Marranos: The Hidden Legacy of Jewish Converts in Spain and Portugal

Marranos (from Spanish, «swine») were Jews from Spain and Portugal, otherwise designated as anuism, or forced converts. Jews in Spain were forced to convert to Christianity in 1391 and in Portugal in 1497. These so-called «new Christians» was constantly suspected of harboring of their former religion and were well known for their reluctance to eat pork.

Particularly after the coming of the Inquisition in Spain in 1481 and into Portugal in 1536, many Marranos fled abroad, although, for economic reasons, the authorities to prevent this. For these refugees Morocco and the Ottoman Empire, with Muslim leaders, were a natural refuge; the Marranos also lived undisturbed in Protestant states, particularly in German cities, and, in the 17th century, in Holland, where Amsterdam became known as «the Dutch Jerusalem.» However, in Roman Catholic countries their situation was far more precarious, where in more places they had to maintain a semblance of Catholicism.

Nevertheless, many Marrano families rose to great prominence in trade and banking, and, having international ties, establish large companies. Many were completely assimilated into gentile cultures, but even today certain groups discover they have retained various Jewish practices, often without being aware of a Jewish ancestry. Some, especially during the 19th century, joined secret societies such as were in northern Portugal and the Balearic islands.

Other were able to combined Jewish and Christian traditions, in Belmonte, for example, candles were lit and fasting was observed on Yom Kippur while refraining from pork was observed only on the Sabbath and holidays. An international committee for Portuguese Marranos was established during to 1920s to help some to openly return to Jerusalem. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 619
Schreiber, Mordecai, The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia, Rockville, Maryland, Schreiber Publishing, 2nd. ed., 2001, p. 174