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Virtual Jewish World: Lima, Peru

LIMA, ancient capital of the Peruvian viceroyalty and capital of *Peru ; population more than 8,866,160 (2005). Ninety-eight percent of Peru's Jewish population of about 2,700 live in the city. The discovery of Peru and its enormous mining potential attracted a large number of *Conversos who disregarded the restrictions on the immigration of New Christians and arrived in the capital founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535. Most of them arrived during the period of unification of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns (1580–1640), and were known as "Portuguese." On February 7, 1569, Philip II, king of Spain, decreed the royal document by which he ordered the establishment of the Inquisition in Lima that was to start the persecution of judaizers and descendants of Jews.

Until 1595, however, the number of victims was very small, and the Crypto-Jews could prosper especially in the import and export trade. The first auto-da-fé took place in Lima on December 17, 1595. Ten Judaizers were judged, four of them were released, and one, Francisco Rodríguez, was burned alive. On December 10, 1600, 14 judaizers were punished; on March 13, 1605, 16 judaizers; later the frequency and the numbers declined.

The general pardon for all the judaizers declared in 1601 attracted a considerable number of New Christians, most of whom were Crypto-Jews who had acquired an important position in the economic life of the Spanish colony. Therefore the sensational trials against judaizers were generally conducted against those who had accumulated a fortune, all their possessions being confiscated by the Holy Office after their condemnation. This was the case with Antonio Cordero, the local representative of a merchant from Sevilla, who was denounced by a local trader for having declined to sell on the Sabbath and having refused to eat pork. A secret investigation was conducted, accompanied by torture, which led to the great auto-da-fé of January 23, 1639 with 60 judaizers. The most famous among them was Francisco Maldonado de Silva, who remained in prison for 12 years, during which he maintained his loyalty to the Jewish faith and even converted two Catholic prisoners to Judaism. All the rest were members of what the Spanish authorities called "The Great Conspiracy" congregation of Crypto-Jews in Lima. The last victim of La Complicidad Grande was Manuel Enríquez, who was burned at the stake in 1664 together with the effigy of Murcia de Luna, who died at torture. This exemplary display of severity, together with the menace of total expulsion in 1646, from which they were able to free themselves through the payment of the fabulous sum of 200,000 ducats, curtailed the offense of judaizing for many years. According to unsubstantiated sources there were 6,000 Crypto-Jews in Peru.

The last victims of the accusations against judaizers were Ana de Castro, on December, 23, 1736, and Juan Antonio Pereira, on November 11, 1737. The last activities of the Inquisition in Lima were in 1806. At that time there were no remaining Crypto-Jews recognized as such. A very famous family of Crypto-Jews during the colonial period was that of "León Pinelo."

The León Pinelo Family

During the period of the Viceroyalty this family flourished, being gifted with exceptional intellectual qualities that were manifested in a variety of activities in Spain, Peru, and Mexico, whether in the legal profession, theology, or various branches of knowledge. The León Pinelo school in Lima is named after the brothers Juan, Antonio, and Diego, children of Captain Diego López de León and Catalina de Esperanza Pinelo, distant relatives of the Pinelli of Genoa.

Juan López, the grandfather of the brothers León Pinelo, was a Portuguese Jewish merchant who, together with his wife, was burned alive in Lisbon in 1595. The survivors of the family immigrated to Valladolid, where they remained while Diego, the father, moved to Buenos Aires in search of a better situation. When his position was stabilized thanks to his commercial activities, he managed to reunite the family in 1605.

Juan, the first son of Diego López de León, was born in Lisbon (Portugal). He studied in Chuquisaca (Bolivia). He moved to Lima with his father and brother Antonio. Juan distinguished himself as an orator in the court of Philip IV, and was named canon of the Cathedral of Puebla (New Spain), where he ended his life. The second son, Antonio de León Pinelo, was born in Valladolid in 1590. He studied in the Universidad de San Marcos (in Lima). He was mayor of the Oruro mines, and in 1621 he returned to Spain as the attorney of the city of Buenos Aires. In Madrid he established himself in the court, amazing everyone with his erudition. He was known as "the Oracle of America" for the vastness of his knowledge in matters concerning the Indies, particularly South America. He is credited with having established the basis, together with the judge Solórzano Pereira, of the famous collection of laws that was issued by the Spanish Crown for the government and administration of the colonies in the New World and printed in four volumes under the title Recopilación de las Leyes de las India (Collection of the Laws of the Indies). The idea of the collection of laws developed in Lima, when both León Pinelo and Solórzano Pereira cemented their friendship during a period when the former was endowed with a chair at the Universidad de San Marcos. Antonio de León Pinelo gained fame for being the first bibliographer to teach works published about America. He was a friend of Lope de Vega, Ruiz de Alarcón, and other well-known Spanish writers. His project on the History of Lima recounted the development of the capital of the Viceroyalty from the time of its foundation. In 1629 he was appointed relator in the Council of the Indies, a position that gave him access not only to the legislature promulgated for the colonies across the sea, but also enabled him to undertake the collection of the treaties on the administration of these territories. At the end of his life he was named chronicler of the Indies, in charge of writing the annals of the American past. He died in 1660.

Diego, the youngest brother, was born in Córdova del Tucumán. He started his university studies in Lima and finished them in Salamanca. Upon his return, he held chairs at the Universidad de San Marcos and was its rector between 1656 and 1658. In his judicial career he was general protector of the natives of Lima. He is especially remembered with respect to the apologetic treatise of the University of San Marcos (Hypomnema Apologeticum Pro Regali Academia Limensi, 1643), in which he defended the scientific hierarchy of the institute as well as the cultural achievements of the Peruvians, which he considered underevaluated by European scholars.

"León Pinelo" School in Lima

The history of the León Pinelo school began with the visit of Natán Bistritzky, who arrived in Peru in March 1945 on a mission of the Jewish National Fund. Bistritzky encouraged the leaders of the Jewish community, which at the time comprised only 2,500 persons, to create the Comité Pro-Colegio Hebreo with the objective of founding a Jewish day school in Peru. The community chose the name of "León Pinelo" for his historical ties with the Jewish and Peruvian people. The school was opened on May 1946 with 33 students. During its 50 years of existence, more than 1,600 students graduated from the school, with a high level of Jewish education. Most of the graduates continued their studies in universities in Peru, Israel, or the United States, and work as professionals in Peru or abroad.


On the Colonial period see *Peru . L. Trah temberg, Antología de Judaísmo Contemporáneo, vol. 1: "Antisemitismo" (1987); G. Lohmann Villena, Antonio de León Pinelo, Gran Canciller de las Indias. Website:

[Leon Trahtemberg (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.