On this day: The Alhambra Decree

March 31 1492: Jews expelled from Spain

By Jennifer Lipman, March 31, 2011

The Spanish Inquisition, when the Catholic ruling couple Ferdinand and Isabella waged their murderous campaign against the Jews of Spain and then Portugal, was one of the darkest periods in European history.

The edict of 1492 was by no means the start of the hostility towards Jews. In the 14th century as Christians reclaimed the Iberian Peninsula from its Muslim rulers, persecution of Jews increased.

It is believed that in the hundreds years before the edict up to 35,000 Jews were killed for refusing to become "conversos". Even those who did convert were viewed with suspicion and hostility, while many who did continued to practice Judaism in secret.

The Spanish Inquisition – to determine whether conversions were genuine – began in 1480 and the first "auto-da-fé" tribunal took place a year later in Seville, when six people were burned alive.

In the years that followed, many thousands were burnt alive, while many more were burned in effigy after death. Events came to a head in 1492, when the monarchs issued a decree giving Jews until that July to convert or flee, or face death.

Non-Jews were warned of the penalties of helping Jews hide or escape punishment. Estimates vary, but hundreds of thousands fled around Europe and to the New World. It was not until December 1968 that the edict was formally revoked,

What the JC said in 1877: Ferdinand and Isabella took a resolution which was to over their beautiful kingdom with sadness and solitude. It was decided that the soil of Spain should no longer be defiled by the presence of men who did not profess the Catholic religion. The news broke forth like a clap of thunder, and carried consternation among the Jews. One hundred and sixty thousand families settled in the country from time immemorial were about to be banished by fanatical zeal and insatiable avarice from a land in which were the graves of their ancestors.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 9:46am, March 31 2011