A Summary on the Presence of Jews in the Azores

"Not too long ago I was asked to give a talk on the early presence
of Jews in the Azores. The following is a summary which I hope will
help: The Holy Office of the Inquisition came to Lisbon in 1531 by a
Bull of Clement VII in response to an appeal from the King and in
1550, the Cardinal D. Henrique, Inquisitor General in Portugal,
promulgated its extension throughout the kingdom. Its the Azores,
beginning in 1555 the Holy Office was composed of a Commissioner and
clerk, head quartered on Terceira, and agents or familiares,
throughout all the islands. (Francisco Carreiro da Costa, Esboço
Histórico dos Açores, Instituto Universitário dos Açores, Ponta
Delgada, p. 64. ) The Inquisition prosecuted many sins: Judaism,
Islamism, Protestantism, heresy, blasphemy, attacks against the
Catholic faith or the Holy Office itself, sorcery and witchcraft,
bigamy, solicitation of a penitent by a confessor, sodomy, sigilism
and freemasonry.
The ratio of Jews and New Christians to old Christians in the Azores
continues to be highly contested with exaggerations on both the high
and the low end of the statistics. (Isaías da Rosa Pereira, "A
Inquisição nos Açores: Subsídios para sua História," Arquipélago:
Ciências Humanas, :2, Instituto Universitário dos Açores. Ponta
Delgada, January 1980. ) Jews and New Christians came to the Azores
soon after the first settlers. They came to avoid the scrutiny of
their Christian neighbors and the Inquisition to islands where the
struggle of the settlers to gain a foothold on undeveloped lands
would mean less scrutiny and more tolerance from their neighbors.
They intermarried and were assimilated so that many of the
archipelago's principle families can claim some degree of Jewish
ancestry.( Carreiro da Costa,p.64.)

Tax rolls for the first quarter of the 17th century record 11 New
Christian males in Ponta Delgada, 1 in Vila Franca, 2 in Ribeira
Grande, 1 in Rabo de Peixe, 26 in Angra, 2 in Vila da Praia, 10 in
Horta, 1 in Feteira, 3 in Lages do Pico and 1 in Graciosa. A 1606
tax roll lists 18 New Christians in Ponta Delgada. In 1623 there are
14 in Ponta Delgada, 1 in Rabo de Peixe, 2 in Ribeira Grande, 27 in
Angra, 2 in Vila da Praia, 10 in Horta, 2 in Lages do Pico and 1
from Graciosa.(Paul Drumond Braga, A Inquisição nos Açores,
Instituto Cultural de Ponta Delgada, Ponta Delgada: 1997, pp. 492-
497.) These numbers clearly represent heads of households and the
totals should therefore be multiplied by 5 or 6 in order to arrive
at an approximation of the number of Jews and New Christians in the
archipelago in the first quarter of the 17th century.

In 1501, stormy weather forced a ship load of Jews and New
Christians fleeing to North Africa to put into port in the Azores.
The passengers were detained, and then enslaved on orders of Manuel
I and given to the Captain of Terceira and S. Jorge, Vasco Eanes
Corte Real.(Pedro de Merlim, Os Hebraicos na Ilha Terceira, Angra do
Heroismo, 1995, pg. 27)

In a pastoral visit in 1555 the Bishop of the Azores imprisoned some
Crypto-Jews, sending some of them to the Inquisition in Lisbon.
(Paulo Drumond Braga., p. 209. ) It was the beginning of their
tribulations at the hands of the Holy Office and the beginning of
the Inquisition's presence in the Azores.

The records of the Inquisition indicate that the majority of those
turned into the Holy Office were suspected of being Jews or Crypto-
Jews based on their practices and customs, believed to be Jewish in
origin. Such practices might include abstaining from pork, doing no
work on Saturday, keeping Queen Ether's fast and performing certain
rituals associated with the Jewish rites of purification. Most of
the accused readily acknowledged the practices but seemed unaware of
their origin, claiming that the practices had been handed down from
their grandparents and parents. Although abstaining from pork, many
of the accused slaughtered and handled pork for others. Many of the
accusations were several years, and sometimes a decade or more old,
by the time they were brought before the Inquisition.(Paulo Drumond
Braga.,254. ) Sometimes accusations were brought against even the
dead.( 9-9-1575 Hilária Pimentel accused Inês Maia, deceased, of
having been a relapsed Jew. It seems the deceased had, some 18-19
years before, said that all Christian Kings and Princes would be
slaughtered in a great battle, except for one who would favor the
New Christians. [Arquivo Nacional da Torre de Tombo, Inquisição de
Lisboa, Book 794, p. 19)

Most of those brought before the Inquisition denied that they were
Jews and were released after abjuring. Some were sentenced to a term
(usually a year) in prison and a period of public penance. Some were
forced to attend Mass in penitential garb, heads uncovered and
candle in hand. Of the many cases originating with the Azorean
Inquisition between 1555 and 1620, only 28 cases were sent for trial
and judgment to Lisbon. Of those, one man and two women were
condemned to death, several were imprisoned. Approximately 90 were
brought before the visiting Inquisitor to the Azores.

Perhaps the most heart wrenching of all of the cases brought before
the Inquisition is that of an old widow, Maria Lopes, and her son
Fernão Lopes of Ponta Delgada.( Paulo Drumond Braga, pp. 213-215. )
In 1573 the then 19 year old Fernão was arrested for relapsing and
he quickly blamed his elderly mother for his apostasy. It seems she
spoke to him of the fasts of Jesus in the desert and those of Queen
Ester and they celebrated Easter with unleavened bread. His mother
spoke of the fasting at Yom Kippur, but since she did not know on
what day Yom Kippur fell, they did not observe those fasts. Her son
was apparently full of doubts about his beliefs and a neighbor urged
him to read the reflections on Christ's passion authored by Frei
Luis de Granada. After reading the book, he made his confession to
Frei Brás de Soares who urged him to speak with none other than
Gaspar Frutuoso. The celebrated historian, genealogist and author of
Saudades da Terra, sent him up the hierarchical ladder and he was
eventually ordered to appear before the Holy Office. After a very
long process, he was found to have been a good Christian and was
absolved in 1587. His poor mother was not so lucky.

She was detained in March 1573. She was interrogated and seems to
have given contradictory accounts of her beliefs so that she was
condemned as an apostate. Even in prison she seems to have continued
her rituals and fasts. The Inquisition determined that she was
persisting in the error of her ways. She was found guilty,
excommunicated and turned over to the secular authorities on 13 May
1576 and burned at the stake in an auto da fé. Even while she
remained imprisoned, her son continued to provide new evidence
against her.

The last documented denunciation against an alleged Jew was made in
July of 1669 against one "Souto", a silversmith in Angra. It seems
that a Manuel da Silva, while visiting the silversmith's house, had
noticed that one of Souto's little boys was circumcised. The
Inquisition ordered its commissioner to investigate the charges, but
nothing is known of the results of the investigation.(Arquivo
Nacional da Torre de Tombo, Inquisição de Lisboa: Vol. 242, pp. 211-

The Inquisition continued its work in the Azores until the very
beginning of the 19th century although its power and influence was
already much reduced by the later half of the 18th century. In 1802
a priest from Flores was sent to the Inquisition in Lisbon accused
of being a free mason. In 1821 Parliament declared an end to the
Inquisition in Portugal.(Francis Millet Rogers, Atlantic Islands of
the Azores and Madeiras,The Christopher Publishing House, North
Quincy, MA: 1979, p.50.)

John Miranda Raposo