New Christian-A Jew turned Christian (Catholic), whether voluntarily or forcibly, not necessarily a Marrano. Following the forced baptism of 1497 in Portugal, all Jews became known as New Christians, in contrast to Old Christians. Curiously, New Christians could never become Old Christians. The only way to become an Old Christian was to purchase a concocted family tree, which was a common practice. In some exceptional cases the king could proclaim New Christians Old Christians. New Christians were the primary target of the Iberian Inquisitions. After the introduction of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536 New Christians were prohibited from entering certain professions and occupations such as medical doctor, boticary, military service, civil service, ship’s captain, Catholic religious orders, and many others.

Converso-The same as New Christian. The term is often used to describe former Jews in Spain. Sometimes it is erroneously used as a synonym for Marrano.

Marrano- A secret Jew or descendant thereof. Outwardly a practising New Christian Catholic, inwardly a secret Jew, often adhering to the essential tenets of Judaism such as dietary laws, funeral rituals, observance of high holidays, keeping the Sabbath, and fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. Understandably, circumcision was discontinued. The origin of the word is shrouded in mystery, although there is agreement that it was initially used in the pejorative sense of referring to swine. Today, due to the exigencies of political correctness its use is frowned upon. However, giants in the field such as Cecil Roth (History of the Marranos), Yosef Yerushalmi (From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto), Yirmiyahu Yovel (Spinoza and Other Heretics, the Marrano of Reason) and Nathan Wachtel (La Foi du Souvenir-Labyrinthes Marranes), all use the term. It is also widely used in Portugal by lay persons and academics alike without any pejorative connotation.

The late professor Yerushalmi describes a Marrano as a potential Jew although professors Yovel and Wachtel distinguish Marranism as a separate “religiosity”, a set of common practices, although varied, by a people with a shared experience without a clearly defined theological doctrine. Marranism is characterized by secretiveness, ambiguity and fusion of Judaism and Christianity. For example, Marranos, even in the diaspora may venerate a “saint” or venerate a certain statue of “Our Lady” which to them represents Esther.

Amongst the intellectuals, Marranism may be defined by scepticism of both religions. Spinoza, born in Amsterdam of Marranos parents, (maternal line from Porto and Ponte de Lima in northern Portugal, paternal line from Vidigueira near Evora), is perhaps the best example. Although he was expelled from the Esnoga in Amsterdam at a young age, he did not become a Christian. Uriel Acosta, born on Rua de Sao Miguel in Porto of New Christian parents (Jews who had fled Spain in 1492), became a New Jew in Amsterdam but when he was expelled for the first time from the Esnoga he also did not revert to Christianity. Uriel was the first Marrano Jew to deny the individual immortality of the soul. Spinoza was the first to reject the divine origin of the bible and advocate separation of the state and religion.

Wachtel and Yovel attribute the rise of tolerance, freedom of thought, and the opening of the western mind to such descendants of Marranos as Michel Montaigne and Baruch Spinosa. Spinosa was only eight years old when Uriel shot himself in the head after being lashed 39 times in the Esnoga of Amsterdam. Uriel's books were burned and banned both by the Portuguese New Jews of Amsterdam and the civil authorities. Fortunately, due to the efforts of H.P. Solomon, a copy was discovered in the Royal Danish Library in 1989 which has now been published and translated into English. Acosta is often referred to as the world's first secular Jew.

Crypto-Jew-Same as a Marrano, a term favoured in the USA.

New Jew-A Marrano who has returned to normative Judaism such as Portuguese/Spanish communities in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Harlem, Bordeaux, Hamburg, Livorno, Venice, Ferrara, Pisa, Ancona, Salonica, Constantinople, and later London, Manchester, New York, Charleston, Philadelphia, Savannah, Newport, Montreal, Recife, Curacao, Jamaica, and Suriname. The first six Jewish congregations in the USA and the first in Canada, England and Holland were formed by descendants of Marranos.

More recently, Marranos from Lisbon (Ohel Jacob synagogue) and Porto (Kadoorie/ Mekor Haim) attended Jewish rabbinical courts in London and Jerusalem to formally return to normative Judaism. Belmonte is perhaps the best know example of New Jews. However, both in Belmonte and Porto there are pockets of Marranos still operating clandestinely. In Porto a secret group of women still hold Sabbath services and observe the high holidays. It is a fallacy to assume that all Marranos want to return to normative Judaism. Some do, some do not. Some return via Orthodoxy, others not. As professor Wachtel notes, Marranism varies not only in practice but with individuals, place and epoch.

Anusim-Hebrew, plural of Anus/Anusah(female), meaning forced or coerced ones. In some circles, the preferred term to describe Marranos.

Auto da fé (auto de la fe in Spanish)

The solemn proclamation, usually in a public plaza or square, of the sentences of persons condemned by the Tribunal of the Inquisition. The solemn spectacle attracted thousands of spectators from all social classes, inclusive of royalty. A large platform hosted the high clergy and dignitaries. A sermon was preached against heresy after which sentences were pronounced of the condemned who were kneeling. Condemned persons reconciliated to the Church presented themselves at the public altar while those to be burned were turned over to civil justice officials. The auto sometimes lasted several days. The condemned paraded in long processions before the public. Public autos were abolished in the later phases of the Inquisition because of much foreign criticism.

It was an elaborate ceremony at which the sentences of the tribunal of the Unholy office were carried out. The location was usually announced two weeks before in order to construct platforms and scaffolding for the general public. Although a sombre affair for the penitents, a festive atmosphere prevailed, altars decorated, lengthy public sermons given by fiery orators attended by magistrates, civil servants, guards, armed soldiers, familiares (Inquisition informers/spies), bishops, monks, priests and the general public. On the day of the auto, a procession left from the Inquisition palace (the north side of the Rossio in Lisbon on the site of the current Dona Maria II national theatre), often early in the morning, winding its way through the city to the place where the sentences were to be pronounced.

The procession consisted of the penitents, in their sambenitos, wearing a conical hat, barefoot, lit candle in their hands, surrounded by two guards; behind them, the condemned to be “relaxed” (ie. (burned at the stake) accompanied by a priest ready to hear their confessions. The procession was followed by the familiares on horseback and dignitaries, including the Inquisitor General.

If the persons to be “relaxed” (ie. condemned to death) confessed and accepted Catholicism, they would be garrotted as an act of charity before being burned. If the condemned persisted in the belief of the law of Moses, they would be burned alive, or more accurately roasted because if there was little wind to whip the flames it took about two hours to die.

Effigies were burned of those who had fled the country or died in prison. Coffins with the bones of those that had been dug up after interment, such as the founder of tropical medicine, Dr. Garcia D'Orta and pioneer sugar plantation developer Branca Dias were also burned.

Not all autos da Fe were similar. In Coimbra for example, condemned persons were garrotted and tied inside a wooden hut on the bridge over the Mondego river. The huts were set on fire at midnight and thrown into the river. There were also some private autos, especially towards the end of the Inquisitorial regime.


Elias Lipiner, Terror e Linguagem, Um Dicionario da Santa Inquisiçaõ, Contexto, 1998, Lisboa

Antonio Borges Coelho, A Inquisicao em Evora, Lisboa, Caminho, 1987


The bravery of a Portuguese war hero resonates today

The neglected house of Aristides de Sousa Mendes stands as a reminder that we must not forget his sacrifice in saving thousands from the Nazis

The decaying Sousa Mendes mansion. Photograph: Mark Fonseca Rendeiro

"So you've seen our shame, our disgrace?" Those were the first words from an older gentleman wearing a sash along the parade route. It is carnival in Cabanas de Viriato, the ancestral home of Portuguese second world war hero Aristides de Sousa Mendes, and I'm walking alongside Francisco Antonio Campos, director of the local philharmonic.

He sounds frustrated as he stares in any direction to avoid looking at theghastly abandoned mansion looming over us in the town square. More than 70 years since Sousa Mendes, a diplomat assigned to the consulate in Bordeaux, saved over 30,000 people from the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, his story remains largely unknown and his majestic home, Casa do Passal, is falling to pieces.

aristideAristides de Sousa Mendes Photograph: Public domain

Further along the parade route, I meet Agostinho Nascimento, mayor of Beijoz – the town next door. He too has been enjoying the children's parade, a carnival tradition that marches right past the rusting gate and windowless facade of the Sousa Mendes house. He says: "This is not just a reflection of how we in Portugal don't value bravery and sacrifice in the face of great risk, this says something about how people in Europe and all over the world honour one of the most selfless acts one can commit."

Sacrifice is what Sousa Mendes embodied: he provided an unbelievable amount of visas and physically ushered refugees across the French-Spanish border, assuring their safe passage to officially neutral Portugal, only to eventually return home to be condemned and disgraced by a fascist government sympathetic to Hitler. His family would be blacklisted, his title stripped and his assets, including the mansion, confiscated.

"My grandfather never thought he would be punished to the extent that he was," Sousa Mendes's grandson, Aristides Manuel, explains. "He knew there would be some retribution, but to lose everything and have the family disgraced, he never thought it would go that far." Even after having lost everything for knowingly defying orders to not issue visas to "foreigners of indefinite or contested nationality; the stateless; or Jews expelled from their countries of origin", Antonio Salazar, dictator of Portugal, ordered that no one in the country show him charity. Having no other choice, his children left Portugal one by one. After suffering a stroke that left him partially paralysed in 1945 and the death of his wife in 1948, Sousa Mendes only received food and shelter with the help of a local Jewish refugee organisation until his death in 1954. According to his children, his last request was that his name be restored.

More than 55 years since his final wish, governments around the world – including the US, Israel and Portugal – have recognised him as a hero. His title of ambassador was posthumously restored in 1988, all charges against him were officially dropped, and by 2001 the Sousa Mendes home was handed over to the newly founded Aristides de Sousa Mendes Foundation. Their mission was to restore the mansion, abandoned since the 1950s, where – upon their arrival in Portugal – many of Sousa Mendes's visa recipients once took shelter.

The Portuguese government declared the site a national monument in 2008, but just when it seemed as if the historic building would finally be restored along with the family name, more obstacles appeared. Competing plans and a lack of consensus about how to make use of the building resulted in a stalemate on the part of the foundation, which continues even now. With Portugal itself engulfed by an economic crisis and widespread financial uncertainty, the foundation is in a state of paralysis.

While millions of people in the Middle East and north Africa march in the streets demanding human rights and democracy, the story of Sousa Mendes is more relevant than ever. It was not just in the 1940s that the world needed brave and defiant people to save lives, at this very moment in places such as Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, there are once again people of authority who have the power to choose, even at great risk to their own careers or lives, not to open fire into that crowd, not to beat a teenager to submission, and not to follow the orders of a morally bankrupt leader.

It is up to all of us, as witnesses and human beings, to make sure Aristides de Sousa Mendes's past and present are not abandoned and neglected. Now more than ever, those who question orders and break the rules when the rules no longer value human life must be valued and celebrated.