- Doña Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition: A Seventeenth-Century New Mexican Drama by Frances Levine
In recent years, the history of Crypto-Judaism in the southwestern United States and the question of the continued influence in the region of Sephardic Jewish heritage have increasingly come to the fore, both in historical scholarship and in the wider press. In his study To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (Columbia UP, 2005), Stanley Hordes traced the presence of puzzling Judaic practices among Hispano communities of New Mexico and the Southwest back to the converso community of Spanish Jews who arrived in the Americas in the wake of their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula. Other scholars, including Judith Neulander, have taken another approach, arguing that these practices were instead introduced by Adventist missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and are thus part of a constructed identity with no genealogical ties to Jewish roots ("Crypto-Jews of the Southwest: An Imagined Community," Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review 18 : 19–58). It is to this debate that Frances Levine's book, Doña Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition: A Seventeenth-Century New Mexican Drama, seeks [End Page 582] to speak. In her study, Levine traces the story of Doña Teresa Aguilera y Roche and her husband, Bernardo López de Mendizábal, who served as governor of New Mexico from 1659 to 1660, and who were both imprisoned and tried by the Spanish Inquisition for the crime of Judaizing. Levine argues that the accusations against them, as attested by the documentary evidence she analyzes, provide proof of the existence of Jewish ancestry and practices among seventeenth-century Iberian settlers in northern New Mexico. In doing so, she addresses the growing field of interest in the formation of heterodox religious and ethnic identities in the early modern Hispanic world, as well as a wider audience interested in various facets of the history of the Inquisition.
Levine's study begins by carefully setting out this critical context and presenting her readers with an overview of the history of New Mexico, with a particular focus on Jewish and converso influence, before honing in on the material circumstances and political conflicts that shaped life in mid-sixteenth-century Santa Fe and which, Levine argues, lie at the heart of the case brought against Doña Teresa. In particular, she emphasizes the discord between religious and political authorities, and how these created a "volatile social milieu of competing authority and orthodoxy" (7), as well as the particular conflict between three successive governors: Juan Manso de Contreras, López de Mendizábal, and Diego Dionisio de Peñalosa. Throughout her subsequent chapters, Levine then recounts the developments of the case brought against Doña Teresa and her husband between 1661 and 1664. She uses the documentation in Doña Teresa's Inquisition trial record, ranging from the initial reports that led to their arrest to the charges brought against them, Doña Teresa's oral and written responses to the charges, and the final suspension of the charges against Doña Teresa after the sudden death of her husband while in custody. The substance of these charges focused on particular behaviors demonstrated by the couple: Doña Teresa's practice of ritual washing on Friday evenings; her excessive consumption of drinking chocolate, especially on penitential days; her reading of a book in a foreign language (despite Doña Teresa being a native speaker of Italian); the couple's failure to attend specific Masses; various instances of demonstration of contempt for the Catholic Church; prohibiting their servants and enslaved persons from practicing religious devotion; and an odd practice of exchanging caps and smocks when Holy Week processions passed their window. [End Page 583]
Many of these convictions will appear strange to the modern reader, although their contemporaries were clearly able to decode them in indicting religious terms, and Levine's account would have benefitted from a more in-depth historical and cultural...