The Inquisition Trial of
Andrés González, 1486
By Vanessa Paloma
From HaLapid, Summer 2002
In the corner of my study in the file cabinet sits a facsimile copy of a manuscript from the 15th century. As I open that file and peruse the pages of the Inquisitional procedure against Andrés González in 1486, out streams the pain and sorrow, the confusion and anguish felt by that particular converso priest turned Orthodox Jew for the love of a woman. The language is fraught with double meanings and today, over 500 years after this indictment, I find myself wondering what really happened to Andrés González and to Ysabel, the woman who helped bring him back to the faith of his ancestors.
Composer Ofer Ben-Amots introduced me to this case. He is writing an oratorio called Viduy based on this Inquisitional procedure. We worked on some details of the translation and to try to read between the lines and understand a deeper level of what happened during those months in Toledo.
What is this story about? Andrés González, whose grandfather taught him about Judaism as a child, chooses to continue in the Catholic faith his parents adopted to escape persecution. He becomes a priest and on a Tisha B’Av (9th of Av, commemoration of the destruction of the Temple), during the morning mass, a family in Talavera is accused of witchcraft. An older woman was seen outside her house rocking in a “Jewish” way. Andrés walked to the house and discovered them sitting on sackcloth, praying in Hebrew, wearing kippas. At first he is mortified to find himself in this situation, but after they mention that they know he is a confeso he begins to learn Torah and practice Judaism through them.
Ten years earlier, he had been tried by the Inquisition as a Judaizer and had been absolved and now carried the status of confeso. He meets Ysabel, the daughter of the “crazy” woman who was accused on that day in the Church. He slowly begins to learn Torah and practice Judaism in secret while officiating as priest of the community. He starts to keep kashrut, kosher laws; he learns Hebrew and some of the holidays. Andrés keeps Sukkot, Yom Kippur, Passover and of course Shabbat.
It seems that Ysabel moved into the rectory; they were married and had a child who died at 10 months. Andrés begins to disdain the Catholic Church and its ritual objects. He keeps a Jewish bible in with the Eucharist, and urinates on a Crucifix which had been painted on the wall of a street he walked down.
The Church begins to suspect his faithfulness to their religion and soon enough discovered many of his Judaizing traits. In the end, his confession includes theological apostasy in addition to Jewish behavior. He confesses to not believing that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ; secretly not absolving people who confessed to him; performing Christian acts out of fear of discovery, and not because of true belief.
The case is complex and has many details of which Andrés González was accused. The trial, in 1486, started on February 14 and ended on August 17. These months must have been filled with physical and emotional torture and pain for him and those close to him.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult for us to understand what his true feelings were. According to the Inquisition document, he stated that this lapse of behavior was due to a sickness from Satan and he desired to live as a Christian and leave behind his apostasy and heresy. Did Andrés really believe this? Was he saying this to not be burned alive at the stake? By confessing, he could be buying himself an easier punishment.
He was “relaxed” to the secular arm for execution. The Church could punish convicts but was not allowed to execute them. This was done by the state.
Today we have few one-sided clues to this segment of history. It is a fascinating turn of events that turns a priest into a hozer b’tshuva (a newly-observant Jew). Maybe in the future we will begin to understand more clearly what conversos had to endure to hide their faith.
Vanessa Paloma is a singer of Ladino music and a performance artist based in Los Angeles. She has a Master of Music from Indiana University’s Early Music Institute in Medieval Spain. For more information go to vanessapaloma.com. Ms Paloma performed at the SCJS conference in San Diego in 2002.
Society For Crypto Judaic Studies