Skeletons in Portugal May Be Jewish Victims Of Inquisition

The site of the “jail cleaning yard” in Evora, Portugal
The site of the “jail cleaning yard” in Evora, Portugal

Portuguese researchers suspect that a dozen skeletons found in an old garbage dump were Jewish victims of the Inquisition more than 400 years ago.

The excavation team found the remains at what was called the Jail Cleaning Yard of the Inquisition Court in Évora, 84 miles east of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. The dump was in use roughly between 1568 and 1634.

The three male and nine female bodies “were discarded into the dump like household garbage,” with no funeral structures, and the skeletons were lying skewed on the ground, the researchers said in the September edition of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, provided to the Associated Press last week.

“We already knew that a proper burial was denied to Jews by the Catholic Church,” Bruno Magalhaes, who authored a lengthy thesis based on the archaeological findings at Évora, told Hamodia. “Now we directly know the treatment that the Inquisition, at least the Évora Inquisition, gave to the people who were accused of being Jewish.

“More than a penalty to the body, this was a punishment to the soul of the deceased,” he said.

The Portuguese Inquisition was established in 1536. Its most common victims were “conversos,” Jews who had nominally converted to Catholicism while secretly practicing Judaism. Many had fled Spain, whose Inquisition was established in 1478. According to records, the court in Évora functioned from 1536 until 1781 and condemned nearly 10,000 people. Together with the court in Lisbon, it was the first and last active Inquisition Court in Portugal.

Hundreds of Jews were burned at the stake, and living conditions in Inquisition jails often caused prisoners’ deaths. Jews were purposely denied a proper burial. The researchers said it was impossible to know for certain if the skeletons were of people who were Jews.

The Inquisition Court also prosecuted and punished thousands of non-Jews accused of “heresy,” “apostasy” or other behaviors viewed as crimes against the Catholic Church. While exact figures are not known, the Portuguese Inquisition is estimated to have claimed between 30,000 and 40,000 victims. Portugal did not formally dissolve its Inquisition tribunal until 1821, but the last public executions were recorded in the mid-17th century.

These excavations were carried out in 2007 and 2008 during the renovation of the former Inquisition Court building. The goal was to determine the accurate location of the former Jail Cleaning Yard. Only 12 percent of the yard was excavated, researchers from the Portuguese universities of Évora and Coimbra said. Mr. Magalhaes said that there are no immediate plans to excavate the rest of the site.

(With reporting from Associated Press.)