RENÉE LEVINE MELAMMED: His/Her Story: A 16th-century Judaizer from Castile

This conversa, her husband and four children lived in the village of Cogolludo in Castile, where they worked, interacted with neighbors.

Source: The Jerusalem Post Magazine, 5-13-11

Photo by: Courtesy María López was a conversa of Jewish origin who witnessed the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Her parents and grandparents had lived and died as Jews, but López, already a mother herself in 1492, chose to be baptized rather than leave her native soil.

She was fated to die as a convicted Judaizer, an unfaithful Catholic whose soul was lost to the church because of her heretical activities.

This conversa, her husband and four children lived in the village of Cogolludo in Castile, where they worked and interacted with their neighbors.

However, in 1516, their lives were to be drastically changed. As soon as ample suspicion and corroborating evidence existed regarding a New Christian’s fidelity to Catholicism, the Holy Tribunal considered it its duty to prosecute the alleged heretic. Thus López was arrested and imprisoned in September.

The prosecutor listed nine counts in the accusation, which was based on six different witness testimonies. López was accused of not eating pork or pork products, of removing fat from meat and of washing it vigorously in order to remove the blood, of removing the sciatic nerve from the leg of meat, of preparing Sabbath stew, of refraining from eating fish without scales, such as eel and octopus, as well as rabbit and the like, and of eating meat on Friday and on other days forbidden by the Church…

López never confessed, but the tribunal was convinced of her guilt; she was subjected to torture on November 24, 1518, but continued to insist on her innocence. Despite her claim that she was a good Christian, she was found guilty and sentenced to death at the auto-da-fé in Toledo on November 30.

When I first read the court proceedings, I wondered if she might have been a serious convert to Catholicism. Though the intricacies of the trial (see my article, “María López,” in Women in the Inquisition, ed. Mary E.

Giles, Baltimore, 1999) are confusing, López remained strong and unbending throughout. However, when her husband was later arrested, he chose an alternate path and confessed. His confession clearly attests to the Jewishness of his wife’s lifestyle and secret observances. The Inquisition had not erred this time.

The writer is a professor of Jewish history and dean at the Schechter Institute, academic editor of the journal NASHIM and the author of numerous articles and books on Jewish women.

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