Once more, thanks to Jack Cohen as roving reporter, for sharing the interesting details of his recent trip to Portugal with the AACI. This is Part Two.
Click Here to view Part One
Sunday we drove north-east from Lisbon, arriving at the small town of Castelo de Vida (Castle of vines) around noon. The main reason for visiting this town is that it has a recognized and partially restored synagogue. We were met by the former Mayor Mr, Carolino, who was the Mayor during the revolution of 1974.
He was able to trace his family origins back to 1320 from Toledo in Spain. The family business was metal working and they continued that in Castelo de Vida, and he showed us their working shop with some original tools. Because he was the Mayor and because he was a Bnei Anusim he bought and renovated a small partly hidden synagogue in the Juderia, which he took us to see. Where the Juderia starts there are Magen David in the stone pavements. The synagogue is a small museum and has a memorial wall with the names of 400 Converso Jews who were taken from there and murdered by the Inquisition in Lisbon.
After lunch we drove further towards the Spanish border and at a place called Portagem there is an intact Roman bridge over the river Sever that separated Portugal from Spain. Next to it is a Roman tower that used to be the customs post in the 15th century. It was here that a large portion of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 paid to cross into Portugal. Altogether there were ca 100 – 200,000 Jews who entered Portugal and because there were so many of them they were distributed around all the towns and villages in the region. The total population of Portugal was then only ca. 1 million so the Jews were a large and influential group. On the wall of the tower was a plaque commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Jews expulsion from Spain.
We then drove to the highest point locally at Marvao where there is a small village adjacent to a huge Moorish castle. The name of the Moorish General was Marwan, so it is named after him, and he had his headquarters there with a magnificent view over this area of Portugal.
From there we drove to Trancoso where we are staying while we visit the Jewish areas there and in nearby Belmonte. At dinner we were addressed by Jose (Yosef) Levy Domingos, a journalist by profession, but a leader of the Jewish community in Belmonte and by the local Rabbi Elisha Salas, who originally came from Chile and is now an emissary of Shavei Israel to the Crypto-Jews.
The visit to Trancoso and Belmonte represents the core of our reason to be in Portugal and our interest in the Secret Jews. We drove about an hour from Trancoso to Belmonte, where we were met by Yosef. He took us on a walking tour of the extensive Jewish quarter (Juderia) and pointed out specific items of interest. For example, it was always known where the Juderia started and now there is a magen David in the pavement to indicate the location. He showed us crosses carved into the stone lintels to show where the Inquisition had confiscated Jewish houses. Then he took us to the impressive new synagogue Beit Eliahu that he was involved in planning and building in 1996. It has 32 families (300 members) that have returned to Judaism, and there are many more who retain their secret Jewish status even today.
It is estimated that ca. 40,000 New Christians (Secret Jews) were murdered by the Inquisition from 1536 – 1821, when it was finally abolished. Of those, about 1,200 were burnt in autos da fe, mostly in Lisbon and Evora. But, even after the Inquisition the Secret Jews were not safe. During the 48 years of the Salazar dictatorship no Jewish practices were allowed in Portugal. It was only after the 1974 revolution that religious practises other than Catholicism were allowed. Still even today many Bnei Anusim will not openly declare that they are Jewish, but many will confess this confidentially. It is impossible to estimate the actual number of Secret Jews.
Returning to Trancoso we were taken on a tour of the extensive Juderia. Here the houses are made of stone and all are grey. The Jews, to show that they were converses, carved crosses on the lintels, but they modified the crosses with the letter shin at the ends and also added menoroth. It was required that conversos move out of the Juderia and be replaced by Old Christians so that the conversos would be removed from Judaic influences. It was a capital offense to “Judaize”, i.e. say or do anything about Judaism, including having Hebrew books. Since the practice of Judaism was publicly banned and there were no Jewish institutions, the secret practise of Judaism continued underground, in the home. This explains why so many of the victims of the Inquisition were women.
Yosef took us to the new modern Jewish Center that they have built there that is not yet officially opened. He told us that although they have support from the local municipality, a priest complained to him that the JC was built too close to a church. He replied that they built the Church on land confiscated from Jews, who they killed. But, in general there is strong support for the return of Jewish worship and symbols as well as the open return of the Jews themselves.
watch this space for part 3 of 3 about the Portugal trip… click here for part one
here is a link to Jack’s blog. http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/castelo-de-vida.html
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