homeland in North, Central and South America, as well as in the Caribbean. Yet the Inquisition also pursued them in the so called, 'New World' (Mexico, Peru, etc.) giving them no rest. Even those who allowed themselves to be baptized - (some going so far as to adopt a new name)- were still persecuted and killed.


Nowadays, a surprising number of Jews live in North, Central and South America, as well as in the Caribbean, having no awareness of their true identity. However, many of them have recently been discovering that their real roots are not to be found in these countries, but in Israel. This has awakened an increasing desire in them to deal with their past.