16.09.05, Ingram and Serrano, eds., The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond, Volume 3

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Brian Catlos

The Medieval Review 16.09.05

Ingram, Kevin and Juan Ignacio Pulido Serrano, eds. The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond, Volume 3. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, 197. Leiden: Brill, 2015. pp. xxiv, 246. ISBN: 9789004306356 (hardback) 9789004306363 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Brian Catlos
University of Colorado at Boulder

Displaced Persons is the proceedings of the third of a series of conferences held at Alcalá de Henares in 2010 (two previous volumes, Departures and Change and The Morisco Issue, based on earlier conferences, came out in 2009 and 2012, respectively). In contrast to the other two books of this series, this collection focuses on the last stages of Converso and Morisco history, and for the most part on the experiences of these communities outside of the Iberian Peninsula. But, like the previous volumes, it features essays both by well- and lesser-known scholars from Europe, North America and Israel, whose contributions span a range of geographical areas and methodological approaches. The volume begins with two introductory sections, one to the series and the other to the volume itself, which together provide a snap shot of the history and historiography of Conversos and Moriscos. Eleven essays follow.

Sara T. Nalle's "A Forgotten Campaign against the Conversos of Sigüenza: Pedro Cortés and the Inquisition of Cuenca," looks at the activities of the inquisition in northern Castile in the first half of the sixteenth century. Here, Pedro Cortés, a particularly zealous and effective inquisitor, whose anti-Judaism can only be qualified as obsessive, carried out a bloody prosecutorial campaign that terrorized the people of his jurisdiction and led them to appeal to the highest royal courts for relief from his depredations and abuses. As they weathered imprisonment and inquisition, the corrosive effect on the internal relations of the New Christian community was particularly dramatic. It is an article that serves as a frighteningly timely reminder of the dangers of institutionalized discrimination. Next, Gretchen Starr-LeBeau's "Iberians before the Venetian Inquisition" presents a nuanced analysis of the inquisition in this Italian city--a court that was less concerned about the threat of Judaizers (who were numerous among the city's powerful Converso families), than about those individuals who shuttled back and forth between formally identifying as Jews and identifying as Christian. The authorities' emphasis on the importance of orthopraxy over orthodoxy reflected, perhaps, a deeply-rooted Mediterranean culture. Ruth Fine's "The Psalms of David by Daniel Israel López Laguna, a Wandering Marrano" visits the life and work of a Portuguese crypto-Jew who, after spending twenty years in a Spanish inquisitorial prison, was allowed to emigrate to Jamaica. After the British capture of the island, he and other Conversos who lived there were able to return openly to their faith, and López Laguna was able to embark on his life's work, an adaptation of the Hebrew Psalms to Spanish. Eventually published in London in 1720, Fine sees this work as a "mirror" (62) of the complex and polyphonic experience of Sephardic communities after the period of forced conversion and exile. In contrast to this, Claude B. Stuczynski's chapter, "Anti-Rabbinic Texts and Converso Identities: Fernão Ximenes de Aragão's Catholic Doctrine," shows that some New Christians, particularly those with political and social ambitions, reacted to the rising tide of anti-Converso sentiment in the sixteenth-century by attacking rather than defending Judaism, a trend that can be traced back to medieval figures such as Petrus Alfonsi and Pablo Christiani. Nevertheless, the work that Fernão Ximenes produced did not follow established polemical models; rather, it reflected the complex, international Converso environment in which it was written, and can clearly be read as an attempt to legitimize his own position and family pedigree among the Old Christian elite.

The fifth chapter, Miguel Rodrigues Lourenço's "Injurious Lexicons: Inquisitorial Testimonies regarding New Christians in Macau, Manila and Nagasaki in the Late Sixteenth Century," moves to the Jesuit-dominated Catholic world of the East, to show how the efficacy of the Inquisition--measured by the degree of uniformity it was able to impose on proceedings (here gauged through the relative formularity of testamentary depositions)--varied from site to site, and how inquisition testimony must be analyzed with a view to the circumstances and environment of the particular community that generated it. Ignacio Pulido Serrano moves a century forward to the late 1600s. In "Converso Complicities in an Atlantic Monarchy: Political and Social Conflicts behind Inquisitorial Persecutions," he argues, echoing earlier chapters in this volume, that it was often social and economic considerations that determined who would be prosecuted by the Inquisition. The monarchy and its agents had strong economic motivations to protect elite Conversos even at times of rising anti-Jewish sentiment, and when those Conversos were almost certainly crypto-Jews. This resonates also with the following chapter, "Philip II as the New Solomon: The Covert Promotion of Religious Tolerance and Synergism in Post-Tridentine Spain," in which Kevin Ingram argues that efforts first by Dutch and, subsequently, Spanish Humanists to lionize Philip II as a "New Solomon" represented a covert effort to incorporate Jews and Judaism as accepted and essential elements in the genealogy of the emerging Spanish nation. This is a strategy he astutely links to that carried out almost simultaneously and for analogous motivations (regarding Arabs and Islam), by the Morisco courtiers who perpetrated the fraud of the "Lead Books" of Granada.

And it is precisely one of these courtiers who is the subject of Gerard Wiegers' contribution, "The Granada Lead Books Translator Miguel de Luna as a Model for Both the Toledan Morisco Translator and the Arab Historian Cidi Hamete Benengeli in Cervantes' Don Quixote." Wiegers, a leading authority on Morisco culture and literature, argues that Miguel de Luna, who also wrote "The True History of King Rodrigo...," a revisionist, apologetic history of Spain designed to reconcile the place of Muslims in the emerging Spanish national narrative, was the model for the fictional Morisco author of Cervantes' monumental picaresque novel. The intersection of political and economic utility in tempering chauvinistic ideology continues in Asher Salah's chapter, "An Attempted Morisco Settlement in Early Seventeenth-Century Tuscany." Here, we see how the Medicis eagerly recruited not only Converso immigrants, but also Moriscos, who, despite their notorious (and exaggerated) foreign loyalties, were eagerly recruited as laborers as they were being expelled from Spain. The project was doomed to fail, according to Salah, not only because the aim was to settle Moriscos in the Maremma--a marginalized and unsavory region of the Duchy--but because political and cultural factors rendered the viability of such a settlement untenable on terms that both the Moriscos and their Christian hosts could accept.

In the tenth chapter, "From Mooresses to Odalisques: Representations of the Mooress in the Discourse of the Expulsion Apologists," Mercedes Alcalá-Galán turns to the post-exilic Muslim presence in Spain, in particular the spectral Morisca, despised as either lowly and tainted, or sensual and seductive. Each of these images served as a mirror of Spanish Christian anxieties regarding identity, sexuality, and gender. Prior to the expulsion, Morisco women had borne the brunt of the Spanish Church's and crown's culture war, and had long been approached simultaneously as objects of desire (slaves, prostitutes, physicians, performers) and of disdain. Their apparent virtues (such as chastity and cleanliness) served as an indictment of native Christian short-comings and, therefore, had to be converted into vices. Finally, in "'This Thing Alone Will Preserve Their Nation Forever': Circumcision and Conversion in the Early Modern Western Sephardic Communities," Yosef Kaplan shows how diasporic rabbis worked to make circumcision the essential prerequisite to formally rejoining the Jewish faith. In those countries that allowed Judaism in the early modern era, it was not the Inquisition but the rabbis who became the agents of conformity and the inflexible guardians of communal boundaries. Faced with an influx of Iberian New Christians who had learned to commute between or combine Christian and Jewish ritual, practice and belief, rabbinical authorities needed to segregate Jews in order to ensure their communities' survival. Insisting on circumcision became a key strategy for this, and they presented it as the analog to Christian baptism--a sine qua non for salvation and membership in the community.

It is difficult to do justice in a short review to such a rich collection of essays. Taken as a whole, the studies here embody all of the strengths of a conference collection with none of the deficiencies. Although they include a range of approaches and range over several centuries and around the globe, the eleven chapters fit together with natural coherence. Comparisons between the Morisco and Converso experiences do not need to be belabored by the authors or the editor, but emerge as obvious through the common threads that run through these chapters: issues relating to the fungibility and mutability of religious identity, the propensity for individuals to manifest membership to more than group, the agency demonstrated by members of proscribed religious groups, and the effects that violence, oppression and marginalization had on the way that religious identity and communal boundaries were constructed and manipulated by both those in power and subordinate groups. Together they present a sophisticated and convincing view of the complexities of the situation of forced converts living in an age of aggressive religious conformity and emerging paradigms of national race. Quibbles are few. There are rare typos, as to be expected in any volume. The index is rudimentary; and the lack of an overall bibliography is an annoyance. But these are minor concerns given the consistent quality of the contributions. That cannot be said, however, for the cover price, which unfortunately puts this book out of the reach of most of the scholars and all of the students in the many fields that this collection relates to. Fortunately, it will almost certainly be found in every comprehensive research library.

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