The year 1492 is most often associated with Columbus and his discovery of America. But another event of tragic proportions developed that year. It gave the world the Sephardic Jews (so called because Sepharadh was a region of Spain where many Jews had settled).
By 1492, Spain, under Ferdinand and Isabella had just emerged as a defender of the Roman Catholic faith. The marriage of the two rulers eventually united Aragon and Castile, although while she lived, Isabella did not yield her authority to her husband. In Granada, the pair defeated the Islamic Moors, who had long controlled Spain. Spurred on by the cruel Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, Ferdinand and Isabella felt they must remove all heretics and non-Christians from their land in order to purge it of pagan influences and firmly establish the Christian faith.
The fires of the Inquisition had already roared in Spain for twelve long years. The Inquisition's primary purpose was not to deal with Jews and Muslims. Any person who professed Christianity and then returned to his or her ancestral faith was tried and punished. In eight years, the tribunal of Seville alone put 700 persons to death and condemned 5,000 others to life in prison.
But what about those Jews who never adopted Christianity? Their majesties had a plan for them, too. On this day, March 31, 1492, in the city of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella signed an edict banishing from the Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile all Jews unwilling to receive baptism.
"You know well or ought to know, that whereas we have been informed that in these our kingdoms there were some wicked Christians who Judaized and apostatized from our holy Catholic faith, the great cause of which was interaction between the Jews and these Christians...we ordered the separation of the said Jews in all the cities, towns and villages of our kingdoms and lordships and [commanded] that they be given Jewish quarters and separate places where they should live, hoping that by their separation the situation would remedy itself."
Separation not having worked, the monarchs gave the Jews until July 31st to sell their goods and leave the country. They were forbidden to carry gold or silver out of the kingdom. Worse, although signed in March, the edict was not publicly announced until the end of April, so the Jews actually had only three months to convert their property to trade goods.
"Christians" took advantage of the situation and paid ridiculously low prices for Jewish possessions -- a donkey bought a house; a piece of cloth or linen purchased an entire vineyard.
In July 1492, the exodus began. When Columbus left on his famous voyage in August, he could not use the port of Cadiz because of the large numbers of Jews waiting to board ships in the harbor. Many Jews of Castile went to Portugal, where they were forced to pay a ransom to remain. Others went to Italy or the northern coast of Africa. Wherever they went, they were robbed.
Spain's economy paid for its mistreatment of the Jews: many had been skilled craftsmen. Sultan Bajazet of Turkey warmly welcomed those who escaped to his country. "How can you call Ferdinand of Aragon a wise king--the same Ferdinand who impoverished his own land and enriched ours?" he asked. He employed the Jew in making weapons to fight against Europe.
- Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story by Diane Severance, Ph.D.
- "Ferdinand V, King of Castile." Encyclopedia Americana. Chicago: Americana Corp., 1956.
- "Jewish History Sourcebook: The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE." The Medieval Sourcebook.
- "Spanish Expulsion, 1492." http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ jsource/Judaism/expulsion.html
Last updated June, 2007