Society for Crypto Judaic Studies
Anthology on Lluis de Santàngel
Converso Official In Ferdinand’s Court
No Longer A Footnote In History
By Dolores Sloan
from HaLapid, Winter 2009
Kathleen E. Lemieux, Comisaria. Lluís de Santàngel: Primer Financiero
in América (America’s First Financier), Actas del Simposio International
SANTANGEL 98, 23-26 de agosto de 1998. Valencia, Spain: Generalitat
In her “Preface” to the newly published Lluís de Santàngel: Primer Financiero in América (America’s First Financier), Editor (or Comisaria) Kathleen Lemieux introduces readers to the significance of the New Christian from Valencia, who ranked high among the influential people of Jewish background in the court of Los Reyes Católicos. She is quick to point out the lack of attention to Santàngel as a significant figure in Spanish and New World history.
Into a city bustling with commerce and intellectual vitality and open to the world and into a prosperous, talented, prominent family, Lluis de Santàngel was born [between 1435 and 1440]. History has tended to overlook him. In his lifetime, however, this remarkable Valencian would become the most influential and the most respected of all the
This reviewer can certainly agree that Santàngel is indeed reduced to a footnote, if not missing, from most print accounts we’ve seen in English of events around Columbus’ receipt of support from Los Reyes Católicos. He is rarely mentioned, as well, in writings about this period in Spanish history. LeMieux’s anthology of proceedings of the International Symposium Santàngel ’98 in Chicago, which she organized and coordinated, is an attempt to correct that and a needed addition to sources on the subject.
I “discovered” Santàngel in 1996 on visits to Spanish museums and monuments. His name appeared in informational data accompanying exhibits and public art about those who had supported the first Columbus expedition. There was background about the particular role he had played as respected adviser in convincing the haughty queen that her country and her reputation would suffer if she allowed Columbus to continue on his way to France after many refusals. Santàngel loan of his own funds to outfit the ships, supplemented later by converso court Treasurer Gabriel Sanchez, was what sealed the deal. No, the queen did not offer to pay for the journey with her jewels; they were already collateral to the city of Valencia for loans made to the monarchs during the battle of Granada.
Information on Santàngel was indeed hard to come by in research for a book I was preparing. Except for brief accou nts in encyclopedias, and references to him in works of history such as Yitzhak Baer’s A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, the only solid source uncovered in early research days was a 1907 edition of M. Kayserling’s Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries, translated from the German.
Kayserling, incidentally, did not hold back from a favorable description of Santángel as statesman, adapting Disraeli’s title to the Spanish converso and referring to him as “the Beaconsfield of Spain.” (71) With Santàngel, then, as a Sephardic notable selected with four others to be highlighted in my work, I was pleased to learn of an international
symposium on the quincentennial of his death, to be held in the Chicago area in August of 1998. With the dearth of research materials on this subject, surely I could augment what I had found by attending.
My hopes were realized. Presentations of papers and follow up interviews by researchers, scholars and persons of interest in the subject area provided a wealth of material, as well as resources and contacts for future exchanges. In addition, the material fueled a presentation,“Lluís de Santàngel: A Converso Bridge to the New World,” at the 2000
SCJS Annual Conference in Albuquerque.
Lemieux’s Preface to the proceedings describes the genesis of her involvement with Santàngel history and lore, when her work in documentary filmmaking, historical research and public speaking took her and husband Charles Lemieux increasingly to Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean Coast. The city has been a vibrant center of commerce and culture since the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, and the couple found themselves immersed in research on one of its favorite sons. Eventually, they were addressing interested groups in Spain and the United States about Santángel and related topics. Their concentration on the subject even resulted in official permission for them to head an archeological excavation of the Santàngel family crypt under the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, which Lemieux reports on in the Preface.
The 1998 symposium was a cooperative effort, initiated by the Lemieux, in partnership with the Generalitat Valenciana, the city’s municipal government, to observe the quincentenniel of Santángel’s death. Speakers represented twenty-three universities and various organizations and came from the United States, Canada, Spain and Israel. Also
presenting were independent researchers, writers and journalists, filmmakers and publishers, rabbis and theologians.
The Table of Contents reveals this diversity and the variety of subtopics. Papers are in English and Spanish with a few inclusions in Valenciano. Also included are excerpts from previously published works, such as Howard Sachar’s Farewell España: The World of the Sephardim Remembered. The symposium was expanded from focus on Santángel, as man and as symbol, to include presentations on the Sephardic Jews and their culture, in Spain and in diaspora, then and now. The published anthology contains papers on these subjects as well as on the relationship with
Columbus and regional history. Contributors include scholars known for primary research on the subjects and period. Some are or have been members of SCJS, such as Stanley M. Hordes, Seth D. Kunin and the late Victor Perera, and Society members are familiar with the material presented in their papers through presentations at the annual conferences, articles in HaLapid, or publications on the SCJS website, http:// www.cryptojews.com. HaLapid is referred to as a source for additional reading in footnotes to the Hordes and Kunin papers.
Other scholars in Lluís de Santàngel recognizable to students of the era are Martin A. Cohen, Diane Matza and Thomas F. Glick. Cohen’s provocative paper, “Converso Identity,” was keynote for the 98 symposium. He describes the causes and results of the “Marrano Myth,” or the belief that predilection to Judaism is hereditary in persons of Jewish heritage, and that reversion to Judaic practices is to be expected among all converts to Christianity. Then he demonstrates how this belief was utilized by the Inquisition and the power elite of the era, which he calls the Old Guard, to put all New Christians under suspicion, and set a model for the Holocaust process of the future.
Scholars from Spain represented in the anthology include Miguel Angel Motis Dolader, Ramón Robres Lluch, Román Piña Homs, Manuel Ballesteros Gaibrois and Roberto Fernando Perez, and from Israel, Aldina Quintana Rodríguez, Abraham Haim, Schulamith C. Halevy and Yitzchak Kerem.
There are plans to make the book available through Amazon and other U. S. sources in the near future. Updates and inquiries are directed to email@example.com, on how to order directly from the publisher in Valencia.
Lluís de Santàngel: Primer Financiero de América is a worthy addition to the libraries of researchers and those with interest in subject and era, providing articles on Sephardic history and culture and on crypto Jews, and helping to fill the information gap on the life and times of Santángel, about whom Kayserling concluded:
Like that English statesman [Disraeli]—who was of Jewish stock and whose ancestors were also persecuted by the Inquisition and driven from Spain—Luís was characterized at once by particularism and universalism, enthusiasm and sagacity, subjective patriotism and objective devotion to other nationalities. He was a good Aragonese, and yet he worked for the unity of Spain; he was ardently devoted to his country and he carefully considered the advantages
which it would derive from maritime discoveries. (71).
Baer, Yitzhak. Louis Schoffman, Trans. A History of the Jews in Christian
Spain, Vol 1 and 2. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1992
Kayserling, M. Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews
in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries. Charles Gross, Trans. New
York: Trow Press, 1907.
Sachar, Howard M. Farewell España: The World of the Sephardim Remembered.
New York: Vintage Books, 1994.