Creating Conversos: The Carvajal–Santa María Family in Early Modern Spain

I had the pleasure of speaking at Texas A&M Crypto-Jewish Symposium in 2010. I met Dr. with Martínez-Dávila there and kept in contact through the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. The following is a summary of his excellent work on the Carvajal and Santa-Maria families.

In Creating Conversos, Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila skillfully unravels the complex story of Jews who converted to Catholicism in Spain between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, migrated to colonial Mexico and Bolivia during the conquest of the Americas, and assumed prominent church and government positions. Rather than acting as alienated and marginalized subjects, the conversos were able to craft new identities and strategies not just for survival but for prospering in the most adverse circumstances. Martínez-Dávila provides an extensive, elaborately detailed case study of the Carvajal–Santa María clan from its beginnings in late fourteenth-century Castile.

By tracing the family ties and intermarriages of the Jewish rabbinic ha-Levi lineage of Burgos, Spain (which became the converso Santa María clan) with the Old Christian Carvajal line of Plasencia, Spain, Martínez-Dávila demonstrates the family’s changing identity, and how the monolithic notions of ethnic and religious disposition were broken down by the group and negotiated anew as they transformed themselves from marginal into mainstream characters at the center of the economies of power in the world they inhabited.

They succeeded in rising to the pinnacles of power within the church hierarchy in Spain, even to the point of contesting the succession to the papacy and overseeing the Inquisitorial investigation and execution of extended family members, including Luis de Carvajal “The Younger” and most of his immediate family during the 1590s in Mexico City.

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Posted by Rabbi Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education. He is the author of The Converso Dilemma: Halakhic Responsa and the Status of Forced Converts

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