Courtesy of JNS. Photo credit: The National Library of Israel.
A Portuguese Inquisition auto-da-fé in Lisbon

(JNS) — The Jewish Community of Oporto recently announced it is working to preserve the 17th-century records of the Portuguese Inquisition.

Under a protocol signed in 2019 between the Torre do Tombo National Archive in Lisbon and the Oporto Jewish Community, the latter undertook to pay for the preservation of 16th-century Inquisition case records.

The protocol, assisted by then-Israeli Ambassador to Portugal Raphael Gamzou, made it possible to recruit professional restoration personnel and set in motion the restoration and digitization of 1,778 court cases against “Jewish infidels” in three centers: Lisbon, Évora and Coimbra, the latter of which included cases from Oporto.

Now that work on the 16th-century archive is almost complete, the community would like to sign a protocol regarding the 17th century.

“So far we have only been able to preserve the legal processes, or cases, from the 16th century, of which there are about 2,000,” said David Garrett, a board member of the Oporto community.

“These were, in fact, the most important because at that time the matrilineal genealogy of the persecuted was still known. That is, who were really Jews and who were not,” he told JNS.

“We cannot forget that the Inquisition lasted three centuries, and even persecuted many non-Jews, Catholics of many generations who were still referred to as Jews with the sole aim of robbing them of their goods,” he added.

The community first became aware of the decayed state of the records five years ago, when its representatives visited the archive. “In 2018, we were shocked when we visited Torre do Tombo together with Ambassador Gamzou,” Garrett said.

“The Inquisition’s legal processes of the 16th century were practically lost. Many pages were already completely illegible and glued to other pages,” he said. “We decided to act immediately. Otherwise, the records would rot. It was possible to recover almost all of it, but not everything.

“To start the 17th century, we’re asking the Jewish world to collaborate on the project costs, because it cannot be that we alone should be the only ones involved in something so important,” Garrett said.

The total cost of the operation to preserve and maintain the 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century records could reach as high as €3 million ($3.4 million).

“It is scientific, meticulous work, page by page, word by word. It involves high-quality equipment, which is carried out by highly qualified professionals, whose salaries are naturally high,” Garrett explained.

The national archive is contributing 5% of the total cost, he said.

“For those who want to contribute, they should directly contact Torre do Tombo, the Jewish Community of Oporto or Mrs. Ruth Calvão, head of project development and outreach at Centro de Estudos Judaicos de Trás-os-Montes,” he said.