Library > Auto Da Fé Sermons

Auto Da Fé Sermons

​The National Library has purchased a rare collection of 39 Portuguese auto da fé sermons, printed between the years 1618-1727. The Portuguese Inquisition, whose main victims were apostate Jews, was active between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sentenced individuals were punished in ostentatious ceremonies that took place on Sundays, in churches or town squares, but not before senior clergymen preached long sermons calling for repentance and religious observation. These rituals were termed auto da fé, meaning “act of faith”.
These events were a mix of blood and aesthetics, and they were greatly emphasized and highlighted. The priests made a point of preserving their memory by publishing the sermons they had preached during the ceremony. Hundreds of Portuguese auto da fé ceremonies took place during the Inquisition that went on for hundreds of years, but only about seventy sermons of this type were printed. Rare booklets containing auto da fé sermons can be found in a small number of libraries and private collections around the world.
Each of the auto da fé sermons has a similar structure: it begins with a quote from the Holy Scripture, and from the verses unfolds a polemic discussion, targeting the sentenced individuals and other apostates amidst the observing crowd.  The anti-Semitic arguments are backed by learned side notes that are saturated with known anti-Semitic texts, and include citations from Talmudic and Rabbinical literature, Midrashim of the Haggadah, and Rashi and Abraham Ibn Ezra interpretations of the Bible.
From among the tens of booklets purchased by the Library, one is especially noteworthy – it is the sermon that appeared in Lisbon in 1705 and refers to an auto da fé ceremony that took place on September 6th of the same year, where 66 individuals were sentenced and punished. This sermon was given by the Archbishop of Cranganore, which is situated in Portuguese India, and it opens with the following call against the sentenced individuals who were unable to speak: “Oh! The humiliated remains of Judaism! The last remains of Judah! Indecent Catholics, disgusting figures even amongst the Jews themselves!... You are disgusting, for you are ignorant! Even the law by which you live, you are unable to uphold!”. The Archbishop ended the sermon with a call to Jesus: “For 1705 years you have wished with open arms to ask your sons (=the Jews) to come to you, and they, ungratefully, turn from you and refuse to acknowledge you as their savior. I am aware of the fact that you are anxious to save them, and are dead to them…in your mercy please free them! In their ignorance they have not acknowledged you as their father, however parents forgive their children…”.
We know that this sermon was smuggled out of Portuguese boundary lines, probably by members of the Spanish Jewish community in London. The sermon led one of the most fascinating Jewish figures of the eighteenth century – David Nieto, an Italian-English Rabbi of  Spanish Marrano descent – to publish in 1729, under the pseudonym Carlos Vero, a bitter attack against the Inquisition.

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Auto Da Fé
Auto Da Fé
A selection of items from the Library's auto da fé collection.
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