COIMBRA, city in central Portugal; a major center of Jewish population until the forced conversions of 1497. The Jews of Coimbra suffered frequent attacks, the most serious occurring in 1395 under the leadership of a church prior and several priests. Coimbra was the center of considerable Marrano Judaizing in the 1530s and 1540s, and a century later Antonio *Homem, professor of canon law at the University of Coimbra, led a conventicle of distinguished Marrano Judaizers. Many Marranos in addition to Homem attended the University of Coimbra, among them the distinguished dramatist and martyr, Antonio José da *Silva (d. 1739), while others such as Antonio Fernando Mendes (d. 1734), later a convert to Judaism in England, were on its faculty. Many of the New Christians arrested as Judaizers in Ferrara in 1581 were refugees from the Coimbra region. Three of them, including Joseph Saralvo, who boasted of returning 800 Marranos to Judaism, were put to death in Rome two years later. Coimbra was also the seat of an inquisitional tribunal, one of the four operating in Portuguese territory, besides Lisbon, Évora, and Goa. The tribunal in Coimbra, which tried many distinguished Conversos, disposed of more than 11,000 cases between 1541 and 1820. The trials sometimes lasted for months or even years, during which the accused were held in prison. The accused came in great numbers from Bragança, Braga, Porto, Viseu, Aveiro, Guarda, and Coimbra. Considering the claim that the accusations were mostly motivated by the wish to confiscate the property of the accused, it is noteworthy that the most frequent professions and crafts were, in descending order, shoemakers, merchants, priests, farmers, tanners, and weavers. From the sermons preached at the auto-da-fé we learn that mothers and grandmothers were held responsible for maintaining Jewish practices and beliefs among the Conversos. Thus, during the first century of its existence, more women than men were tried by the Inquisition of Coimbra. The hardest hit were those who lived in distant and mountainous areas. As late as June 17, 1718, over 60 secret Jews appeared at an auto-da-fé there, some for a fifth or sixth time. Two were burned at the stake and the rest penanced, among them Dr. Francisco de Mesquita of Bragança and Jacob de *Castro Sarmento.
M. Kayserling, Geschichte der Juden in Portugal (1867), index; J. Mendes dos Remedios, Os Judeus em Portugal, 1 (1895), 362, 430ff.; E.N. Adler, Auto de Fé and Jew (1908), 145ff.; N. Slouschz, Ha-Anusim be-Portugal (1932), 11, 85ff.; Roth, Marranos, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. de Oliveira, in: Biblos, 57 (1981), 597–627; J. do N. Raposo, in: REJ, 141 (1982), 201–17; I.S. Révah, in: Bulletin des Etudes Portugaises, n.s., 27 (1966), 47–88; E.C. de A. Mea, in: Inquisição, vol. 1 (Lisbon, 1989–90), 201–19.
[Martin A. Cohen /
Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.