- Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and Its Empire: Francisco de Torrejoncillo and the Centinela contra Judios (1674) by François Soyer
François Soyer offers here the first academic study and English translation of the most widely read vernacular Iberian manifesto of antisemitism. Fray Francisco de Torrejoncillo’s Centinela contra Judios, a relatively brief but comprehensive catalog of both religious and social hysteria about Jews, went through nine editions in Spanish between 1674 and 1736, plus a blatant plagiarism (p. 67), and four editions in Portuguese between 1684 and 1748. Soyer demonstrates its impressive dissemination among literate “Old-Christians,” although it encountered some mixed responses after 1750 (pp. 61–63); and reading the Centinela even persuaded one Old-Christian priest in Galicia to become a Judaizer (p. 64). This enthusiastic defense of the Spanish Inquisition (by a Franciscan unaffiliated with it) also spread throughout Spain’s American empire and was partially reprinted in Mexico in 1775 (pp. 65–66).
Soyer’s densely annotated translation fills more than half of the book and incorporates two lengthy décima poems (pp. 146–50, 162–71; texts on 285–99). Torrejoncillo probably composed these himself, but attributed the first to an [End Page 822] unnamed Judaizer sentenced ten years previously at a local auto da fe and the other to the founder of limpieza statutes. The author, who lived near the Portuguese border, also included firsthand knowledge of a few local Jewish atrocities (pp. 226n27, 232n43, 255). This literary cesspool flaunted an impressive display of erudition by citing more than 100 authorities, some of them truly obscure (e.g., p. 242n23). However, Soyer shows that the Centinela relied heavily on four authors, often cited either without acknowledgment or inaccurately (pp. 79–80). It most often pillaged a little-known Portuguese antisemite, Vicente da Costa Mattos, plagiarizing him almost verbatim throughout chapter 13 (p. 264n3). Two others were fellow Franciscans from Portugal; Torrejoncillo’s only major Spanish source, used in eight of his fourteen chapters, was a pseudonymous sixteenth-century defense of Spain’s limpieza de sangre statutes.
More might have been done with the biography of the author of this farrago. Soyer demonstrates that Torrejoncillo became a missionary to the Philippines before his manuscript was printed (thus some of its many errors were not his fault), but cannot decide when he was born, suggesting 1604 or 1607 (p. 49). However, note 7 on page 49 suggests he was forty-six when he completed the Centinela in 1672; this accords better with serving three decades in the Philippines before dying at Manila in 1704. His later years in Asia, when he probably never saw an Iberian “New Christian” or even a copy of his own book, were remembered for minor feats involving force-fed Hosts and the cord of his robe. They never mention his book, but do record his botched attempt at self-castration (p. 53)—an odd contrast with the Centinela’s castigation of eunuchs as despised even by Jews (p. 141).