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Faith of Spanish Conversos

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The Faith of Spanish Conversos

The non-Christian populace of Spain suffered great hardship and tragedy in two timelines, specifically in 1492 and in 1609. It was also in these trying times that some of them received helped from their supposed enemies, the Christians. The events that led to the non-Christian’s sufferings in each of the said eras will be discussed in the succeeding sections. Furthermore, the type of help they received from Christians and why the help was extended will also be examined and resolved.

The onset of suffering

A.D. 711 to 1492 marked the Muslim or Islamic era in Western Europe. Following, their prophet Muhammad’s teaching of jihad or religious wars against non-believer countries to spread their religion, an army of 300 Arabs from the Middle East and 6,700 Berbers or Black Moors, recently converted inhabitants of Morocco, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar after conquering North Africa to occupy the Iberian Peninsula, their gateway to Central Europe (Andalucia: The Soul of Spain, 2010, “Historic Cordova”). Upon the defeat of the last Visigoth king Roderic, the southern parts of Spain became known as Al Andalus or Islamic Spain and Muslim rule was established. There were about seven million Christians and Jews (more than 5 percent of the population) at this time (Andalucia: The Soul of Spain, 2010, “Moorish Spain”).

Most of the country’s nobles and people willingly converted to Islam and became known as Muladies (i.e. Christians who had converted to Islam). However, a Hispano-Roman Christian community survived in the north as a small pocket of resistance (Solsten & Meditz, 1988, “Al Andalus,” par. 5). The Muslim empire continued to conquer all of Spain and majority of Portugal. However its rule is rife with internal conflict and civil war as Arabs and Moors battled for supremacy. This stopped its further conquest of Europe and caused its breakdown into Islamic fiefdoms. They were again united by the overthrown Umayyad prince Abd al Rahman in A.D. 756 who established the Caliphate of Cordoba, an emirate that is politically independent from the rest of Muslim empire centered in Baghdad.

Abd al Rahman’s reign pushed Al Andalus into a golden period of culture, wealth and power that is incomparable throughout Europe (Solsten & Meditz, 1988, “Al Andalus,&rdquo par. 6). In the 11th century, Al-Andalus again separated into numerous small caliphates due to internal strife. Simultaneously, Christian states based in the north and west started unification until they slowly rose in power and started to reclaim the country sides of Spain. Galicia, Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia or Marca Hispanica, Portugal and Castile which were all converted back to Christianity within the next several centuries. Under the leadership of an alliance of Christian kings headed by Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1212, Muslims were finally driven from Central Spain, and in 1236 the Moorish Emirate of Granada became the last Muslim kingdom in Spain.

However, the recently-united Christian Spain continued to reclaim Iberia for Christianity hence starting in 1482, Granada was attacked every spring. After a decade, the battle of Granada ended when the Treaty of Granada was signed and validated on November 25, 1491 between Muhammad XII of Granada (King Boabdil) and the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. The treaty intended to guarantee the Muslims with religious tolerance and fair treatment in exchange for their unconditional surrender. January 2, 1492 marked the end of Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal, when King Boabdil finally surrendered his emirate, palace and the city of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs.

Less than three months after the surrender of Granada the Catholic Monarchs issued the Alhambra Decree the revoked the previous mandates of the Treaty of Granada. This was apparently in response to the reports that some crypto-Jews secretly continued to practice their former faith while seducing new converts to the Catholic faith back into their fold. Issued on March 31, 1492, the Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) ordered the exile of Jews from Spain (The Alhambra Decree, n.d.). At this time, there were about 50,000 Jews in Granada and roughly 100,000 in the whole of Islamic Iberia (Wasserstein, 1995, p. 101).

Solsten & Meditz, 1988, “The Golden AGe,” par. 4-7)

Several of these communities, including in particular some in Granada, harbored a significant element of doubtful loyalty. Moriscos (Granadan Muslims) were given the choice of voluntary exile or conversion to Christianity. Many Jews converted to Christianity, and some of these Conversos filled important governmeent and ecclesiastical posts in Castile and in Aragon for more than 100 years. Many married or purchased their way into the nobility. Muslims in reconquered territory, called Mudejars, also lived quietly for generations as peasant farmers and skilled craftsmen.

After 1525 all residents of Spain were officially Christian, but forced conversion and nominal orthodoxy were not sufficient for complete integration into Spanish society. Purity of blood (pureza de sangre) regulations were imposed on candidates for positions in the government and the church, to prevent Moriscos from becoming a force again in Spain and to eliminate participation by Conversos whose families might have been Christian for generations. Many of Spain's oldest and finest families scrambled to reconstruct family trees.

The Inquisition, a state-controlled Castilian tribunal, authorized by papal bull in 1478, that soon extended throughout Spain, had the task of enforcing uniformity of religious practice. It was originally intended to investigate the sincerity of Conversos, especially those in the clergy, who had been accused of being crypto-Jews. Tomas de Torquemada, a descendant of Conversos, was the most effective and notorious of the Inquisition's prosecutors.

For years religious laws were laxly enforced, particularly in Aragon, and converted Jews and Moriscos continued to observe their previous religions in private. In 1568, however, a serious rebellion broke out among the Moriscos of Andalusia, who sealed their fate by appealing to the Ottoman Empire for aid. The incident led to mass expulsions throughout Spain and to the eventual exodus of hundreds of thousands of Conversos and Moriscos, even those who had apparently become devout Christians.

The remaining Muslims were forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity. These descendants of the Muslims were named moriscos. They were an important part of the peasantry in some territories, like Aragon, Valencia, and Andalusia, until their systematic expulsion in the years from 1609 to 1614. Henri Lapeyre has estimated that this affected 300,000 out of a total of 8 million inhabitants at the time. Most of the expelled moriscos went to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, influencing cultural development there; others became corsairs; a significant number from Andalusia passed themselves off as Gypsies who were entering the country at that time. This mix of cultures gave birth to Flamenco music.

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