This is a review of
a book about a book. The book at
the root of it is El Libro Verde de Aragon, a book believed to have been
written anonymously around 1550 to expose the Jewish origins of the elites of
Zaragosa and other cities/towns in
The much more recent book which is the subject of this review is not a book in the literal sense; it is rather a scholarly study, also in Spanish, of the one just cited by Monique Combescure Thiry, a French historian of the period and the region. The technical investigation is preceded by an essay contributed by Professor Miguel Angel Motis Dolader, an eminent Spanish authority on the place and the times. Combescure's book is also called El Libro Verde de Aragon, which is unfortunate for a reviewer of it like me, as I shall go back and forth between the two. I shall refer to the original work as the Libro Verde for short, and to Combescure's work, unimaginatively, as Combescure's work. Most of my review will focus on the Libro Verde but through Combescure's eyes and scholarship.
To set the Libro
Verde in perspective one must start with the Papal Inquisition, which was set up
in the 13th century to combat various heretics to Christianity. The
Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 at the request of the
Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella first in
The 1391 massacres
of Jews started in
The above events
were happening after the introduction of the laws of limpieza de sangre,
purity of blood, when even a very distant relation to a Jew or a converso
disqualified one from high office or desirable occupations. Despite this environment, conversos in
The Libro Verde is a hand-written document that contains the genealogies of about 100 prominent Aragonese families belonging to the clergy, the nobility and the middle class, which seeks to identify the ancestors who were accused, tried, condemned and punished by the Inquisition. The focus or target was the converso. Concerning the color verde, green, there are two possible explanations. First, it was not uncommon at the time for cities to have libros verdes, or green books, dealing with the regulations or official documents bearing on the conduct of daily life. The Libro Verde appellation of the one we are focusing on here may have followed this practice, although its purpose was far removed from that of the others. Second, green was the color of the Inquisition: green crosses stood above the execution platform at autos de fé (acts of faith) events; and the condemned carried tall green candles during the procession.
Understandably, the book caused a furor when it first came out in 1550--a furor bred by fear, which mounted with time as copies intentionally “doctored” or modified to hurt an adversary (by showing a manufactured Jewish lineage) began to appear. It was not difficult to invent Jewish identity, as the genealogies were not supported by any source or documentation The near-panic soon led the nobility and the powerful of Aragon, converso or not, to collect the copies; some were burned in an auto de fé in the market square of Zaragosa in 1622, and the book was officially banned in 1623, although obviously unsuccessfully, as copies did survive.
We are fortunate
that Monique Combescure Thiry has recently published an extensive study of the
surviving copies, and I am especially fortunate to have had unusual access to
her work and thinking even before her study was published in 2003. According to her study, there are five
surviving versions of the Libro Verde, of which one is an unworthy copy. The
documents, all hand written, are found in the national or specialized libraries
or archives of
Combescure, although the Libro was first available in 1550, some versions or
parts of the various manuscripts seem to date from as late as 1600. Similarly, although the authorship is
attributed to a Juan de Anchia, notario
Although the various manuscripts had similar objectives, their contents varied. Each had the same core, namely, the group of genealogies, but different supporting or subsidiary documents, some of which of a clearly extraneous nature. The most comprehensive manuscript, consisting of some 100 folios and found at the Biblioteca Nacional de Sevilla had, in addition: (a) a group of virulently anti-semitic tracts full of ungrounded calumnious material; (b) an exchange of undated letters between the Jewish communities of Spain and Constantinople, written (if at all) presumably before the mass expulsion of 1492; and (c) a long discussion on the assassination of Inquisitor Arbués in 1485, together with the text of the interrogation of the culprits.
Combescure's work starts with an authoritative, nearly 50-page long essay by
Dolader of the
Dolader's essay is followed by a a tedious authentication and juxtaposition of the four extant manuscripts of the Libro Verde mentioned above and this, in turn, by a full, verbatim transcription of the genealogies or claims in each source. A typical entry would start as follows:
Azach Abiaut, judio de Zaragoca, se torno christiano y de el descienden Thomas y Juan Ortigas, hermanos. El Thomas Ortigas fue corredor y fue penitenciado por la Inquisicion y tiene hijos. El Juan Ortigas, trapero, fue condenado por los inquisidores y fu relaxado y quemado y ubo de su muger, que tambien fue judia, dos ijos y una ija. Los ijos se llamaron Juan y Gaspar Ortigas. … La ija del dicho Juan Ortigas, trapero que fue quemado, caso con Miguel de Arguis, y ubieron cinco ijas [Sic., p. 127]
All in all, some 3,000 proper names are mentioned in the Libro Verde. The index of names in Combescure's work run 55 pages. While one encounters Sephardic or Sephardic-sounding names like Abadia, Abenmaya, Abuaf, Altaras, Almenara, Alfandari, Perez, Ribas and Salinas, the majority of the names are Christian or non-Jewish names the conversos adopted (were forced to adopy) upon conversion.
Next in Combescure's
work come the texts of the three groups of supporting documents included in the
Libro Verde mentioned above. The first two can only be characterized as pure
anti-semitic trash consisting of manufactured statements attributed to conversos
and fictional events. One such
event refers to a letter allegedly written by the Jews of Spain to those of
Judios honrrados, salud y gracia. Sepades q[ue] el Rey de Espan[n]a, por pregon publico, nos haze voluer christianos, nos quita las haziendas y nos quita las vidas y nos destruye nuestras haziendas y nos haze otras auexaciones., las quales nos tienen confuso e inciertos de lo que deuemos de hazer. Por la ley de Moysen, hos rogamos y suplicamos tengays en bien de hazer ajuntamientos e imbiarnos, con toda breuedad, la deliberacion que, en ello, huuieredes hecho. [Sic., p. 210]
Allegedly, the Constantinople Jews offered advice instead of help in return, the main message being [in my words]: teach them a lesson by surviving, even if you have to convert, and when you do, raise your sons to become medicos (doctors) to kill them in turn, clerigos (priests) to destroy their churches, mercaderes (merchants) to drive them from their haziendas… As far as I know, there is no evidence from either side that such correspondence ever took place. I have argued elsewhere2 that, stylistically, the refrain-like advice is reminiscent of the enumeration of the plagues that befell the Egyptians in the Haggadah, which suggests that the faker may have been a former Jew.
The Libro Verde's account of the assassination of Inquisitor Arbues is much more factual. The assassination attempt took place on September 14, 1485 at close to midnight, while Arbues was kneeling at the altar of the Zaragosa cathedral.3 Arbues was wounded by a blow with a sword or dagger from behind. He died of the wounds in his chamber two days later. The assassination had been planned by a group of coversos, some of them in high places, well in advance.4 Rather than relieving the lot of the conversos, the assassination aggravated it severely and with lasting consequences. Nearly all the perpetrators were arrested and killed after obtaining confessions under torture. There were blood-thirsty mobs attacking Jews and conversos at will. These events took place several decades before the advent of the Libro Verde. The latter did attempt to identify the descendants of the assassins and conspirators and to link them to Aragonese society. The intention in revisiting the Arbues assassination, however, was probably to intimidate the Aragonese powerful beyond those of direct lineage to the killers.
Combescure is an authority on Arbues. She has written and lectured extensively on the politics of his assassination and the nearly 400-year delay in his cannonization (1864), but in her work reviewed here, she limited herself to transcribing the Libro Verde's account of the event and its aftermath.
To conclude, the
"green" book of
constitutes an important contribution and opens up avenues for further research
in this area. It has been presented
at various international book fairs, including in
Retour au sommaire