Gerard Wiegers: ‘Forced Conversions in Late 15th c. Spain and a Late 16th c. Response.’

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

In the penultimate paper of the webinar, Gerard Wiegers of the UvA presented us with an extraordinary source: the Lead Books of Sacromonte. Discovered between 1595 and 1600 near Granada, these books professed to be early Christian lore, yet were mainly written in Arabic. Besides eschatological revelations which merge Christian and Islamic scripture, the text contains a historical narrative according to which the Blessed Virgin Mary had tasked St James (or Santiago) to convert Spain. Debates around the authenticity of the Lead Books lasted well into the 17th century until the Vatican in 1682 condemned them as Islamic heresy.

Wiegers places this source in the context of religious conflict in 16th century Spain. Following the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492, Muslim minorities had suffered increasingly repressive treatment and forced conversions. Many continued to practice their believes in secret and authorities prohibited converted Muslims (Moriscos) from using their language and customs, leading to the Morisco Revolt in 1568-71. The Lead Books’ history of early Spain should convince Christian authority of greater tolerance towards the Moriscos and their practices. Not only did it frame Arabic as the language of early Spanish Christianity but it reversed the image of St James who in Christian crusade-ideology had served as a warrior against the Muslims. Furthermore, elements of the eschatological revelations contained phrases from Islamic scripture and implicitly advised Moriscos to retain their believes in an increasingly intolerant environment.

Gerard Wiegers is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies at the University of Amsterdam.
Contact and research.
Twitter: @GerardWiegers

He is Project Leader (with Dr Sipco Vellenga, RUG)  of the NWO funded project Delicate Relations. Muslims and Jews in Amsterdam and London and advisor and team member of the ERC Advanced Grant project Conversion, Overlapping Religiosities, Polemics and Interaction (CORPI), led by Mercedes García-Arenal.


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