Graça Ribeiro: Researching Portugal’s Crypto-Jews
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: Who was Ephraim Bueno and what famous artist painted his portrait?
Graça Ribeiro was born in Lisbon, where she received a degree in biology and she also has a Masters in Business Administration. Since 2009 she has lived in the town of Caria, in eastern Portugal, where she opened a Bed and Breakfast. This part of Portugal, near the border with Spain, is an area that many Jews escaped to when the Inquisition was established in the country, in the 16th century. There were no roads, and the mountainous terrain made access difficult for the officials of the Inquisition, with their extensive entourage. So-called “new Christians” felt safer there, and many of them continued to maintain Jewish practices in secret. In Belmonte, for example, there was a hidden community that practiced Judaism for centuries. Crypto-Jewish presence can be seen in towns all along the border from Bragança in the North to Castelo de Vide in the South, including Castelo Rodrigo, Covilha, Trancoso and Guarda, among others. Many of these towns have strange crosses carved into the outside walls of some houses (see photo, above) and you can still see indentations where mezuzahs used to be.
After moving to Caria, Graça became interested in the subject of Jewish and Crypto-Jewish history in Portugal, and began to investigate on her own. She spoke with us about her research and findings.