March 31st 1492: Spanish expulsion
On this day in 1492, the joint Catholic monarchs of Spain – Ferdinand and Isabella – issued the Alhambra Decree. This decree ordered the expulsion of all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity, from the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon by July 31st. This measure was pushed for by the monarchs’ adviser Tomas de Torquemada, who spearheaded the Spanish Inquisition aimed at rooting out heresy. Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to the expulsion after successfully completing the reconquista – the unification of Spain under Christian rule – with the conquest of Granada. The majority of the nearly 200,000 Spanish Jews chose to leave the country rather than renounce their religion and culture. Many of these Sephardic Jews moved to Turkey, Africa, and elsewhere in Europe, though they often encountered violence as they tried to leave the country. Those who fled to neighboring Portugal were expelled from that country only four years later when King Manuel married the daughter of the Spanish monarchs. The Jews who remained became conversos, suffering harassment and mistrust; indeed, some such converts did continue practicing Judaism in secret. The policy of religious conformity continued in 1502, when Spanish Muslims were also ordered to convert to Christianity. The importance of the expulsion is often overshadowed by the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, on a voyage funded by the Spanish monarchs, also in 1492. The Alhambra Decree was formally revoked by the Second Vatican Council in 1968, as part of a general attempt by the Spanish government to make amends for the painful legacy of the expulsion.