The Inquisition in Porto

There has been very little published about the Inquisition in Porto. This is a short summary of two articles on the subject, one by Amilcar Paulo (a protégé of Barros Basto), A Inquisição no Porto, Achegas para a sua Historia, Separata de Douro Litoral-Boletim da Comissão de Etnografia e Historia-None Serie-Vol II, Porto, 1959, and Elvira Cunha De Azevedo Mea, A Inquisição do Porto, Separata da ‘Revista de Historia’ Vol I, Centro de Historia Da Universidade Do Porto, 1979, Porto. Professor Mea is presently writing a book about the Inquisition in Porto.

According to Amilcar Paulo (deceased) on June 30, 1541 king John III ordered the Carmelite bishop, Baltazar Limpo, bishop of Porto to institute the Tribunal of the (un)Holy Office of the Inquisition. On February 11, 1543, the Tribunal held the first and only auto de fé. Three scaffolds were constructed. There were 84 penitents, of which 21 were burned in effigy, 3 women and 5 men were burned alive, 4 padeceram, 15 were sentenced to perpetual jail with sabenito and 43 received prison sentences between 1 and 10 years. The auto lasted until 5 pm, with 30,000 people in attendance. The Tribunal was extinguished in Porto in 1544. Paulo reproduces several historical documents such as the edict of king John III establishing the inquisition.

Professor Mea, who knew Almilcar Paulo, is much more circumspect. She notes that not much has been added about the Inquisition in Porto since Alexandre Herculano’s classic , History of the origin and establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal (1854). She does not give much importance to Herculano’s opinion that the Inquisition in Porto was motivated by vengeance of the Inquisitor, bishop D. Baltazar Limpo whom he describes as impetuous, obstinate, and fanatical. According to Herculano, the bishop was angry with the New Christians for not paying the cost of converting the synagogue to a church and the re-paving of Rua de São Miguel in the former Olival Judiaria.

Apparently there were a great number of New Christians living in the Ribeira neighbourhood (the then docklands), selling ready-made clothes who complained of exorbitant rents. In 1533 and 1534 they made a proposal to the City to return to the place of their ancestors, the Olival Judiaria, and promised to contribute towards the construction of a church, (the present church of "Our Lady of Victory" on Saõ Bento da Vitoria street is believed to be the site of the former synagogue of the Olival Jewish quarter) and the re-pavement the street of São Miguel, where Uriel Acosta (Gabriel da Costa) was born. As of 1547, there still had not been an agreement. By that time bishop Limpo was no longer in Portugal.

Mea, who writes twenty years after Amilcar Paulo, prefers to start anew, relying on five packets of documents then recently discovered at the Torre de Tombo, the national archive. Her partial analysis of the documents, which were in poor condition, indicates that cases before the Tribunal occurred between 1541 and 1546, with the greatest concentration was in 1542-1544. There is also mention of a visit by the bishop of Porto to Mesão Frio (up the Douro river) in 1542. Mea examined one document in which 56 witnesses were heard in one day resulting in the denunciation of 30 New Christians. Evidence also revealed that a good number (26) of the incriminated were absent, many for more than a year, some having fled to Lisbon and Lamego before leaving the realm.

Mea finds cases from Porto mistakenly listed in the Coimbra Inventory of Inquisition cases (Inventario dos Processos da Inquisiçao de Coimbra,1541-46). There she finds 78 cases from Porto, some involving more than one accused. Analyzing additional sources, she found a total of 111 processes from Porto, some duplicated. Mea studied 54 cases referring to 93 individuals. Some files are incomplete.

The tribunal was situated at the pousadas (manor house) of the inquisitor Jorge Rodrigues on Rua Chã. The prisoners were lodged in the bishop’s prison but in 1544 there is evidence of a new prison on Rua Escura. In one of the later processes (1545-47) of Leonor Gomes and João Serrão, merchants, we learn that the vicar, João Ferreira had replaced the bishop.

The professor states that it is not possible to fully analyze the nature of the inquisition in Porto as the institution was in its infancy and there was a lack of general applicable rules throughout the realm, rather it depended a lot on the character of the individual inquisitors. In Porto, one of the Inquisitors suspected anyone whose parents were forcibly baptized or who lived with a New Christian, like Violante Dias and her husband Antonio Dias, imprisoned for two years. Another example is Genebra Gomes, a widow of 80 years, born on Rua de São Miguel, baptized as an adult in 1497 and who spoke Hebrew. Her case stands out because she prayed frequently in Hebrew and observed Pessach and Yom Kippur.

Mea notes that the absence of 26 accused and an additional 7 whose whereabouts were unknown, is evidence of the economic power of Porto’s New Christians and their ability to easily escape the clutches of the Inquisition. Their economic power may also explain the rigid and inflexible attitude of many of the accused and witnesses who were uncooperative and refused to corroborate with incriminating evidence. Some witnesses were imprisoned, like Leonor and Eva Gomes, aunt and niece of Genebra (who also spent two years in prison) for interfering with witnesses. There were many appeals by accused persons and many allegations of illegality on part of the Tribunal, such as not releasing prisoners once their cases were completed.

Pursuant to the documents Mea studied, there were at least two auto de fés in Porto, one on February 11, 1543 at the field near the gate of the Olival and another at the same place on April 27, 1547. The Tribunal in Porto ended with the papal bull of Paul III on July 16, 1547. It was never re-instated, cases from Porto were dealt with by the Inquisition tribunal of Coimbra.