Tomas Trevino de Sobremonte
(1592 - 1649)
On April 11, 1649, Tomas Trevino de Sobremonte was
burned to death at the stake in Mexico City, a victim of the
Inquisition. His crime: observing the "dead law of Moses"
and its rites and ceremonies. In other words, while ostensibly living
as a "New Christian"
convert to Catholicism, Tomas continued secretly to practice the
religion and observe the rituals and customs of Judaism.
The priest accompanying Trevino to his death testified that in his
final hours Trevino asserted that "he was a Jew and that he was
resolved to live and die in the Law of Moses." Because he would
not recant, he was denied the mercy of a quick death before the fire
was lit and, instead, Trevino suffered a slow, agonizing death in the
Trevino was one of many "conversos,"
"secret" or "crypto-Jews" arrested and tried by
the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the Spanish and Portuguese
colonies in the New World, which then comprised almost all of Latin
and South America. While it had functioned for centuries in Europe,
the Inquisition arrived in the New World in the wake of the
conquistadors in the mid-sixteenth century and continued to operate
until the late 1700's. Its purpose was to detect and stamp out
heresy. These were years of intense upheaval and civil and
international strife in Western Europe arising from the Protestant
Reformation and the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation. European
sovereigns expected their subjects to adhere loyally to their own
their own, state-sponsored religions. Modern principles of separation
of church and state and of religious toleration found few adherents.
In the 1490's, Spain expelled all
Jews, Moslems and other non-Catholics who would not convert to
Catholicism and officially banned from her American colonies anyone
who could not prove descent from generations of loyal, practicing
Catholics. Nonetheless, over the years, many Spanish Jews -- like
Tomas Trevino de Sobramonte-- managed to evade the restrictions and
flee to start new lives in the Americas.
Trevino was born in Spain in 1592. His Jewish
mother, though technically a "New Catholic" convert,
continued secretly to observe and taught her children the rituals and
ceremonies of Judaism. Trevino fled to Mexico in New Spain in 1611,
when the Inquisition began to ferret out secretly practicing Jews in
his village. He left just in time. His family shortly thereafter came
under suspicion and, in 1623, his mother and elder brother were
executed after a trial by an Inquisition board.
In New Spain, Trevino lived in several communities
and became a successful merchant. He first ran afoul of the Mexican
Inquisition in 1624. At his trial he confessed to roguish activities,
including illicit relations with a number of women, and admitted that
his mother had taught him Jewish prayers and rituals as a child, but
swore that all that was behind him. He managed to convince the
tribunal that as an adult he had not strayed from the teachings of
the Catholic Church, which he willingly embraced and wanted only to
continue to live in Mexico as a loyal Spanish subject. Nonetheless,
Trevinos property was confiscated, he was fined and ordered to
perform various religious penances. After a relatively brief
imprisonment, the tribunal declared Trevino rehabilitated and
Shortly thereafter, in 1629, Trevino married the
pious daughter of an avowedly Jewish family who had never converted
and who were living in Mexico in hopes that the Inquisition would be
more lax there. For the next several years, Trevino and his wife
lived in Guadalajara as Jewishly observant as conditions allowed.
Though he and his wife continued to attend Mass and took a number of
other precautions to avoid arousing suspicious, Trevino raised his
children as Jews, circumcised his son, fasted religiously, observed the dietary
laws and other rituals and
ceremonies. Over the next several years, Trevino emerged as the
recognized leader of the more, observant "orthodox"
segment of Mexico's bravely Jewish community.
Jewish Historical Society