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Mimesis and alterity: the conversions of Muslims and Jews in early modern Spain and Portugal

José Alberto R. Silva Tavim


This article aims to question the antithesis visibility/ invisibility of the presence of Jews and Muslims who came to convert to Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula, during the Early Modern Age. How did the “host” society drive them into mimesis behavior (in terms of religious practices, social behaviors and visibility); and when this pressure nevertheless recalled and perpetuated his otherness beyond mimesis? The same is true concerning those who “crossed” the shores of the Mediterranean as “infidels”: how and when they intend “adapted” to the values of the surrounding society, i.e. what levels of mimesis they adopted; and yet they recalled or invoked otherness, even to underline the value of their “intended” social inclusion?   

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Author's notes

This work is financed by national funds through FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P, in the scope of the projects UIDB/04311/2020 and UIDP/04311/2020.

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Introduction: Mimesis behavior

  • 1 “Vossa Santidade deve fazer grande conta desta minha advertência, porque Deus bendito sabe, que est (...)

Your Holiness should take great heed of my warning, because God knows, that it is full of Christian zeal, being myself from a Hebrew nation, converted spontaneously to our Holy Catholic faith, born and raised in Ferrara from noble and wealthy parents.”1

  • 2 “(…) se os maus humores desta nação hebrea se forem muito incitando, com sua obstinação, transborde (...)

1Those words belong to a João Baptista d’Este, the Christian name of a converted Jew formerly known as Abraham Bendanan Serfatim, who was baptized in Évora, a town in the south of Portugal, in 1601. The letter was addressed to Pope Urban VIII (1623-44) in 1637, and his warning was appertaining the pernicious influence of the so-called conversos in Italy. Conversos were Jews which were forcefully made to convert to Catholicism in Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century after the mandate of general expulsion of Jews and Muslims was given in December 1496. D’Este’s warning to the Pope becomes increasingly explicit as he considers that “(...) if the vile humors of this Hebrew Nation is provoked, with their obstinacy, they will spill out of the bosom, and will contaminate the small portion of pure blood that still exists [in Italy], as occurred in Spain (…)”2.

  • 3 M. Foucault, Surveiller et punir
  • 4 Among other cases of a convert denouncing his former coreligionists, in this case in Italy in the 1 (...)

2The documents we have at our disposal to deal with the conversion of Jews and Muslims, and their integration in Christian Europe, are mainly procedural, presenting the individual as a prosecuted, or as a defendant, to use Michel Foucault’s analytical typology3. So, leastwise, these letters written by a Jewish convert are of exceptional value, as they are addressed to the Catholic authorities, a world to which he belongs and is integrated4. The letters reveal strategies that imply, above all, an identification with the values and principles of a world that welcomed him, and, simultaneously, the complete denial of the socioreligious universe in which he was born, which he abhorred.

  • 5 G. Postel, De la république des Turcs …, p. 79.
  • 6 See J. Delumeau, La peur …, p. 375.

3As a matter of fact, in Early Modern Iberian society, to bare honors and offices due to having Jewish, Moorish, or Gentile blood was worse than other predicaments, such as, for example, performing mechanical activities. This meant that the Blood Purity Statute defined non-Christian blood as the most impure, particularly Jewish blood. Even those of Muslim ancestry had greater acceptance. The reason for this is not explicitly stated, but it may have roots in a similar dilemma: Muslims “were guilty” like the Jews, namely for not recognizing Christianity and because of the long-standing fight against it. However, if in some texts the “evil” of Islam derives from the fact that Muhammad is considered to be the hybrid son of a Jewish and a “barbarian” man, as seen in Guillaume Postel’s work5, Jews have always been singled out as the “source of all evils”, those who tried to kill the God’s Son”. Until recent times Jews were considered to be a Deicidal People to the Christians6.

  • 7 J. Oliver Asín, Vida de Don Felipe de Africa …, 1955; Ch. de la Véronne, “Séjour en Andalousie …”, (...)

4Thus, it can be explained why sometimes honors were given even to recent conversos of Muslim origin. This was the case of Mawlay Muhammad ech-Cheikh (1566-1621), son of Mawlay Muhammad al-Mutawakkil (? -1578) - candidate for the Moroccan throne supported by D. Sebastião, king of Portugal (r. 1554-1578) -, who took refuge in Portugal as a teenager, with a group of supporters and servants, after the death of his father (and D. Sebastião) in the battle of “Alcácer-Quibir” (El-Qçar El-Kibir) on August 4, 1578. Mawlay Muhammad would eventually convert to Christianity in Spain in 1593, changing his name to “D. Felipe de África, Prince of Fez y Marruecos”, in honor of his protector Philip II (r. 1556-1598) (Philip I of Portugal). King Philip made him a knight of Santiago in 1594, nonetheless he was made to prove that his blood was clean. Ech-Cheick said that he was of royal lineage without a drop of Jewish blood, which shows that in these cases the Jewish matrix served as the justifying antithesis of all the Moor's purity7. In both cases, however, what was expected with sincere conversion (made possible by their high rank), is that the original stain of their birth could be forgotten thanks to an exemplary Christian life.

  • 8 Menasseh Ben Israel, “To His Highness the Lord Protector …”, p. 81 [fol. 1].
  • 9 In SA, Notariële, nº 62, f. 14vº. Pub. by E.M. Koen, in “Notarial Records …”, p. 124.

5Blood dynamics were constant in this aristocratic world. In 1655, for example, rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, when trying to entice Oliver Cromwell to allow the return of the Jews to England - surreptitiously spoke of the “Portuguese Nation” - enumerated the virtues that made these “profitable”, namely “the “Nobleness and purity of their blood”8. But this paradigmatic episode was not an epiphenomenon. On the contrary, other documents issued by the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam revealed that this was a constant. For example, Afonso Rodrigues Cardoso, Diogo de Pina, Bento Osório, James Lopes da Costa, Duarte Esteves de Pina, and Diogo Gonçalves de Lima declared in Amsterdam on September 15, 1610, before the notary David Mostart that Manuel Nunes was the son of Fernão Rodrigues and Leonor Nunes because they were in Lisbon at the time of his birth. They add more details regarding his social suitability that Manuel Nunes had no Moorish nor slave blood9. We know that these New Jews of Amsterdam shared the same Iberian social ideology and categories, as they had grown up in Portugal and Spain as Christians. This denoted, again, that the valorization of religious identity (in this case a new identity), presupposed the devaluation of another in the spectrum of infidelity and, in a broader dimension, that despite strategies of social emulation and surrender to the scrupulous Christian experience, mimesis always entailed the denunciation and the denial of difference.

1. Mimesis induced

6The Iberian Society, mostly among the civil and religious elite, created mechanisms to induce the newly converted to mimic the Christian flock, in which they should be included from the moment of conversion. The conversion of infidels by conviction according to Catholic theology meant the reversal of their anti-Christian condition, thus implicating that without any possibility of doubt they would mimic the Christian born religious behavior, which finally should be evaluated as total integration.

7All these converts knew that they had institutions in the Iberian Peninsula to welcome them, and to lead them towards social integration, which meant at that time an experience guided by the values and the rhythms of the Church. Those mechanisms were mainly supported by the Iberian kings, acting as protectors and patrons of the Catholic order, and by the local civil and religious elites. The patronage of these new Christians, and the permission to ask for alms with royal consent, and the permission of Jesuits, was the first step of inclusion that, in the first case, could mean their entry into offices paid by the Crown.

  • 10 ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 1ª via, fols 17v-27v and 52; and 3ª via, fols. 16v and 39v.

8A royal stipend could be paid as a salary by Lisbon’s Customs House, which greatly assisted the local College of the Catechumens and neophytes alike. We know from the trial of Diogo da Cunha, a converted Jew from Marrakesh, that many baptized Jews worked in the Customs House as a result of a royal intervention. This situation was quite clear in the cases of Pêro da Costa, Luís da Fonseca, Luís de França, and Jorge Brandão. Even other individuals like António de Portugal, who worked for the Contador dos Contos Francisco Freire de Andrade, and João Lobo, who served in a ship in the Tagus ferrying people to Almada and other places, depended on stipends drawn from Lisbon’s Customs House. A great number of these ex-catechumens survived on pensions drawn from the Treasury and were often compelled to peddle goods or to beg in the streets to supplement their meager income. In many cases, their “profession” is omitted in the Inquisitorial records. Agostinho de Mendonça and João de Meneses, for instance, sold imported fine linen fabrics (holandas) in the streets. Diogo da Cunha was amongst those neophytes forced to beg, whose inquisitorial trial never described him as having exercised a profession. He left for Seville in 1610 or 1611 in the company of a Sebastião Lobo, who was also a converso of Jewish origin, intending to seek for alms there. Presumably, they left Portugal to gather alms with authorization of the Mesa da Consciência e Ordens (the Board of Conscience and Orders, a Royal council for religious affairs), same as was the case of the convert Francisco de Paula10.

  • 11 See mostly J. Tavim, “Educating the Infidels within … ”; idem, "Juifs de Mafoma …”

9The mentors of their catechization and their godparents considered that their actions were in line with the highest values of the Christian society. The new converts, in turn, began to adopt the names and surnames of their godparents, and for this reason, their pompous new name was, in itself, a reflection of the nobility of the acts of those who protected them. In one way or another, everyone should be catechized to be fully included in the host society, which is to be initiated in the knowledge of the socioreligious procedures as a minimum normative principle. We are aware that some of these Jews were catechized in the province - as was the case of the above mentioned João Baptista d’Este -, while others were catechized at the Jesuit College of Santo Antão in Lisbon. However, as most of them flocked to Lisbon, a specific institution was created here to catechize the Jews and Moors, which was maintained by the Crown, but whose catechists were Jesuits very committed to the creation of the institution of internal proselytism called the ‘College of the Catechumens’. The College was founded in 1579, during the reign of King D. Henrique (r. 1578-1580), at the behest of the Jesuit Pêro (or Pedro) da Fonseca (1528-99). But the College, to work perfectly and to welcome neophytes, needed a constant flow of funds. So, the College was re-founded in 1584 with the title of Royal College of the Catechumens of Lisbon11.

  • 12 “No dia do baptismo sairão os catecúmenos que se houverem de baptizar vestidos em umas vestes branc (...)

10Insofar as the catechumens were concerned, the reason for their “existence” was their transformation from infidels to ‘perfect’ baptized neophytes, as the eighth chapter of its regulations addresses directly: “On the day of their baptism, the catechumens will come out dressed in white shirts made of cloth from India called cabaias, like alvas (white tunics of the priests), as Archduke Albert [of Habsburg] ordered, and as is the custom of the Holy Roman Church. They will wear hoods over their heads and hold large candles with their hands”12.

  • 13 Ibid., fol. 6v.

11The regulations reiterated that the neophytes, after the baptism, had to live in the College for three or four months, to ensure that they were well instructed in the Catholic faith and its sacraments whilst the material practicalities of their future outside of the College were decided. Parish priests and confessors monitored the religious sincerity of those who lived outside the College by writing reports confirming that they led ‘good lives’, and that they confessed their sins during the main feasts of the holy year. The neophytes were compelled to go to the Church of São Roque during a year after their baptism to continue their religious indoctrination. Lastly, those catechumens residing in the College were not allowed to leave it without first obtaining a license from the rector13.

12This meticulous set of regulations sought to ensure the proper functioning of the institution, according to the model of a pious monarchy. The new Christians would be in reality the King’s men through their transformation from infidels into Catholics. The catechumens were carefully kept apart from the pernicious influences of undesirable elements, and their lives scrutinized by College officials and parish priests. They were expected to correspond to whatever was demanded of them: to transform themselves into living examples of the inexorable triumph of the Catholic faith. The neophytes were ordered, since their baptism, to wear white shirts, symbolizing their transition from the darkness of unbelief into rebirth and devotion to God, as well as showing their new spiritual purity, akin to that of young children once baptized.

2. Alterity

13We know, however, that even after baptism some of these neophytes secretly reverted to their former religious identity, being punished by social and religious institutions of control, namely the Inquisition, which even sent some to the Auto-da-Fé.

  • 14 On Martinho Mascarenhas, a Jew from Marrakesh, see J. Tavim, “Negociação de identidades …, pp. 353- (...)

14The reasons for this reverse were manifold, as seen in the analysis of the trials of these former Jews and Muslims. Notwithstanding Royal and Ecclesial prerogatives, the segregation of these individuals as an example of religious success led to social distancing. On the other hand, even though they are sponsored by the Church and the aristocracy, no one from the same strata wanted to consort with them, and we can see other segregated people, like mulatto and Moorish women, even prostitutes, as their partners. Only individuals with high social status managed to marry other women, such as João Baptista d’Este and Martinho Mascarenhas14, who consorted with New Christian families. This was rare since the New Christians avoided contacting these neophytes to ward off being associated with them, thus become even more compromised than they were already.

15Furthermore, the neophyte’s mobility in Portugal and neighboring Spain to collect alms did not facilitate their social integration. In many cases, the suspicion that fell on the veracity of their intentions had some basis of truth, as the inquisitorial trials revealed. Many of these catechumens had no command of spoken or written Portuguese, even after baptism, as some used Hebrew characters to write missives in their romance language. Only a few grasped the essentials of the Christian doctrine, as for most it was a set of norms and practices memorized without understanding its meaning. As a result, a superficial vision of Christian theology led many of the catechumens to compare their new religion with Judaism and Islam, leading them to deny Christianity by exploiting what seemed absurd to their eyes. The fundamental points of the contestation were the transubstantiation, the incarnation, and the Holy Trinity, as well as the birth from a woman who remained virgin, leading to a long denial of Jesus’s divinity. He was considered an impostor, as was the cult of saints, whose intercession was largely misunderstood at the heart of Judaism.

  • 15 ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 3ª via, fols 96 and 103vº. See also J. Tavim, “ Educating t (...)

16All this led Christianized Jews and Muslims to deny Jesus’ divinity and to see Christianity as a demagogic alteration of the principles of Monotheism that were the foundation of their religions. In 1613, for instance, Diogo da Cunha met several “Jews” and the Moor Miguel de Noronha in Lisbon, where the later disdained Christian symbols while emphasizing his attachment to the ancestral religion, in "Moorish language”. When the Blessed Sacrament left the Church of Loreto to be taken to the bedridden sick, Miguel said in Arabic in public, “there goes their God”, with everyone understanding that he meant the Christian God - as Diogo da Cunha insinuated in his deposition. And the Moor added, “whom you Jews killed”, also calling the Blessed Sacrament “howler” (momo). Several conclusions can be drawn from this interesting colloquium. First, in the coexistence fueled by social segregation, there was an ontological need to reinforce the monotheistic essentiality of their original religions, once practiced in full in the same civilizational space. Secondly, this reinforcement of Monotheism led them to an iconoclastic discourse, even evolving towards a paganization of Christian symbols. Thirdly, Miguel de Noronha, assuming to be a Muslim in front of Jews, placed himself in the same level of “veracity” like these, considering that the image of the Holy Sacrament is an image of the Christians, and not of these Jews and Muslims, while believing that the Jews killed their God, that is, the incarnation in Jesus. Therefore, all symbols were emptied of their theological content, desecrated, and transformed into “howlers”, that is irrationalities. That same year, Diogo da Cunha accompanied a Moor called Lourenço de Melo to the house of two prostitutes, Maria de Aguiar and Maria da Rosa, where he asked Melo which was the best religion: the one of the Christians or the one of “Mafoma”? The Moor replied “Mafoma’s”, and he said to be Christian only to receive the alms. Then Diogo da Cunha also confessed continuing to believe in the “Law of Moses”, hoping to save himself in Judaism. This dialogue was entirely spoken in Arabic so that the two prostitutes would not understand a word. When confronting their true inner beliefs with a Christian external appearance, they consecrated the “truthfulness” of their beliefs against the dogmas they could not believe in15.

17On a Sunday in 1613, there was another interesting dialogue between the “Jews” Diogo da Cunha, João da Silva and Francisco da Cunha in a tavern where they were drinking wine, located in the Rua Direita of the Porta de Santa Catarina, which belonged to a woman curiously known as “Madalena”. Seeing the brotherhoods in a procession outside the tavern, including one of Africans, Diogo da Cunha said that those were all Christians regardless of race. Thus, he concluded, since neither of them belonged to a brotherhood, that meant that they were not Jews, Christians, nor Muslims and that they did not live as Christians. Francisco then asked why he would belong to brotherhood if the saint was only a figure of wood or stone?

  • 16 ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 3ª via, fols. 93vº-94.

18He added that the alms (that is, the wage given to the catechumens), should be spent on wine. João agreed and, for that reason, paid him another round of wine. The vehicle of communication was again their old vernacular language, which stood out in a Portuguese speaking milieu, which they did not feel as “their” own language. They expressed themselves in Hebrew, which, like Arabic, remained a major vehicle for their social dissidence16.

  • 17 See P. Penteado, “Confrarias”.
  • 18 R. Ribas, “Filhos de Mafoma …”, p. 199.

19The question that arises here is not that of the anguish due to the impossibility of forming a fraternity, a simple and significant form of integration for the different social groups in Portugal17. The converted Moors had their brotherhood in Lisbon, in the Church of São João da Praça, where they assumed their crypto-Islamism while mimicking the Catholic cult18. On the contrary, it seems that Jewish catechumen never wanted to create a sodality, precisely because, in comparison with the New Christians, they had no interest in disguising, following practices they considered execrable, such as the cult of images, equated to idolatry. Some were interested to be fully integrated, but those prosecuted or accused opted for life socially disintegrated from Portuguese society because they decided to assume their old identity.

20Let us return to the Jewish catechumen in the tavern. The outside world evoked a religion which they knew mainly through formalisms due to a linguistic barrier. This led them, in comparison with their ancestral religion, to consider Christianity to be an inappropriate and “pagan” religion. So, they preferred to drink when they realized that the exterior was null and void if understood religiously. For this reason, their space of dissent, the tavern, was where they spoke the “truth” relaxedly in Hebrew and without fear. This space, in which Madalena, a Christian but also repudiated, had more interest in selling wine - another dimension of material life - was where the two took refuge instead of participating, at least momentarily, in the religious framework that the brotherhoods provided.

3. Alterity in Mimesis

  • 19 Ed. Joceline Dahklia and Bernard Vincent, Paris, Albin Michel, vol. 1, 2011.

21The question that arises here - one which goes back to the subtitle of the work edited by Jocelyne Dahklya, Les musulmans dans l’histoire de l’Europe, I. Une integration invisible -19, is how invisible was the integration of these people “conceptually” conceived as “infidels” in the Iberian Peninsula?

22Consequently, another question arises: how to reconcile the need for their full integration into the Christian flock and, simultaneously, to exalt the example of their voluntary conversion that immediately refers to their past as Jews and Christians?

  • 20 L. Brockey, “Jesuit Pastoral Theater”, pp. 36-37.
  • 21 Simão Cardoso, “Carta dos meses Maio a Junho desta Casa de São Roque da Companhia de Jesus de 1588” (...)

23The problem started with the extreme visibility of their baptism. The procession of the catechumen towards the Church of São Roque, and the baroque ceremony of their baptism (which took place there), widely glorified in the Jesuits’ missives, was the greatest moment that mirrored what they intended to do in Portugal. Liam Brockey considers that by converting Muslims and Jews in Lisbon, simultaneously the capital of a country and head of an empire, the Jesuits acted directly under the eyes of the same patrons who financed their overseas ventures20. But for that purpose, they were certainly not erasing the catechumen’s difference. This conflict between the basic claim of Christian egalitarianism and the opportunistic theatrics of such an ambitious mission could have visible consequences, in the trials of the Inquisition for example. Let us look to the vision of the baptism that took place on May 1st, 1588 in the words of Father Simão Cardoso. The House of the Catechumens, which they left for the church, and the streets where they processed towards São Roque were ornamented with carpets, quilts, and flowers. The procession left the House at three o’clock headed by a baptized Moor, dressed as a soldier carrying a colorful flag “they have”, with a white cross in the middle. Ahead came other well-dressed baptized Moors, who fired their “arcabuzios” (flintlocks), next came an orchestra of wind instruments, and finally the catechumen accompanied by their godparents, who were “people of quality”. An important ecclesiastic figure was waiting for them at the door of São Roque, none other than the Bishop of Ceuta, D. Manuel de Seabra, the dean of the royal chapel. It was this prelate “from Africa”, who baptized them in a raised dais decorated with carpets, set up by the Jesuits in the middle of the church, where an immaculate white marble font stood. Fr. Luís de Morais, in the final preaching, used the experience of some of the converts as elements of edification and consolation for the audience21.

24The public thus watched a Jesuit Baroque theater, where the transition from the catechumen to a full Christian worked as a metaphor for the path towards the Ideal World, glimpsed in the skillfully assembled stage placed in the center of the church. The catechumen “represented a new and purified existence”, used in the Jesuit’s sermonary as elements of edification and consolation. But all these apparatuses, which cemented the faith and commemorated the end of the catechumen chrysalis phase, always promoted for the need of “exempla”, to the state of “imperfection”.

  • 22 See the case of the convert of Jewish origin Francisco da Cunha: ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. (...)

25We have also seen that after baptism, the former catechumen continued to be isolated from other Christians, living at the expense of the Treasury and of the alms they collected, performing as Christians in a system that pressured them into this situation, as no one employed them. The geographical distribution of these Jewish Catechumen proved their close dependency on their patrons: many resided close to the Italian Church of Loreto (where many were also baptized), the Church of São Roque, and in the Rua dos Calafates, the street where the College of the Catechumens was. Some of the godparents resided in that neighborhood22. During a year after their baptism, the neophytes were compelled to go to the Church of São Roque to continue their religious indoctrination. So, also without being arrested by the Inquisition, these men were, after all, seen as the other living inside Portuguese society and, more important, they never ceased to feel living apart with their fellow brethren, and speaking their mother tongue in marginal spaces like taverns and houses of prostitution. Even in cases where integration was more successful, some situations ended up showing their “difference” with the Catholic society.

  • 23 ANTT, Inquisição de Évora, books 103, fol. 236-237; and 629, fol. 33. See also J. Figueirôa-Rego, (...)

26One such case is that of the inheritance of João Baptista d’Este. João Baptista was well integrated into the ranks of Portuguese society as a kind of employee of the Inquisition, which paid him a stipend. But his grandson had problems when he wanted to join the Carmelite Order. His religious zeal was certainly the main reason for his grandson Manuel Botelho d’Este to become a Carmelite friar. The Carmelites, however, blocked Manuel’s entry into the Order in 1692, given its Statute. His mother, Lourença de Matos, the daughter of João Baptista, which was born and lived in Évora, requested the intervention of the Inquisition, and the Inquisitors recognized Manuel’s suitability given his grandfather’s services23. This meant that, for the inquisitors, the services rendered by João Baptista d’Este to Christianity “cleaned” his (Jewish) infectious blood. But, despite the Inquisitorial intervention, the alterity of d’Este family origin was recognized, for the good and the bad, three-generations after João Baptista’s conversion.

27This was common among most of the cases which had some degree of success, as seen also in the Muslims of high rank.

  • 24 See B. Alonso Acero, Sultanes de Berbería …, pp. 91-98.

28Beatriz Alonso Acero, in the wake of Oliver Asín, gives an account of the Wattasids, Sa’adians and others high ranking Muslims, who in Spain started to be called Felipes, to emulate the example of Christian dignity but also the hierarchical position occupied by the Habsburgs; thus, translating in the new Christian universe their former social position in the Islamic world. The best known of these was the previously mentioned Mawlay ech-Cheikh (Muley Sheikh), who took refuge in Portugal in 1578 but moved to Andalusia in 1589 by order of Felipe II of Spain (I of Portugal). Mawlay finally converts to Christianity in 1593 in Andújar, after attending a pilgrimage to the Virgen de la Cabeza shrine. Muley Sheikh ended up being baptized in El Escorial that same year. The new “D. Felipe”, in consideration of his decision and his lineage, was made a “Great” of Spain and was present in relevant political events, such as the entry of Felipe III (r. 1598-1621) into Madrid in 1598, his wedding to Margarete of Austria in 1599; and the oath of the future Felipe IV as heir to the throne in 1608. We also know that he served the Spanish Crown as a soldier, being made a knight of Santiago. To receive the knighthood, however, he had to obtain all the necessary dispensations given his Moroccan and Islamic origin. Despite all his efforts, we know that he never obtained the inquisitorial permission for his children to be admitted to colleges, universities, collegiate churches, cathedrals, or to any other institution where the Statute of Clean Blood was enforced, including the Holy Office. Significantly, his only descendant, a daughter, professed as a nun in the monastery of San Pablo de Zamora, with the name of Josefa de África. Therefore, alterity was never forgotten, despite the forced mimesis, assumed once again to exalt the exceptional social and symbolic value of conversion and presumed integration24.

  • 25 E. Colombo, “Baldassarre Loyola de Mandes …”.

29Balthasar Loyola de Mandes (1631-1667), prince of Fez and future Jesuit, was another of such cases. Balthasar was probably a Sa’adi, and he was studied by Emanuele Colombo. Born Mohammed el-Attaz (1631-1667) in Fez, he lived an uneventful life as a Muslim (he made the hajj to Mecca) but ended up being imprisoned by the knights of St. John and transported to Malta, where he decided to convert with the help of the Jesuits. Baptized on July 13th, 1565, Muhammad changed his name to Balthasar de Mandes in honor of his godfather, the captain of the ship who had captured him, and added Loyola because his baptism took place in the day of that saint's feast. Balthasar became a Jesuit in Rome, dedicating his life to convert Muslims in Genoa and Naples. When he died in Madrid in 1667, all the Court nobility came to his funeral. However, as Colombo emphasized, while Balthasar did everything to forget his Muslim past, trying to behave like a normal Christian, the other Jesuits pressed him to remain the “prince” of Fez, the pride of the Society, and another of the countless expressions of Christianity's victory over Islam. In fact, he was portrayed by the Jesuits, and also by the well-known playwright Calderón de la Barca, as a “mirror” of its precedent history – to use the fortunate expression of Colombo25.

Some conclusions

  • 26 Paris, Éditions Rivages et Payot, 2012.

30Two works were published in France in 2011 on a subject that is seemingly lacking in publicity: the continued presence, sometimes indistinguishable, of Muslims in Western Europe. One of these works was by a well-known author of the “Mediterranean question”, Lucette Valensi with Ces étrangers familiers. Musulmans in Europe (xvie-xviiie siècles)26. The other work, already cited, Les musulmans dans l'histoire de l’Europe, consisted of two volumes and its main editor is an expert in North African society and the epistemology of “oblivion”: Jocelyne Dakhlya. These initiatives by authors belonging to a country with a large “foreign” North-African population, and with a scientific commitment in the often-overlooked presence of the "Other” in Europe, can be understood as a reaction to some harshness in the view of the Islamic world as adverse and, therefore, excluded and excluding the so-called Western civilization, and in the long context of “September 11 attacks” by Al-Qa’idah (القاعدة).

31We are indeed dependent on the quantity and quality of the sources available to answer the aforementioned question of how invisible was the integration of the so-called “infidels” in the Iberian Peninsula. Do we know more about Jews and Muslims who, having converted to Christianity, were not prosecuted by the Inquisition; or even about the recognition that old Christians have of their descendants?

  • 27 I think that these limits to the transformation of the converted, which Pierre-Antoine Fabre only a (...)

32It is true, however, in addition to the exemplary and most notable cases of conversion, that the recognition of the convert and his descendants is possible, not only due to knowledge of the neighborhood that isolated them, but also due to their status as “examples” of the excellence of Christianity and their civil and religious mentors, and above all because there were social, religious and cultural mechanisms that perpetuated this memory, both to exalt their decision and to judge it in case of denial. We can even go as far as saying that the pressure - sometimes assumed - to mimic Christian values, necessitating the remembrance of their otherness, reminded the old Jews and old Moors, and they as converts27; and the same occurs with their descendants.

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Archival Sources

Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (ANTT):

Inquisição de Évora, books 103 and 629.

Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 1ª via and 3ª via.

Biblioteca da Ajuda (BA), Lisbon, cod. 54-XI-38.

Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (BNP), Reservados, cods. 1533 and 6502.

Stadsarchief Amsterdam (SA), Notariële, nº 62.

Bibliography and printed sources

ALONSO ACERO, Beatriz, Sultanes de Berbería en tierras de la cristandad, Barcelona, Bellaterra, 2006.

ANDREATTA, Michela, “Raccontare per persuadere: Conversione e narrazione in Via della Fede di Giulio Morosini” in Non solo verso oriente: Studi sull’ebraismo in onore di Pier Cesare Ioly Zorattini, ed. Maddalena del Bianco and Marcello Massenzio, Florence, Olschki, vol. 1, 2014, pp. 85–118.

BEN ISRAEL, Menasseh, “To His Highness the Lord Protector of the Common-Wealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The Humble Addresses of Menasseh ben Israel, a Divine, and Doctor of Physick, in behalf of the Jewish Nation [1655]” in Menasseh ben Israel Mission to Oliver Cromwell. Being a reprint of the Pamphlets published by Menasseh ben Israel to promote the Re-admission of the Jews to England 1649-1656, ed. Lucien Wolf, London, Macmillan Co. Limited, 1901.

BROCKEY, Liam M., “Jesuit Pastoral Theater on an Urban Stage: Lisbon, 1588-1593”, Journal Early Modern History, 9 (1) (2005), pp. 3-50.

BROCKEY, Liam M., “O Alcazar do Ceo: The Professed House at Lisbon in 1588”, Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 75 (149) (2006), pp. 1-47.

COLOMBO, Emanuele, “Baldassarre Loyola de Mandes (1631-1667), prince de Fez et jésuite”, in Les musulmans dans l`histoire de l`Europe, vol. 1 – Une intégraston invisible – ed. Jocelyne Dakhlia and Bernard Vicent, Paris, Albin Michel, 2011, pp. 159-193.

DAHKLYA, Jocelyne, and VINCENT, Bernard, Les musulmans dans l'histoire de l`Europe, I. Une integration invisible, Paris, Albin Michel, 2011.

DELUMEAU, Jean, La peur en Occident, Paris, Arthème Fayard.

FABRE, Pierre-Antoine, “La conversion infinie des conversos. Des ´nouveaux-chrétiens` dans la Compagnie de Jésus au 16e siècle”, Annales, Histoire, Sciences Sociales 54 (4) (1999), pp. 875-893.

FIGUEIRÔA-REGO, João, “A Honra alheia por um fio”. Os estatutos de limpeza de sangue nos espaços de expressão ibérica (séculos XVI-XVIII), Lisbon, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – FCT, 2011.

FOUCAULT, Michel, Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison, Paris, Gallimard, 1975.

KOEN, E.M., “Notarial Records relating to the Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam up to 1639”, Studia Rosenthaliana 5 (1) (1971), pp. 106-124.

MARTÍNEZ LÓPEZ, E., Tablero de Ajedrez. Imágenes del negro heroico en la comedia española y en la literatura e iconografía sacra del Brasil esclavista, Paris, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1998.

OLIVER ASÍN, J., Vida de Don Felipe de Africa, Príncipe de Fez y Marruecos, Madrid, CSIC, 1955.

PENTEADO, Pedro, “Confrarias”, in Dicionário de História Religiosa de Portugal, ed. Carlos Moreira Azevedo, Lisbon, Círculo de Leitores, vol. A-C, pp. 459-470.

POSTEL, Guillaume, De la république des Turcs : & là où l'occasion s'offrera, des moeurs & loy de tous les Muhamédistes, Poitiers, Enguibert de Marnes, 1 Part, 1560.

RIBAS, Rogério, “Filhos de Mafoma: mouriscos, cripto-islamismo e inquisição no Portugal quinhentista”, Phd diss., University of Lisbon, vol. 1, 2005.

TAVIM, José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva, “Diásporas para o Reino e Império. Judeus conversos e sua mobilidade: aproximações a um tema”, in Temas Setecentistas. Governos e Populações no Império Português, ed. Andréa Doré and António César de Almeida Santos, Curitiba, Fundação Araucária, 2009, pp. 349-387.

TAVIM, José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva, “Educating the Infidels within: Some Remarks on the College of the Cathecumens of Lisbon (XVI-XVII centuries)”, Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia, Serie 5 (1-2) (2009), pp. 445-472.

TAVIM, José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva, "Juifs de Mafoma dans le Portugal catholique (XVIe-XVIIe siècles) ", in Les musulmans dans l`histoire de l`Europe, ed. Jocelyne Dakhlia and Wolfgang Kaiser, Paris, Albin Michel, vol. 2, 2013, pp. 613-638.

TAVIM, José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva, “Negociação de identidades – o jogo dos afectos. Judeus do Mediterrâneo em Portugal e seu Império (séculos XVI e XVII)”, in Minorias étnico-religiosas na Península Ibérica. Períodos medieval e moderno, ed. Maria Filomena Lopes de Barros and José Hinojosa Montalvo, Lisbon, Edições Colibri, CIDEHUS, Universidade de Alicante, 2008, pp. 347-78.

VALENSI, Lucette, Ces étrangers familiers. Musulmans in Europe (xvie-xviiie siècles), Paris, Éditions Rivages et Payot, 2012.

VÉRONNE, Chantal de la, “ Séjour en Andalousie de deux Princes Sa`adiens après la bataille d`El-Qçar El-Kibir (1589-1595) ”, Revue de l`Occident Musulman et de la Méditerranée, nº 7 (1970), pp. 187-194.

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1 “Vossa Santidade deve fazer grande conta desta minha advertência, porque Deus bendito sabe, que está cheia de zelo cristão, mayormente sendo eu de nação hebrea convertido expontaneamente à nossa sancta fee catholica, nascido e criado em Ferrara, de pais nobres e ricos.” “Portuguese translation of the letter of João Baptista d’Este addressed to the Pope [Urban VIII]”, Évora, 6.7.1637, in BNP, Reservados, cod. 1533, fol. 289.

2 “(…) se os maus humores desta nação hebrea se forem muito incitando, com sua obstinação, transbordem fora da madre, e que vão contaminando o pouco sangue puro, que há [em Itália] como faz em Espanha (…)” – idem, ibidem.

3 M. Foucault, Surveiller et punir

4 Among other cases of a convert denouncing his former coreligionists, in this case in Italy in the 17th century, we have the example of Giulio Morosini, ex Samuel ben David Nahmias, in his Via della fede (1683). See M. Andreatta, “Raccontare per persuadere …”

5 G. Postel, De la république des Turcs …, p. 79.

6 See J. Delumeau, La peur …, p. 375.

7 J. Oliver Asín, Vida de Don Felipe de Africa …, 1955; Ch. de la Véronne, “Séjour en Andalousie …”, pp  187-194; B. Alonso Acero, Sultanes de Berbería …, pp. 91-98; as also the very interesting analysis of E. Martínez López, in Tablero de Ajedrez…, p. 48, note 52.

8 Menasseh Ben Israel, “To His Highness the Lord Protector …”, p. 81 [fol. 1].

9 In SA, Notariële, nº 62, f. 14vº. Pub. by E.M. Koen, in “Notarial Records …”, p. 124.

10 ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 1ª via, fols 17v-27v and 52; and 3ª via, fols. 16v and 39v.

11 See mostly J. Tavim, “Educating the Infidels within … ”; idem, "Juifs de Mafoma …”

12 “No dia do baptismo sairão os catecúmenos que se houverem de baptizar vestidos em umas vestes brancas que se chamam cabaias de pano da Índia, a modo de alvas, como ordenou o Arquiduque Alberto, e é costume na Igreja Romana, e virão com suas capelas nas cabeças e sírios nas mãos” (BNP, Reservados, cod. 6502, fol. 6r-v).

13 Ibid., fol. 6v.

14 On Martinho Mascarenhas, a Jew from Marrakesh, see J. Tavim, “Negociação de identidades …, pp. 353-355; idem, “Diásporas para o Reino …”, pp. 374-375.

15 ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 3ª via, fols 96 and 103vº. See also J. Tavim, “ Educating the Infidels within …”, p. 458.

16 ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 3ª via, fols. 93vº-94.

17 See P. Penteado, “Confrarias”.

18 R. Ribas, “Filhos de Mafoma …”, p. 199.

19 Ed. Joceline Dahklia and Bernard Vincent, Paris, Albin Michel, vol. 1, 2011.

20 L. Brockey, “Jesuit Pastoral Theater”, pp. 36-37.

21 Simão Cardoso, “Carta dos meses Maio a Junho desta Casa de São Roque da Companhia de Jesus de 1588”, in BA, cod. 54-XI-38, fol. 9, published by L. Brockey, in “O Alcazar do Ceo …”, pp. 21-22.

22 See the case of the convert of Jewish origin Francisco da Cunha: ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, proc. 5948, 1ª via, fol. 18; see also fols. 20v-23; 3ª via, fols 93-98.

23 ANTT, Inquisição de Évora, books 103, fol. 236-237; and 629, fol. 33. See also J. Figueirôa-Rego, “A Honra alheia por um fio …”, p. 53, note 3. I am grateful to Bruno Feitler and João de Figueirôa-Rego for providing me with such precious elements.

24 See B. Alonso Acero, Sultanes de Berbería …, pp. 91-98.

25 E. Colombo, “Baldassarre Loyola de Mandes …”.

26 Paris, Éditions Rivages et Payot, 2012.

27 I think that these limits to the transformation of the converted, which Pierre-Antoine Fabre only appointed to the conversos, are also notorious among the North African Muslims and Jews who converted in the Iberian Peninsula in the Early Modern Age, since they are in the same ontological position – see P-A. Fabre, “La conversion infinie des conversos … ”.

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Electronic reference

José Alberto R. Silva Tavim, “Mimesis and alterity: the conversions of Muslims and Jews in early modern Spain and Portugal”Hamsa [Online], 7 | 2021, Online since 07 September 2021, connection on 04 December 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

José Alberto R. Silva Tavim

Centro de História, Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Lisboa

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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