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The Jewish Community of Canary Islands

Canary Islands

Islands belonging to Spain, off N.W. Africa.

The first Jewish immigrants to the Canary Islands were Conversos from Spain seeking refuge from the inquisition. Evidence given in a trial held by the inquisition in 1520 tells of a Jewish community in one of the islands which had a synagogue and shochet. In 1502 the inquisitor-general, Francisco Diego Deza, summoned a number of Conversos from the islands before the tribunal in Seville; others were tried by the tribunal of Cordoba. In 1510 a number of autos-da-fe were held in the canaries.

Later the inquisition relaxed its activities, but they were revived as a result of the plague of 1523-1532. Among those burned at the stake were Alvar Gonzalez of Castello Branco, the moving spirit of the Palma Converso community, and Pedro Gonzalez, a royal official who left Spain in 1492, but later became a nominal convert to Christianity. The tribunal resumed its activities in 1568 when Diego Ortiz de Funez, formerly prosecutor in the tribunal of Toledo, arrived in the canaries. In 1524 a movement to leave for Eretz Israel stirred the Converso community and some set off despite the dangers involved; one family reached its destination.

In the 17th century, many Conversos, largely from Portugal, settled in Palma and Tenerife. The inquisitional records of the 17th century indicate that close connections existed between the Conversos in the canaries and those in England and northwestern Europe. Among those denounced were Antonio Fernandez Carvajal, a founder of the London Jewish community, and his kinsman Lorenzo Lindo. During the 18th century, a few Conversos were still brought before the inquisition in the canaries, but without serious consequences. In the 1950s a number of Jews, mainly immigrants from Morocco, settled in the canaries but did not form an organized community.

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Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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