Documents detailing the Portuguese Inquisition will be available online


Jerusalem — Rare documentation from the Portuguese Inquisition with detailed information on the condemnation trials that took place 500 years ago has been digitized for the first time in the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People of the National Library of Israel from Jerusalem.

The documents include printed versions of sermons preached by two priests at the end of the trials they presided over and a 60-page bound manuscript from the 18th century that documents the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition court’s activities.

The trials took place mainly in Lisbon, with a brief mention of the trials in Tomar.

Written in Portuguese, the manuscript contains information on the trials conducted by the inquisitors from 1540 to 1669 against Jewish converts to Catholicism accused of continuing to practice Judaism secretly. Included are details of the trials, including the dates, the names of the priests who participated, and the number of victims convicted in each.

The document is known in English as “An Accounting of All the Autos-da-Fé that Tooked in Lisbon”.

The autos-da-fé, or acts of faith, were public spectacles in which the sentences of the victims of the Inquisition were read and carried out by the authorities.

The summaries were written at a time when the inquisitors, or someone who participated in the trials, felt the need to keep track of the work of the Inquisition as a positive thing, archivist Pnina Younger noted. Based on handwriting, all summaries were written by one person, she said.

These summaries were then bound into a volume in the 18th century in memory of the cruelty of these trials, she explained. The volume also includes a summary list of trials written on separate paper which she claims was compiled in the late 19th or early 20th century depending on the handwriting and type of paper used.

The Portuguese title on the binding of the volume translated into English reads: “These hypocritical acts of faith, practiced without mercy, were the work of the old clergy, only to make people miserable.”

In 1536, the Catholic Church launched the Inquisition in Portugal following a massive influx into the country of “anusim”, Jews forced to convert to Christianity fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The Portuguese Inquisition included particularly cruel punishments often inflicted in front of large crowds who gathered to watch. Trials ceased after about 250 years, although Portugal’s Inquisition was not formally abolished until 1821, Younger said.

Although many trials have been held against “new Christians,” some trials have also been held against “old Christians,” those who were able to trace their Christian lineage to the “deep past,” Younger said. These old Christians argued for their “purity of blood” in trials that charged people with crimes such as Judaization, blasphemy, possession of banned books, sacrilege, sodomy and bigamy, she said .

Digital copies of the two printed sermons will soon be available on the National Library of Israel website at

The sermons were an important part of the sentencing trials and were not just for the victims, but were also meant as a form of discipline for the public who came to watch the autos-da-fé, she said.

One of the printed sermons was preached on June 26, 1645 during an autos-da-fé by Augustinian Father Philippe Moreira. The summary of the event is in the bound volume, Younger said, opening the volume to the summary page where Moreira’s name and date can be clearly seen.

This autos-da-fé is also listed in the separate summary list, which notes that 11 of the 72 people tried under the priest were sentenced to be burned at the stake, Younger said.

The documents had already been part of the archive’s collection for some time and had been catalogued, she said, but were unearthed again as part of the re-cataloguing and digitization of the archives and documents. .


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