14.02.21, Ingram, ed., The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond

Main Article Content

Roger L. Martínez-Dávila

The Medieval Review 14.02.21

Ingram, Kevin. The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond, Volume Two: The Morisco Issue. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions: Converso and Morisco Studies. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Pp. xxii, 278. ISBN: 9789004228597.

Reviewed by:
Roger L. Martínez-Dávila
University of Colorado-Colorado Springs

This splendid collection, the beneficial outcome of a 2008 scholarly conference held at the city hall in Segovia, Spain, is a valuable addition and weighty testament to the maturity of converso and morisco historiography. Expertly, Kevin Ingram and his fellow authors evaluate three centuries of critical importance in the transformation of Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity, conversos and moriscos respectively. This series, quite adeptly, commingles why these two religious minorities shared much in common in terms of the challenges of creating and managing their new identities, integrating into mainstream Christian society, and negotiating their place within and loyalty to Catholic Spain. There are no simplistic or cautious studies within this work--systematically this volume explores what are considered to be among the most far-reaching and consequential cultural "problems" that overwhelmed Spain in the early modern period. With rich detail this volume widens our appreciation of massive themes such as "cultural homogeneity," "assimilationist efforts," "inquisitorial investigations," "fidelity and…orthodoxy," "compliance and conformity," "social bonds," "Christian oppression," and "clandestine Morisco 'complicities'" (8-10). This enticing menu of religious and social trials offers early modern scholars an extensive inventory of evidence that can be utilized for comparative research purposes, thoughtful case studies for use in graduate seminars, and intriguing anecdotes to present to undergraduate students.

The book offers two complementary introductions, one that situates the volume in the book series and another that presents the issues investigated in this volume's twelve essays. The series introduction carefully situates morisco and converso studies within the most influential works in the field, including José Amador de los Rios' Judios de España and Américo Castro's España en su historia, and presents visceral historical moments such as the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1391, the cleanliness of blood statutes, the reconquest of Islamic Granada, the Inquisition and the expulsions of Jews and Muslims, and the morisco revolt and Alpujarras War.

The volume introduction opens with a vivid retelling of two stories--the legend of María del Salto (Maria of the Leap), an influential tale of the conversion of a Segovian Jewess that is depicted in King Alfonso X's Cantigas de Santa Maria, and a fifteenth century diatribe (Fortalittium fidei) detailing the outcome after Segovian Jews desecrated a Christian host. Ingram artfully presents these two examples as reflective of the transformation of Christian proselytization strategies; medieval Maria was saved by a Christian miracle whereas the later attack on the body of Christ ended with the forced conversion of the synagogue into a church. The editor's instructive point is not only well taken, but accurate. He states, "Over two hundred years separate the legends of María del Salto and the Corpus Christi host desecration. In that period the Jews' position in Spain change radically, as the Church promoted a long and vicious program of proselytization against the Jewish aljamas" (4).

Reflective of the participation of the scholars at the 2008 conference and that it occurred in close proximity to the "quatrocentennial" of the expulsion of the moriscos from Spain (1609), the essays in this volume trend toward morisco versus converso studies. As with any collection of essays, an editor must create organizational sense from diversity. Ingram successfully presents these twelve works in a comprehensible format that transports the reader through five local community studies pertaining to New Christians and then onto for additional essays relating to local moriscos communities. The final three essays in the volume are not fully integrated into this smart presentation, however they offer incredibly valuable findings concerning Lope de Vega's literary works and anti-Semitism, Portuguese conversos, and the relationship between the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Ingram, as the editor, has performed his own directorial miracles in this respect. Due to word length constraints, this reviewer will take his cues from the editor by highlight three excellent chapters from these previously described sections. Subsequently, this reviewer will briefly note the other contributions to this exceptional collection. This is not meant to imply each of the essays does not have their own remarkable value, rather it is reflection of this reviewer's professional research interest.

In "The Jews and Conversos in Medieval Segovia," Bonifacio Bartolomé Herrero expeditiously covers three centuries of Jewish and converso relations that move from positive coexistence during the thirteenth century to "an end to the cultural and human interchange" in 1492 (33). Drawing from archival records held by the Segovia Cathedral archive as well as robust secondary works, the author argues vigorously that between 1391 and 1419 there was a "rupture of co-existence" after the preaching of Vicente Ferrer (22-23). Adeptly, Herrero suggests, "the sudden emergence in Segovia of a group of conversos was a major novelty in civil society. Within a presumably short space of time, the relationships that had previously existed between Christians and Jews were inevitably altered by the appearance of a new group which, whether they liked it or not, necessarily swung between their Jewish roots and the Christian environment which had embraced them" (22-24). Among the most interesting of the author's discussions are those pertaining to the Arias Dávila and Cabrera converso families who were both creatures of the Crown and Church. While some clansmen were accused of being Judaizers, these families often benefited from the positions of powerful family members such as the Bishop of Segovia, Juan Arias Dávila, who "took a series of steps to seek to block" inquisitorial proceedings (30).

Luis Alberto Anaya Hernández's "The Canary Moriscos: A Different Reality" is an excellent exposition of the conditions under which the Hispano-Muslim population came to reside in the Canary Islands. The author notes that although many came "under duress," over time they enjoyed a strong association and integration with the Canary population and in 1615 secured the right to be called "naturales" rather than "moriscos" (35, 50). The subsequent article, "Inquisitorial Activity and the Moriscos of Villarrubia de los Ojos during the Sixteenth Century, authored by Trevor J. Dadson, examines five towns in Campo de Calatrava and their morisco population's "assimilationist" tendencies and desire "to gain Old Christian status and the benefits that went with it" (50). In Manuel F. Ferández Chaves and Rafael M. Pérez Garcia's contribution, "The Morisco Problem and Seville (1480-1610)," the difficult situation of moriscos in Sevilla is fully vetted. With exemplary clarity, the authors offer the following astute observation, "The Moriscos were objectified, reified, and petrified in various inflexible perimeters. However, …the authorities did not want to rid themselves of a productive group; they merely wished to harness and control it to their own benefit" (101). Benjamin Ehlers' "Violence and Religious Identity in Early Modern Valencia," which makes exceptional use of manuscripts from the Archivo del Reino de Valencia, offers a concise explanation of Christian justifications for expulsion of the moriscos. Put simply, in 1609 the Duke of the Lerma, the king's favorite, and the Archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, "arrived at the same conclusion" that moriscos' "violence and apostasy" justified and "made possible a defense of the expulsion" (103).

The second noteworthy essay in this collection is Luis F. Bernabé Pons' "On Morisco Networks and Collectives," which is an engaging investigation of the resilience of Spanish Islamic culture and communities during and after the rebellion in the Alpujarras. Pons advances the notion that, "Far removed from the traditional, erroneously generalizing, approaches, a new image is gradually gaining ground in which the Moriscos are seen to be a diverse and bustling community with a wide range of life choices" (121). The community was neither "a unified collective" nor "perpetually engaged in conspiracies to bring down Spain", rather "the authorities deliberately spread some of these rumors and fears of Morisco sedition...to increase pressure on and surveillance of the Moriscos" (121, 123). However, there was a meaningful communal cohesiveness that facilitated the successful migration of Aragonese and Granadino moriscos to safe havens in France and Tunis.

In "An Extensive Network of Morisco Merchants Active Circa 1590," William Childers robustly describes the social and economic networks that cemented moriscos in Granada and Castile together. Utilizing an extensive collection of court documents (presented in tabular form) from the Camara de Castilla, the author demonstrates that an impressive merchant network interconnected Pastrana, Toledo, Baeza, and Granada, Spain (140-141, 148). The academic stalwart, Mary Elizabeth Perry, contributed "Morisco Stories and the Complexities of Resistance and Assimilation." It is a generous offering that reveals how "hundreds of Arabic writings that have been concealed in false floors and ceilings" have come to "humanize Moriscos and reveal much about their thoughts, beliefs, and experiences (161). In particular, she highlights Muslim and morisco stories about Job, Jesus, and Carcayona.

Steven Hutchinson's "The Morisco Problem in its Mediterranean Dimension: Exile in Cervantes' Persiles," is a thought-provoking analysis of Miguel de Cervantes and his depictions of moriscos; decision to "cross over from the 'island of al-Andalus' to the 'idwa, the African shore" (202). In the tenth chapter of this collection, "Blindness and Anti-Semitism in Lope's El niño inocente de la Guardia," Barbara F. Weissberger chillingly investigates Lope de Vegas dramatization of "Spain's most famous case of Jewish ritual murder, an event that allegedly occurred around 1488."

Near the conclusion of this edited volume is Juan Ignacio Pulido Serrano's "Political Aspects of the Converso Problem: On the Portuguese Restauraçao of 1640." Like the two prior essays that this reviewer has highlighted, Pulido Serrano's is particularly appealing. In a skillful manner, the author evaluates "the extent to which the Converso issue contributed to the build-up of tension" between the Spanish monarchy and Portuguese society during the 1600s (219). According to a Portuguese nativist position, the year 1640 is remembered "as the liberation of the Portuguese nation from submission to a foreign king and a foreign power" (219). Less understood is how the converso issue was utilized by the Portuguese to justify their rebellion and independence from Spain. Pulido Serrano argues that "anti-Converso legislation…sanctioned in 1581 by Philip II...[was] badly received in Portugal' and interpreted as "an attack on the autonomy of their customs, laws, and privileges" (220). The Portuguese Inquisition, clergy, officials, and the public, utilized their anti-Jewish stances "as a unifying factor" to counter Spanish hegemony (225).

François Soyer's "Nowhere to Run: The Extradition of Conversos between the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," is the final essay in this collection. Accessing inquisitorial documents from the Archivo Historico Nacional in Madrid and the Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo in Lisbon, Soyers paints a vivid depiction of collaborative efforts of the two Holy Offices with revealing evaluations of two extradition treaties (1544 and 1570).

In conclusion, this adroitly crafted volume is a significant contribution to the growing body of literature on Spanish and Portuguese conversos and moriscos. It is an essential text for university libraries, scholars, and students.

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Author Biography

Roger L. Martínez-Dávila

University of Colorado-Colorado Springs