Persecution of Jews in Lisbon – Massacre of 1506

Persecution of Jews in Lisbon – Massacre of 1506

Persecution of Jews in Lisbon – Massacre of 1506, also known as Lisbon Pogrom or Easter killing of 1506, a mob tortured and killed hundreds of Jews in Lisbon. This happened nine years after the forced conversion of Jews in Portugal, in 1497, during the reign of King Manuel I.

Following the expulsion from Spain, in 1492, by the Catholic kings, about 93 thousand Jews took refuge in Portugal. The king of Portugal, D. Manuel I, seemed to be more tolerant towards the Jewish community, but, under the pressure of Spain, as from 1497, in Portugal, Jews were forced to convert, to avoid being humiliated and killed in the public squares.

The massacre began at Convent of Saint Dominic, on Sunday, April 19, 1506, when the believers were praying for the end of the drought and plague that ravaged Portugal, and someone assured to have seen the face of Christ lit at the church lord’s table – a phenomenon that was interpreted as a miracle by the present catholics.

A New Christian who also attended the mass tried to explain that this miracle was only the reflection of a light, but the crowd would not listen to him and beat him to death.

As from there onwards, the Jews who were already viewed with suspicion became the scapegoat of drought, hunger and plague. The massacre lasted three days, during which the crowd, including sailors from Holland, Zealand, Germany and other places, was encouraged by the Dominican priests who promised absolution of sins for those who would kill the “heretics”.

The royal court was in Abrantes – to escape the plague. When the massacre began, D. Manuel I was on his way to Beja, to visit his mother . Having been informed of the events, he ordered the magistrates to try to put an end to the bloodshed. In Lisbon, the few officials present were forced to flee.

As a consequence, men, women and children were tortured, massacred and burned in Rossio, more exactly in Santo Domingo’s square and also along the Tagus river.

The Jews were accused of deicide and to be the cause of the deep drought and plague that ravaged the country. The killing took place on 19-21 April 1506 during the holy week, and only ended when a New Christian, João Rodrigues Mascarenhas, a nobleman, was killed by mistake, and finally the royal troops arrived to restore the order.

D. Manuel I made sure to punish those involved, confiscating their property, and the Dominicans instigators were sentenced to death by hanging. There are also indications that the Convento de São Domingos ( located downtown ) was closed for eight years and the representatives of the city of Lisbon were expelled from the Crown Council (equivalent to the current Council of State).

Following the massacre, the growing anti – semitism in Portugal and the establishment of the Court of the Holy Office – which began operating in 1540 , lasting until 1821, many Jewish families fled or were expelled from the country, having as main destination The Netherlands, France ,Turkey and Brazil, among other countries.
Although expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, Jews could only leave Portugal by paying “ransom” to the Crown. In the process of emigration, the Jews abandoned their properties or sold them for very low prices, only traveling with the luggage they could carry with them.

The massacre of 1506 is not mentioned in the history books, fell into obscurity, and few historians refer to it. The horror and violence were described and reproduced by Damião de Góis, Alexandre Herculano, Oliveira Martins, Garcia de Resende, Salomon Ibn Verga and Samuel Usque.

Lisbon, City of Tolerance

jews in Lisbon

Monument in Lisbon in honor of the Jews killed in the massacre of 1506.
This massacre is remembered today by a monument built in Largo de São Domingos, in honor of Judaism, which was inaugurated on April 23, 2008.
On the site, a traditional meeting point for foreigners, especially Africans, there is a wall where the phrase “Lisbon City of Tolerance” is written in 34 languages .
The monastery chapel (Church of Saint Dominic ) was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755, and the convent closed in 1834 .
On August 13, 1959, a fire completely destroyed the interior of the church, which was then subject to some repair works and reopened to the public in 1994, and classified as a National Monument. There you can see half the scarf worn by Lucy on October 13, 1917 (the other half is at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, in Fatima) and the rosary used by Jacinta Marto on that same day.
On March 21, 1994, the Dominican Order inaugurated a new Convent of Saint Dominic, in Lisbon, next to Alto dos Moinhos.
To learn more about the history of Jews in Lisbon and visit some related places we suggest our one of our Lisbon walking tours: Lisbon Old Town or Welcome to Lisbon Walking Tour

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  1. 5 Nov 2013
    Very interesting article. Thank you for the information. Reply
    • 6 Nov 2013
      Thank you Anna! We are glad you liked it! Reply
  2. 11 Dec 2013
    Wow I knew about the Spanish Inquisition but not a thing about the Massacre of 1506 in Lisbon or the "Libon Pogrom". "Jews" have always been the victims of persecution by many nations and expelled by many "Great Empires" So, I thank you for the historical lesson and information you provided me through your most recent travels through Portugal and sharing this knowledge. I will pass this on to enlighten others. Thank you, Thank you!! Reply
    • 11 Dec 2013
      Thanks for your comment Susan, Hope to see you soon in Lisbon Reply

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