by António Júlio Andrade and Maria Fernanda Guimarães
(Associação Cultural dos Almocreves de Carção, Bragança, 2008)

translated by mlopesazevedo



Between 1674 and 1681, the Portuguese Inquisition was half paralyzed by imposition of the Roman Curia due to a strong international diplomatic offensive. Its effects also made themselves felt in the daily lives of the New Christians of Carção, who must have begun practicing Judaic rituals discreetly. Above all, notice began to be taken of the care taken in the preparation of shrouds when one of them died, the charity given to the poor in honor of the deceased and payment of the fasts undertaken (for the benefit of the deceased), water pitchers emptied out, compliance with the “novenarios” with lit candles, a fresh change of bedding and a plate on the table...58

The manner in which they observed the Sabbath was also a bit in your face, not working and wearing Sunday suits. And it was commonly known that there were three prohibited Jewish books in the community: one which belonged to a Manuel Lopes de Leão who inherited it from his father (Francisco Lopes de Leaão “relaxed” (burned at the stake) on 13.2.1667, another one possessed by Isabel Henriques, the Galega, native of Monforte de Lemos, wife of Pascoal Ramos, he a native of Lebução and a third, that belonged to Domingos de Oliveira, barber, who brought it from Livorno (Leghorn), Italy.

In this regards, we will recount an episode illustrative of the manner of being and the way of living of the Marranos in Carção:

On a certain day, one Diogo Rodrigues arrived at the village, coming from the market of Mogadouro and bringing with him a big conger eel. And immediately someone told him that eating that type of fish was prohibited, for it was written in the book of Domingos de Oliveira. To which Pascoal Ramos responded immediately, saying that his wife's book was better than the barber's, because it permitted everything to be eaten.

58 (Footnote)

The priest Gaspar declared that Maria Pires told him that, “ when someone of the Nation died, they laid freshly washed bedding and lit candles for nine days, saying that the soul of the deceased would rest there and this is called “novenario”.

She must have said the same thing to the priest Ochoa, further adding that on Fridays, “ from the time in which Christ our Lord was buried, the New Christians start to clean their houses, laying freshly washed bedding on the beds, cleaning the lamps and inserting new wicks, and when someone died, the family put “aljofar” in their mouth, gold, silver, or fine corral, praying for them, and giving almost 40 “tostoes” for the souls of their family and friends , to pray for more 4 days and to fast...”

IANTT, IC,2865, Domingos de Oliveira

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Particularly notorious and scandalous for the Christians, became the manner in which the New Christians of the village celebrated the Great day of September (Yom Kippur), dressing up and going to the vineyards in separate groups of men and women as if on pilgrimage, remaining there all day, fasting and praying to the Gods of Abraham and Moses.

And a rumor started that in Carção, there were even Jewish masses, that there was a teacher, Domingos de Oliveira, to teach the Mosaic law and female teacher, Clara Lopes, to direct the celebrations of the women. And this became subject to commentary throughout the markets and surrounding areas.

How to explain such scandalous comportment, in face of the rigor of the Holy Office, and of the compromising silence of the Old Christian community, and above all, of the priests and of the Commissioners of the Holy Office?

The silence of the populace is easy to understand, if we take into account that they were all small farmers, many dependent on the merchants who purchased their agricultural products and supplied them with tools, implements, and other products. Besides which, we are beginning to believe that the New Christian element of Carção dominated in numbers, and not only in economic power, but also in the arts and letters. There were some who said in public that, “ those who did not observe the Law of Moses were poor and would never have bread to eat!”

Rather than finding the silence of the priests strange, for they were also greatly dependent on the people of the Nation, in that, in the veins of some of them, equally ran Hebrew blood. As for the Commissioners and “Familiares” of the Inquisition...it was commented on that two were in the hands of the New Christians, who had them “bought”.

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In the heart of the Marrano community there was a certain Maria Pires, born in Carção in 1653. She was only 15 years old when she presented herself to the Inquisition in Coimbra on 5.10.1668, heard and then ordered to return home. Almost 20 years later, now married and a mother, she was again called, presenting herself in Coimbra, on 23.2.1686. We did not examine her file, but it must have turned out well, for 3 days later, she was discharged and on her way home.

We do not know what happened next. A case of unrequited love? Some unfulfilled promise of marriage? Or pure and simple, Maria Pires had really turned into a militant Catholic, and as such collaborated entirely with the tribunal of the Holy Office.

The fact is that by 1688, she publicly threatened her fellow New Christians, including family members, whom she would denounce to the Inquisition. This caused an alarm to sound amongst those of the Nation and some were disposed to pay for her silence. Had she shown a desire to marry Maria Machado (her daughter, or sister-in-law?-we could not determine it) to the “teacher” Domingos de Oliveira, who became a widower? The desire is known as there was someone who promised to raise 60 thousand “reis” for the wedding dowry. The one not in agreement, was Domingos de Oliveira.

As September of 1688 rolled around, Maria Pires resolved to carry out her threats. She consulted with an Old Christian “beata”, widow, called Domingas Galega, of the family of the Galego priest, telling her that the Great day was a approaching (on that year it fell on October 4), so all the Jews could be caught unawares, but that everything should be done in the greatest of secrecy, without anyone suspecting. To that end, she asked her to go tell the priest Gaspar Fernandes , curate of the church, to meet her secretly in the garden. At that meeting she revealed much about the Judaic practices used and denounced many people.

On the following October 4th, Maria Pires sent her niece Ana Pires to remind the priest Gaspar that it was the Great day, and if he wanted to see how they observed it, to leave the house and go see how they were dressed in clean suits as if it were Sunday or a festive day, none of them working, and not even their wives starting the fire or cooking. In fact, the priest went for a stroll in the village and saw that it was as said. And he decided to go to the house of Belchior Cardoso, shoemaker, around noon, to ask him to repair the shoes of one of his servants; and he responding

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that on any other day he would fix them, but on that day he was not working.

Maria Pires, her niece and Galega, the widow, and with some other “beatas' inspected some of the houses to see who was observing the Great day.

It was likely that the New Christians were also somewhat suspicious, for there are no reports of gatherings that day and they did not go to the vineyards, as had been the custom in previous years. Rather, it seems that in that year of 88, each one celebrated Yom Kippur more discreetly, in their homes with their families.

To the despair of Maria Pires, life continued as usual in Carção and not even the priest Gaspar Fernandes lifted a finger. Moreover, for some people in Carção, Maria Pires was taken for a lunatic and Ana Pires, her niece, was a promiscuous woman, unfaithful to her husband, who pretended not to care, to the point of being the target of a public whipping by the men of the village and he was known as the “consenter”. And perhaps the priest Fernandes was apprehensive in getting involved, for he was also a native of Carção living there.

September 89 arrived, and Maria Pires was even more resolved to denounce her brethren to the Inquisition. She prepared everything to involve the maximum number of people that could testify as to the Judaic practices of Yom Kippur, which in that year fell on the 24th of September.

In the first place, she contacted several of her relatives, planning with each to spy as they saw fit and to the best of their ability. After, she contacted the priest Sebastiao Vaz and the parish priest, Manuel Ochoa. Also contacted were the priests Pedro Galego and Gaspar Fernandes, all serving in Carção. Then Maria Pires went to Miranda do Douro to tell everything that had happened and everything that the New Christians of Carção normally did in observance of the law of Moses, to the priest Lourenço Ferreira Sarmento, native of Vinhais, abbot of Argozelo, and canon of the cathedral of Miranda. And also the village authorities (regimental judge and ordinance captain) were recruited in the espionage operation.

However, the documents speak for themselves. Let us examine some of these documents:

-The priest Manuel Ochoa “said that the aforementioned declarants observed this present year of (1689) on the 24th of September, the Great day, which if 12 lunar days are counted , is observed in the said place and

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see that they did not work, tending to have their doors closed, which they do not do except on holidays, putting on their clean suits, as is done on holy days.

-The priest Sebastiao Vaz said that, “ he went out at 9 a.m., saw Baltasar Lopes, tanner, and other people who did not work...and it appeared that they observed the Great day.”

-Francisco Vaz, captain of the Ordinances, “said that he knows by seeing, that in the year of 89, on the 24th of September, which was a Friday, they observed the Great day...which he saw by going to their houses to see if they fasted or were working...and that his wife, Maria de Morais, went purposely to the tannery of that place, where they treat the hides which all the New Christians engage in every working day, the tanners, and did not find anyone there except Antonio Rodrigues, tanner, native of Argozelo, not doing anything, laying down, wrapped in a cape, which he did not do on other days.”

-The above mentioned Maria de Morais confirmed the testimony of her husband and added that, “Maria Afonso went to her house, wife of Andre Rodrigues, to say that it was the Great day and that the New Christians of that place observed the fast because Maria Pires had told her, and sent her a message to be vigilant and diligent, and soon she went to mass and on the way saw Francisca Lopes, wife of Luis Lopes Coelho, wearing a shirt and hat washed in the manner of one who observed the Great day.”

-Andre Rodrigues, 60 years old, former judge in Carção, said that, “ on the said day he went to the tannery, which is outside the area, and he found nobody there”.

-Ana Pires said that, “she knows, by watching, and entering the houses of the above mentioned, if they are working or had fire...”

-Maria Rodrigues, the “ Parraxila” by nickname, pre-occupied herself with watching Clara Lopes, known as a “teacher”, and said that she saw her

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on that day enter the rear of the house of Domingos de Oliveira and that, “she was covered, wearing a black mantilla.”

-Catarina Pires also followed Clara Lopes, and knowing that she was in the house of Domingos de Oliveira, knocked on the main door of the house, a girl answering, “ to whom she asked for Clara Lopes, and she heard a voice from inside which was of the mother of the said barber, to say that she was not there. Thus, the witness presumed that Clara Lopes was there but it was denied.”

-Ana Martins said that, “on the way to church she did not see any smoke from the houses of the New Christians”.

-Maria Tome also wandered, “amongst the houses of the aforementioned and did not see any fire or preparations for cooking food, presuming that all were fasting.”

The list is long, which we could extend, especially with Old Christian women who were on the lookout and provided sworn testimony, all more or less like Isabel Cordeiro Machado, wife of Joao Vaz, farmer, saying, “ It was public knowledge that the New Christians of the said place observed the fast of the Great day and the priests watched who adhered to it.”

Naturally, all this reached the Inquisition of Coimbra, which immediately ordered its Commissioner in Bragança, to proceed with a formal investigation upon sworn testimony from as many witnesses as needed. And (the Commissioner) immediately called upon Manuel Cardoso de Matos , “familiare” of the Holy office, to be his clerk, and both, on December 14-16 of 1689 went to set up their Inquiry in the village of Caçarelhos, more than 3 “leguas” (one legua equals 3.72 miles) from Carção. Why not in Argozelo, or Vimioso which are closer to Carção or Bragança? Does this signify apprehension on part of the Commissioners or did the distance function to free the witnesses from the pressure of the New Christians of Carção?

The fact is that the priest Gaspar Fernandes, when he left home to testify at Caçarelhos, left a message in case anyone called to say that he had gone to the chapel of our Lady of Rosary. And on another day, Domingos de Oliveira went to see him and told him, “I saw you clearly leave the house of the abbot in Caçarelhos and not the chapel of our lady of the Rosary”. And added this threat, “If I am imprisoned, the priests shall pay!”

António Júlio Andrade and Maria Fernanda Guimarães
(photo by Nathalie Herve)


Jews of Bragança, Tras-0s-Montes-DNA study


Mekor Haim, Kadoorie synagogue in Porto completed in 1937 by Captain Barros Basto the prophet of the Marranos. The captain was instrumental in the founding of a synagogue in Bragança in the 1920s.


How has a small Portuguese Jewish community retained its genetic identity?
By Cnaan Liphshiz

"Portugal - A genetic analysis of northern Portuguese crypto-Jews recently yielded a mysterious discovery: It exposed an isolated Jewish community that has somehow retained its genetic identity for centuries - while avoiding the inbreeding that usually occurs in such situations.

Now scientists are trying to understand how these Jews managed to bypass a condition which worries most small, closed Jewish communities in the world.

The new study by researchers from Porto and Coimbra Universities showed that Jews from the Braganca area are genetically closer to Middle Eastern Jews than to the surrounding Portuguese - even after living there for 500 years. This emerged from an analysis of the Y chromosome, which is passed exclusively from father to son with negligent recombination.


This genetic match was observed also in the Jews of Belmonte, a small town situated some 200 kilometers south of Braganca. However, the genetic analysis of Belmonte Jews showed a dramatic drop in genetic diversity, indicative of inbreeding. This is normal for isolated communities, simply because less genetic material is introduced each generation.

"All small-sized gene pools tend to lose diversity, but the communities from the Braganca area have succeeded in maintaining a very high diversity, with a relatively small non-Jewish introgression," said Professor Antonio Amorim, a geneticist from the University of Porto who performed the research.

The recently published research by Amorim's team of scientists characterized examined the paternal lineages of 57 unrelated males of established Jewish origins from around Braganca. The community there is estimated at a few hundred people at most.

A high lineage diversity was found, at both haplotype and haplogroup levels (98.74 and 82.83%, respectively), demonstrating the absence of a strong genetic drift, the research said. It was the first time that the genetic makeup of northern Portuguese Jews had been analyzed.

"The results of surprised me," Amorim told Haaretz of his team's study, which appeared a few weeks ago in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. "My surprise is two-fold," he added, referring to both the low level of inbreeding and to the retention of Jewish genes.

"These results can only be explained assuming that the effective size of the population is much greater that it would seem at the first sight," Amorim concluded, "and/or that there is a reproductive strategy minimizing the loss of male lineages but not avoiding totally the input of non-Jewish males."

The team of researchers said that "a deeper and more detailed investigation is required to clarify how these communities avoided the expected inbreeding caused by over four centuries of religious repression." They are still waiting for the analyses on the maternal lineages, Amorim said.

Jews have resided in the rugged and isolated towns around Braganca since 1187, but most settled there after the 1492 Decree of Expulsion from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Jews were allowed to stay in Portugal if they converted to Christianity, but whole communities continued to practice in secret, becoming crypto-Jews. The people studied in the research belonged to such families.

Portugal is currently seeing the turning toward Judaism of thousands of Portuguese who believe they are descended from crypto-Jews. They are assisted by the Jerusalem-based organization Shavei Israel, headed by the U.S.-born Michael Freund.

"This study demonstrates the extent to which the Jews of Portugal who were forcibly converted more than five centuries ago sought to preserve their Jewishness down through the generations," he said. "They made heroic efforts to sustain their Jewish identity in secret, and many only married among themselves, as the findings of this study indicate," he said."