On the same day the Jews were expulsed from Spain, Christopher Columbus set sail on his famed voyage in which he would discover the Americas. Some historians advocate that Christopher Columbus came from an Anusim family. He had extensive contact and dealings with both Jews and Anusim conversos. Anusim leaders were instrumental in arranging the expedition of Columbus. Also, when Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain in August of 1492 various members of the crew were known Anusim. Luis de Torres was the interpreter for the crew because of his knowledge of various languages including Hebrew and Arabic. He
converted to Catholicism the day before Columbus set sail so that he could accompany the expedition. Another Anusim crew member was Rodrigo deSanchez, a relative of Gabriel Sanchez who had helped orchestrate the voyage. Two prominent Anusim physicians also were members of the crew, Marco the surgeon and Maestre Bernal. Bernal's wife was sentenced to death by the Inquisition and he had been forced to witness as she was burned at the stake. Another Anusim member of the crew of Columbus was Rodrigo de Triana. Early in the morning of the 12th of October, after a long grueling voyage across the Atlantic, it was de Triana who was the first person to spot land in the Americas at San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.
After the discovery of the Americas in 1492 Spanish colonists quickly began to settle the island of Hispaniola, which includes the present-day countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Soon after the colonists began to explore and settle the surrounding islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba. Many of these early explorers and settlers were conversos or descendants of conversos.
In 1518 Hernan Cortés was commissioned to explore and conquer the interior of Mexico. Once again conversos accompanied Cortés in his mission to Mexico. After the final conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, Hernando Alonso was awarded a large tract of land north of Mexico City for his service in the expedition of Cortés. In 1528 Alonso was charged with practicing Judaism and was burned at the stake in Mexico City.
In 1571 the Mexican Inquisition was established in Mexico with its headquarters located in Mexico City. With the establishment of the Mexican Inquisition, the torture and killings of Jewish Anusim continued in the newly discovered lands. These persecutions caused Anusim to push northward from Mexico City, the center of the Mexican Inquisition, to present-day north Mexico. In 1577 a group of Anusim led by Portuguese explorer Alberto del Canto journeyed into the mountains of northern Mexico and founded Saltillo, the first settlement in northern Mexico. Saltillo quickly became a haven for Anusim settlers who hoped to escape the horrors of the Inquisition. The city became a key outpost from which other areas if northeast Mexico would be settled. In 1596 Diego de Montemayor led 12 families from Saltillo to found and settle the neighboring city of Monterrey. Saltillo and
Monterrey served as vital bridges between central Mexico and northern Mexico, including the land beyond the Rio Grande River.
In 1579 the famed Anusim pioneer Luis de Carvajal was granted a large land grant for the formation of a new province which was named “El Nuevo Reino de Leon” (The New Kingdom of the Lion). This new province included the present-day states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon as well as parts of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, and Durango in Mexico. This vast new province also included parts of Texas and New Mexico in what is now the United States. In 1580 Carvajal brought 200 new settlers to his newly formed state, a majority of whom were Anusim families. In a short time, the Inquisition began to investigate Carvajal and his family members, some of whom had begun to embrace their Jewish faith openly. In 1589 Carvajal was arrested and in February 1590 he was found to be guilty of heresy. He was sentenced to a six-year exile from Mexico but died in the inquisition jail in February of 1591 while waiting for the execution of his sentence.
Upon Carvajal’s capture in 1589 he appointed his lieutenant governor, Gasper Castaño de Sosa to govern in his absence. Castaño de Sosa, himself of Anusim heritage, most likely feared that he might also now fall under the watchful eyes of the inquisition. He led a hasty and unauthorized expedition into the present-day U.S. state of New Mexico. In 1593, he was arrested and sentenced to exile in the Philippines where he was killed during a revolution of Chinese slaves.
In 1597 Juan de Oñate received permission to lead an expedition into New Mexico. Oñate’s mother was Doña Catalina Salazar y de la Cadena, a descendant of the Ha-Levi family, a well-known Jewish Anusim family. His crew of over 500 Anusim men, women, and children left Santa Barbara, Mexico in November of 1597. After wandering through the barren Chihuahua desert for months, including the last four days without water, the expedition finally reached the Rio Grande near present-day San Elizario, Texas, where they found an abundance of water and plenty of wild game along the river. Grateful for their survival of the perilous journey, the Anusim settlers set out to prepare a grand celebration, along with the local Indians who warmly received them. Oñate, the leader of the expedition, declared the day to be a day of Thanksgiving and celebration, with the Indians supplying fish and the Spanish supplying game. This Thanksgiving celebration predated the famed Plymouth Thanksgiving by over twenty years. In July of 1598 the Spanish explorers, led by Oñate founded their first settlement, San Juan de Los Caballeros, in present-day northern New Mexico. The Spanish colonist later founded Santa Fe (Holy Faith) in 1610, making it the oldest state capital in the United States. These new settlements on the northern side of the Rio Grande became a haven for Crypto Anusim who desired to continue practicing their Jewish faith.
The settlement of the lands north of the Rio Grande by Anusim colonists would later spread into present-day south Texas and southern California and other areas that would eventually become part of the southwestern United States. Throughout the process of the settlement and development of present-day northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, Anusim continued to play a central role in the formation of the Latino people and culture.
Barrio Santa Cruz
The Star of David can often be found on the traditional Mexican sombrero.
Several old homes in Saltillo, Mexico have iron window guards with the Hanukkah menorah.
The marble floor of the Santiago Cathedral in Saltillo, Mexico features Stars of David.
Jewish existence in Spain can be traced back to the time of King Solomon when the Israeli king formed an alliance with the Phoenician King Hiram of Tyre. The Phoenicians had become proficient traders as well as skilled in sea travel, which led them to explore the lands west of the Mediterranean Sea. It was during these commercial voyages that Jews begin to settle the ancient land of Tarshish, present-day Spain, to facilitate this industrious trading commerce. Ezra, a Jewish scribe and priest in the 5th century BCE, wrote about this business venture when he said, “The king [Solomon] had a fleet of trading ships that went to Tarshish manned by Hiram’s men. Once every three years the Tarshish ships would return carrying gold, silver, ivory, monkeys and peacocks.” (2 Chronicles 9:21)
The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered and razed Jerusalem in 586 BCE. On the ninth of Av on the Hebrew calendar, the Babylonians burned and destroyed the Temple which King Solomon had built. Countless Jewish men, women, and children were massacred, and their leaders were exiled in Babylonia. Isaac Abravanel, a renowned Rabbi in the 1400s, wrote in his commentaries to the book of Kings and Obadiah that the first settlers of Toledo were exiles from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who fled to Spain after the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. They gave it the name Toledo, which Abravanel said is derived from a Hebrew word that means wandering.
In 70 CE the Romans lay siege to Jerusalem in response to a Jewish revolt against Roman oppression. They attacked Jerusalem and mercilessly slaughtered thousands of Jews. On the 9th of Av, the same day that the Babylonians had destroyed Solomon’s Temple, the Romans razed the Second Temple. The Romans captured numerous Jews and carried them to Rome as slaves. In 132 CE the Bar Kochba Revolt emerged in hopes of rebuilding the holy city of Jerusalem. The rebellion proved to be a surprising resistance to the Romans. However, the rebellion was defeated in 135 CE, again on the tragic date of the 9th of Av. The Romans decided the only way to conquer the Jews for good was to separate them from their connection to their beloved homeland. As a result, they carried the Jewish people into exile throughout the known world.
Many of the exiles settled in the land on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea known as Sepharad (Hebrew for Spain). Sepharad quickly became the center of Jewish life in exile. By the onset of the Golden Age in the 700s, the Jews of Spain had flourished and became leaders in practically every field of study including education, medicine, business, and the arts.
However, from the initiation of the Reconquista (Re-conquest) of Spain by the Catholic Church in 1085, and later the Christian Crusades, the Jews became the target of horrific persecution and merciless slaughter. In June of 1391 a cruel aggression led by Ferrand Martinez, a Catholic priest, resulted in the senseless slaughter of over 4,000 Jews in Seville, Spain. In the months that followed the fires of the Seville massacre spread throughout Spain as thousands of Jews were brutally slaughtered. A countless number of Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or face death. With the onset of the Spanish Inquisition in 1483 under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand V even larger numbers of Jews were brutally tortured and burned at the stake. For many, their only hope of escaping the brutal torture and killings was to convert to Catholicism. The victims of these forced conversions were called “conversos”, Spanish for converts. Most of the conversos continued to practice their Jewish faith in hiding or secret, earning them the name of Crypto-Jews. They are also frequently referred to as Anusim, a Hebrew word meaning “forced ones”, because of their forced conversions.
In March of 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, also known as the Edict of Expulsion. The decree gave the Jews people four months to convert to Christianity or leave the country. At the same time, Christopher Columbus was given permission for his exploration of trade routes. The expedition was made possible by the intervention of a prominent and wealthy group of Anusim led by Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez. The Anusim leaders were assisted by the renowned Rabbi Isaac Abravanel, who was financial assistant to King Ferdinand. Abravanel later accompanied his beloved Jewish people when they were forced to flee Spain. The Jews were forced to flee Spain on the 9th of Av, the same day both Temples in Jerusalem had been destroyed.
The journey of B’nai Anusim began with Abraham, the patriarchal father of the Jewish people. Abraham, along with his father and family, left their native land in southern Mesopotamia and migrated to Haran in northwestern Mesopotamia. It was there that Abraham, in response to the beckon of God, left his family and home and journeyed to the land of Canaan. In Canaan, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, the dust of the earth, and the sand on the seashore. God also promised Abraham, that even amidst exile, Canaan would be the eternal home of his descendants.