The infamous Inquisition against Jews began with their expulsion from Spain in 1492, and soon followed to Portugal in 1496. Discovered during the Inquisition, Brazil became a “Red Sea” for thousands of Portuguese Jews around 1500, fleeing forced conversion to Catholicism. These “New Christians,” also called “Marranos,” “Anusim” or “Crypto-Jews,” hoped to find in this new land a safer place to live away from the inquisitorial bonfires. But unfortunately, in 1591, the Inquisition arrived in Brazil. Many Jewish immigrants and their descendants were prosecuted and deported back to Lisbon, then tortured and executed. This persecution continued for over 300 years, sadly eradicating much of Brazil’s Jewish history along the way.
New light has recently been shed on this period, however, thanks to the first Museum of the Inquisition in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The museum, open to the public since 2012, is a project of ABRADJIN, which stands for the “Brazilian Association of the Descendants of Jews from the Inquisition Period,” a private, non-profit foundation begun in 2000 by longtime MJBI partner Marcelo Guimarães.
It exists to restore the memories, culture and heritage of the Sephardic “New Christians” who made significant contributions as Brazilian pioneers. ABADJIN promotes social inclusion while combating religious intolerance through education.
The museum houses a permanent exhibit of panels and paintings by artists such as Spanish painter Francisco Goya and others. Along with period art, clothing, and other objects, there are also life-size replicas of torture equipment (such as the “pole,” the “colt (o pôtro),” and the “garrote”) serving as stark reminders of the religious intolerance of the time. It also offers a library with a collection of over 350 rare, antique books and documents dating from 1637, with some even older. For instance, one of the museum’s most prized possession is a piece of Torah scroll used for many years by Sephardic Jews during the Middle Ages. Thankfully it survived the Inquisition.
Another unique asset available for historical research is a database containing the names and surnames of the Jewish pioneers who helped colonize Brazil. Like Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, this catalog of painstakingly collected names offers invaluable assistance to descendants of “Anusim” interested in discovering and learning more about their roots (since many family histories were wiped out by the Inquisition). The museum also houses a solemn “Memorial of Names,” dedicated to the Brazilian Jewish victims of the Brazilian Inquisition, much like 20th Century Holocaust memorials around the world.
God is using the Museum of the Inquisition to build strong bridges between the Messianic community in Brazil and Jewish communities around the world. It is the only museum in the world that looks at the Inquisition from a uniquely Jewish perspective. We are so proud of Marcelo and Matheus Guimarães, and their faithful work with the Museum of the Inquisition, Congregation Har Zion, and their C.A.T.E.S. school, which is an outgrowth of MJBI’s school in Brazil. These, and many other MJBI Brazil graduates are having a profound impact on the global Anusim Jewish communities.