COVILHÃ, city in central Portugal. A Jewish community existed there from the middle of the 12th century until 1496–97. A rabbi, called ouvidor, appointed by the *Arraby Mor for the province of Beira Alta, resided in Covilhã. After 1497 Covilhã became an important Crypto-Jewish center. In 1543 a large *auto-da-fé was held in Covilhã with many judaizers sentenced to the stake. A number of the Crypto-Jewish families of Covilhã, such as the Mendes, De *Castro , Sousa, *Pinto , *Seixas , and *Mesquita families, emigrated from Portugal to other Western European countries, the Netherlands and England, where they returned to Judaism. The governor of Brazil in 1549 was Tomé de Sousa. The ambassador of Portugal in London in 1643 was Antonio de Sousa. Another important Crypto-Jewish family from Covilhã was that of Silvas. Some of the Silvas today live as Jews. During the civil wars in Portugal from 1806 to 1830, the Crypto-Jews of Covilhã were persecuted by the clergy, which suspected them, with good reason, of supporting the liberal side. It was stated that a Jewish community was established there at that time with its own rabbi. Due to the activities of A.C. de *Barros Basto and S. *Schwarz , many New Christians openly returned to Judaism under the republican government in the 1920s. The third community to be established in the country was in Covilhã (July 1929), where there were reported to be 6,000 Crypto-Jews. According to Slouschz, about a third of the city's population was of New Christian origin. Many of them still lived in what used to be the Jewish quarter before the forced conversions of 1497. A synagogue was established there named Sha'arei Kabbalah ("The Gates of Tradition"). With the establishment of the dictatorship in 1932 Jewish missionary activity among the descendants of crypto-Jews decreased in Covilhã as elsewhere in Portugal.
Sources:M. Kayserling, Geschichte der Juden in Portugal (1867), index; E. da Costa, in: Ha-Lapid 16 (1929), 3–4; N. Slouschz, Ha-Anusim be-Portugal (1932), 68, 99ff.; Portuguese Marrano Committee, Marranos in Portugal (1938), 8; Roth, Marranos, index; J.L. Dias, Notas biográficas de Simão Pinheiro Morão, escritor médico luso-brasileiro, natural de Covilhã (1961).
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.