The Inquisitor's Wife, p.1Jeanne Kalogridis
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I am deeply grateful to my editor, Charles Spicer, and my agents, Russell Galen and Danny Baror.
I am also indebted to true friends: Helen Knight, Suza Francina, Rahima Schmall, and Liz Harward.
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And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south.
We are those in whom the end of all the centuries is now come.
—ISABEL OF CASTILE, QUOTING ST. PAUL
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. We hung up our lyres upon the willows there, for those who had taken us captive required of us a song; and they that tormented us required of us mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
Christ-killers, they call us, but we did not crucify their Jesus; we were bitter exiles in Babylon when he died in Jerusalem. When the King of Persia banished us from our second home, we found our way to the shores of this sun-kissed, fertile land—one so like our beloved Palestine—and here we remain.
We have lived in Sepharad for more than a thousand years.
When the Lord God made the world, it is said, the land of Sepharad asked for five blessings: blue skies, beautiful women, fish-laden waters, bountiful harvests, and a just king. God gave us all save the last—for had He granted us justice, Sepharad would be now as Eden was.
Children of King David, we tilled the ripe soil alongside our Iberian neighbors, while the Romans called our land Hispania and covered it with stone in the form of aqueducts, amphitheaters, palaces, and pavement. By then we knew how to coax enough wheat from our fields to feed the entire empire, and where to mine the gold and silver destined to bear the profiles of Caesars. We bred the finest, fleetest horses for the emperor’s circus. Gregarious, we mastered the Romans’ speech and ways and served as their emissaries to the natives, who knew and trusted us. So respected and peaceful were we that only one legion of troops resided in all Hispania, the Jewel of the Empire.
When the Greeks and Phoenicians docked their huge trading ships here in Seville, where the River Guadalquivir widens, we were first to learn their tongues. We became the ambassadors, translators, and scholars who collected the recorded wisdom of all nations.
For centuries we flourished, and the Romans let us rule ourselves. Among us Sephardim, no family went without bread or shelter, no child without a father, no bride without a dowry, no man without an education in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. When the emperor Constantine converted from pagan to Christian gods, we became the world’s merchants, since the disciples of Jesus dared not venture into Muslim lands, lest they be beheaded. But we Jews knew the language and customs of the Berbers, Moors, and Syrians, and were welcomed.
Then the dark years came. Rome crumbled, and the legions fled Hispania in the face of invaders from the north: the Vandals, the Suevi, the Alani—all nomadic tribes who knew only how to wage war and herd sheep. Last to come were the Visigoths, so fierce they drove the others out. Tall, long-limbed beasts they were, with shocking pale skin and eyes and hair, the last falling in wild tangles past their shoulders; they came unwashed and uncombed, their long, matted beards tucked beneath crude belts over the animal hides and coarse cloth they wore. They had no writing in those early years, no philosophers or poets or artists. They followed no principles save those of Arian Christianity—which worshipped God the stern Father but not the Roman’s divine Jesus or Mary or the Holy Spirit—and bore a singular, intense contempt for all who were not their own.
The Visigoths looked upon us in the land of Sepharad—on pagan and Catholic and Jew, Roman, Iberian, Palestinian, and Greek, with our lush orchards and well-tilled fields, our temples, churches, and synagogues, our bustling international marketplaces, our fine comfortable homes, our marble sculpture, and wide paved streets—and hated us all. Hated our freshly bathed bodies, our fine and colorful soft garments, our prosperity, our curiosity toward the new and the foreign, our friendliness toward strangers, and especially our passion for learning. We were prepared to welcome them as we had our Roman masters, but the Visigoths wanted only to destroy.
And so they slaughtered thousands of us without mercy. They razed our homes and synagogues, burned our orchards, and smashed the Romans’ fine marble statuary. They destroyed the public baths, believing that cleanliness led to womanly weakness; worst of all, they burned our priceless libraries, believing the same of intellectual pursuit. When one of the chieftains proclaimed himself king, they began to fight among themselves, and Hispania dissolved into chaos. Many of us sailed south across the narrow strait to dwell among the Moors, or fled north to hide among the Franks. Those of us who remained watched as the Visigoths stole our fields and let them lie fallow; they took our gold and silver mines and let them collapse into disrepair. The aqueducts ran dry, the amphitheaters crumbled, the roads and city walls cracked and sprouted weeds.
For centuries we suffered, until dark-eyed saviors came galloping on swift horses from a southern land of deserts, palm trees, and poetry. They brandished great crescent swords that sent most of the now-Christian Visigoths fleeing. We Sephardim did not run. We opened the gates to our conquerors, greeting them in their own tongue, Arabic, for our merchants had done business with them for centuries. And they—now practitioners of a new religion that worshipped one God and revered Abraham—trusted us. We broke bread with them, and when they moved on to liberate nearby Córdoba, we guarded the empty streets of Seville until their return.
Under the Moors, Sepharad reached her full glory. The Muslims brought with them a love of art and architecture, literature and poetry, medicine and science. They valued eloquence and language above all. They repaved the streets and illuminated them with great lamps; they repaired the aqueducts and taught us how to bring water into our homes using hidden pipes. They made the nearby city of Córdoba their capital, and there established no fewer than seven hundred mosques and three thousand public baths. In nearby Seville, we replanted our wheat fields and rebuilt our homes, while the Moors planted citrus, bananas, figs, almonds, cotton, flax, and cinnamon and constructed towering minarets and delicate, ethereal palaces with stone fretwork so intricate it looked like lace. They showed us h
Under the Moors’ tolerant rule, international trade again flourished. For half a millennium, we were at peace and prospered. In those days, we strummed our lutes and sang Hebrew songs aloud in Seville’s streets, unafraid of who might hear.
But in the year 1248, as in Babylon, we put down our instruments and closed our mouths when a Visigoth king recaptured Seville. Those Moors who did not flee before the pale hordes were slaughtered. Those of us who remained told ourselves that our former persecutors had surely grown more tolerant after the passage of five centuries.
At first, this seemed to be true. Since the Catholic Church forbade moneylending—and we Sephardim had grown very wealthy—King Fernando and his nobles made us their financiers. As with the Muslim caliph, we became the king’s courtiers, physicians, and emissaries and grew powerful; but the Visigoths never let us forget, with their insults and laws designed to humiliate us publicly, that we Jews were lesser, wicked beings, deserving of God’s wrath because we had rejected Jesus as our Messiah. Nor had they forgotten that our ancestors had assisted our Muslim liberators.
A century after the return of Visigoth rule, the Black Death struck, bringing with it terror. A strange madness swept over the continent when so many died so suddenly; surely, they said, this is the work of sorcerers. Since our religion was not understood, it was deemed magic, born of the Christian Devil. The priests claimed that we stole Christian infants and sacrificed them in blood rituals.
Our greatest detractor was Ferrán Martínez, a poorly educated cleric from the lower classes, who preached violence and hatred toward us Jews. Destroy the twenty-three synagogues in Seville, he urged, for it was God’s will that we be punished and humiliated for the “crime” supposedly committed more than a millennium ago by our distant relatives in Palestine. Anyone who killed a Jew, Martínez said, would win God’s favor. As we feared, his disciples obeyed and began to attack us. We were forced to live in communities separate from the Christians, and we encircled our neighborhood, the judería, with high wooden walls and had our own watchmen patrol our streets.
In the end, the wooden walls were not enough to fend off those who despised us. As the sun dawned upon Seville on a warm June morning, Martínez’s followers stormed our gates and forced their way inside. They brought swords, clubs, and pitchforks, and they skewered and hacked to pieces every man who did not drop to his knees and beg to be baptized. Our streets filled with blood; our homes were looted and burned to their foundations. In the inferno’s glow, sobbing widows and children were seized to be sold as slaves. Twenty thousand died, and another twenty thousand fled Seville, never to return; as many saved themselves by converting to Christianity. Out of tens of thousands of Jews, only a few hundred managed to survive. The judería was reduced to ash. The rabbis and scholars wept the hardest, at the irreplaceable loss of thousands of sacred and secular libraries.
Seville’s Jewry was decimated, but the few hundred surviving Jews were allowed to remain and rebuild; after all, church law still forbade moneylending, and the Crown had need of its bankers. But the survivors were forced to wear red disks upon their clothing and forbidden to cut their hair.
Tragically, the hatred fanned by Martínez’s delusional preaching did not stay in Seville. It swept southward to the port of Cádiz and eastward along the river to Córdoba, then northward to Toledo and Madrid. There are no records to say how many of us died and how many escaped to Portugal and Morocco or elsewhere. But many of us loved Sepharad so dearly that we could not bear to lose her again—and so we converted, or pretended to convert, to Christianity. No matter that church law prohibited forced conversions.
In the wake of the bloody pogroms, the ranks of Spain’s church swelled with new converts—conversos, they called us, to distinguish us from the “Old Christians.” For a year or two, the hatred fueled by Martínez’s preaching died down. But soon, even the most ignorant among the Jew-haters began to realize that they had just traded one “problem” for another: How could they ever be sure that we believed in Christ with all our hearts? How could they be sure we conversos did not covertly continue to practice Judaism?
It was a valid question for the generation that survived the pogrom. But Spanish society had become such a dangerous environment for practicing Jews that most of us reared our children as honest Christians, hoping they would never suffer the horrors that their fathers had. Sadly, many Jewish families were separated, father from son and cousin from cousin, by the baptismal font.
But a few of us revered the God of Abraham so deeply that we remained in clandestine fellowship with our Jewish loved ones. We continued to obey the Law of Moses in our homes—secretly, as our detractors suspected, and allowed our children to marry only fellow crypto-Jews. We hung pork sausages from our windows and replaced the mezuzahs at our front doors with Roman crosses, but our women stole to hidden synagogues for the ritual bath after their monthly blood had stopped, and scrubbed the vestiges of baptismal water and anointing oil from the heads of their infants upon returning from their christenings. On Fridays, we cleaned our homes, cooked food, brought out fresh linens, and then bathed and dressed in our finest clothes to await the Sabbath. Our women lit candles in front of images of Christian saints and gathered with our families at the table to light the Sabbath lamp, which we hid under the table or in back rooms, the windows covered. On Yom Kippur we fasted and begged the Lord God to forgive us our duplicity. We observed Purim—the festival celebrating the brave Esther, who, married to a Persian king, continued to practice Judaism in secret, and who saved her people from slaughter by a jealous noble. Our hearts were not in the holiday feast but rather in Queen Esther’s preparatory fast as we echoed her prayer before she risked her life to save her people: “Remember, O Lord; make Yourself known in this time of our affliction and give us courage, O King of the gods.…”
We conversos—crypto-Jew and true Christian alike—took advantage of our new status by returning to the very positions that had been stolen from our Jewish forebears. We swiftly ascended the ranks of nobility to become Spain’s wealthiest landowners, most powerful clerics, and most favored courtiers; we even married into the Royal House of Aragón. Our rapid rise generated hostility among those Old Christians who hated us and called us not conversos but marranos, swine.
Still, we have hope. When King Enrique died, his half sister Isabel claimed the throne of Castile. She gained it with the help of wealthy, influential conversos and Jews—without our support, a woman could never have gained the Spanish crown—and we conversos arranged for her to take Fernando, then crown prince of Aragón, as her consort. For Isabel is a pale Visigoth, but the dark-eyed Fernando is one of us; although no one in his royal family has practiced Judaism for generations, the blood of David runs in his veins. It is said that the queen doña Isabel so dearly loves her husband that she will issue no command unless he is in agreement.
Can the Lord God move through a woman?
Surely He moved through Queen Esther. And perhaps He can do so with Queen Isabel, who made us weep with joy when she wrote the Jews of Seville, saying: “I take you under my protection and forbid anyone to harm you.”
Yet these are dangerous times; our enemies are again stirred to violence by another hate-mongering preacher. We dare not take up our lyres and sing—but we look to our Visigoth queen with hope and pray for her success and the time when we can raise our voices again in the streets of Seville.
That was the stor
Night muted the ocher and ivory hues of the cavernous Chapel of the Fifth Anguish, but the light from the candles on the altar and two hanging chancel lamps made every gilded surface gleam. There were only four of us, including the priest, so it would have been wasteful to illuminate the entire chapel, now damp and cold from the December rain.
I held a clutch of silk orange blossoms and wore black silk—a tradition among Spanish brides, although I’d worn the same gown to my mother’s funeral the previous week. The black veil, though sheer, made my surroundings even darker and more indistinct, adding to the sense of unreality. I kept my gaze lowered as my father, don Diego, and I walked slowly toward those standing at the altar. My father offered me his arm; I ignored it, unable to look at him, afraid that I would cry. Instead, I stared down at my whispering skirts and the fringe of my mother’s finest woolen shawl.
As we neared our destination, I glanced up at the aging wraith of a priest. Behind his spare form and the altar, set within a recess beneath a massive golden arch, stood an assembly of painted, life-size statues depicting Christ’s Fifth Anguish, his death by crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, on tall ladders balanced precariously against the cross, had fastened a sling of white linen around the dead Savior’s shoulders and were frozen in the act of lowering his body toward the grieving Madonna and Saint John. Despite the poverty of this particular parish—my husband-to-be had insisted on going to a distant chapel where we were unknown—the saints’ garments were of real cloth, as was the linen sling. The congregation diligently maintained both, and the Holy Virgin’s gown was often coordinated with the liturgical season. This night, the color of her gown had faded with the light, but beneath her sunburst halo, her upturned face caught the glow from a hanging lamp, revealing carved wooden tears spilling from her eyes.
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