www.mybelmonte.com  -  Timeline


Legend:  Blue = Subjects connected with Judaism;

 orange = dual rites, in different religions;  brown = reference to the bibliography.

Translated into English by Mark Elliott Shapiro (2007)



A synagogue is erected in Belmonte. The dating is based on a tradition of marking some of the letters – for numerological purposes – in the verse carved into the building's cornice, “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). It can thus be concluded that, at the time, there was a strong and fairly affluent Jewish community in Belmonte that could afford such a building. After the Expulsion of the Jews of Portugal, the structure was converted into a church, which, over time, became a ruin.


The expulsion of the Jews of Spain by the Catholic Monarchs, King Fernando and Queen Isabel. Many of the expelled Jews purchase the right to enter Portugal, Spain's neighbor to the west. The indigenous Jewish population of Portugal then numbers 75,000 (according to the estimate of senior historians) and they are now joined by another 120,000 Jews, recently expelled from Spain.


The eve of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah: An expulsion decree is issued for the 200,000 Jews living in Portugal (including the Spanish-exiles), in the wake of the marriage of King Manuel of Portugal to the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and as a necessary condition for the marriage to take place.


Faulty implementation of the expulsion decree: Room was found for only 5,000 people in the ships designated for the expelled Jews. Most of the Portuguese Jews are forcibly baptized on the beach as they stand there, waiting for the ships that are to take them into exile! This is the background for the emergence of the phenomenon of the crypto-Jews (Marranos). From now on, their religious identity will take on a double nature: (1) Jews in their homes, and (2) Christians in the eyes of the outside world. Their traditional communal structure collapses, and the functions of communal and religious nature are privatized, being assumed by the family. Meanwhile, a unique variation of Marrano life-style develops in Belmonte, with the feminization of these religious and communal functions.


Discovery of Brazil by Pedro Álvares Cabral (of apparently Belmontese origin) and his Marrano navigator.


Messianic hopes begin to fire the imagination of the crypto-Jews suffering in Spain (where they are called Conversos) and in Portugal (where they are called Marranos), as well as Jews and Marranos elsewhere. False messiahs like the foreigner David Hareuveni, and Shlomo Molho, a young judge serving the Portuguese king (and according to most scholars: a Marrano who returns to Judaism), raise hopes of redemption in Portugal and in their travels in other lands. For purely utilitarian-political reasons, the king of Portugal hopes that the Pope will launch an Inquisition on Portuguese soil. At the same time, Molho, who is befriended by the Pope (whom he teaches kabbalah), thwarts these plans for the moment. After various adventures, the two false messiahs are sent to the gallows: First, Molho in Italy in 1532, with the same fate subsequently met in 1538 in Badajoz (in Spain, close to the Portuguese border) by Hareuveni, the “man with the shoe” (since he had apparently once been an Iberian shoemaker, although he pretended to be a prince from the Orient). Their deaths do not end the longing for the Promised Land and Jerusalem that has survived in the Marranos' prayers to this very day.


The period during which the Inquisition was legally established in Portugal, and crypto-Jews (i.e., Marranos) are condemned and executed throughout Portugal, including Belmonte and its vicinity. Toward the end of this period, the danger posed by the Inquisition diminishes until it is completely abolished by a royal decree.


Napoleon Bonaparte launches his campaign to occupy Portugal. At this time, about 20,000 Marranos reveal themselves in the northern regions alone (excluding Belmonte). However, when Napoleon's army retreats, they return to their hidden way of life within their villages and towns.


Portugal becomes a republic - the First Portuguese Republic. In Belmonte, a number of Marranos are appointed to key positions in the local authority and begin an energetic process of modernization and urban development in the town and in the region as a whole.


Mining engineer Samuel Schwarz, sent to mines near Belmonte, discovers its Marrano residents – who shun him as well – and reveals his discovery to the Zionist Congress and to the world at large.

The period immediately following the
First World War

(1)   Jewish committees and delegations from abroad begin visiting Belmonte to study its Marranos and to learn what their needs are as far as the practice of Judaism is concerned.

(2)   During this period, Captain Barros Basto (a Portuguese Marrano who managed to convert to Judaism) first creates a movement, the Rescue Enterprise, whose goal is to return Marranos to Judaism, and then the Rosh-Pina Yeshiva in Oporto, where he takes up residence. Like Schwarz, he locates groups of Marranos from the rural periphery, chiefly in northeastern Portugal, and tries to bring them back to their Jewish roots. After a certain period of time, friction develops between the two individuals.


Schwarz publishes his first book on the Marranos of Portugal in the 20th century, based on his experiences in Belmonte. The book contains interesting appendices, including prayers he collected in Belmonte.


In the early 1930s (circa 1932), Nahum Slouschz and Benjamin Mintz publish books on their visits among the Marranos of Belmonte (the first book appears in Hebrew and the second in Yiddish). In his book, Slouschz publishes the collection of Marrano prayers Schwarz discovered, translating them into Hebrew.


Bastos' Rescue Enterprise begins to decline, in the context of the rise of Fascism under the leadership of Salazar, while the Catholic Church grows stronger and anti-Semitism becomes more virulent in Portugal. Moreover, his name is blackened. For this reason, Basto is sometimes referred to as the Portuguese Dreyfus.


During this period, Belmonte’s Marranos put on their Christian disguise again, this time because of the rise of Fascism.


A group of Marranos from Belmonte identify themselves as such in  Lisbon’s synagogue on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), in the presence of Inacio Steinhardt, who begins studying them from that moment onwards. Researchers, Jewish delegations from Lisbon and abroad, including Jewish students, start visiting Belmonte once again. It seems though that there are no signs of Zionist inclinations in Belmonte, and the longing for Zion remains one of a purely religious character.


(1)   The Carnation Revolution puts an end to the remnants of Fascism and imperialism in Portugal, and the right to worship is restored. The Marranos of Portugal can now reveal (again!) their true identity. However, only in Belmonte, did they manage to survive as a group: Elsewhere cohesiveness among the clusters of their families, as well as the quasi-communal social structures that characterized them in their traditional sites for generations, have vanished in recent decades; moreover, their social networks have unraveled. Their descendants there feel, at best, isolated individuals, if they have not already assimilated into the surrounding society. There are several concurrent factors that can possibly explain this past development:

a.   The processes of modernization and secularization that have also penetrated the rural periphery,

b.   Accelerated processes of urbanization and/or emigration throughout the 20th century

c.   Since the 1930s, a fear of Salazar's Fascist regime


(2)   Veteran Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai, covering the Carnation Revolution, also films the Marranos of Belmonte, and gives vivid testimony to their initial attempt to draw near to mainstream Judaism. (The film also features a young child, Elias Nunes, who will later become the President of the renewed Belmonte Community, and during whose presidency there will be two waves of conversion to Judaism.)

From 1985 onwards

In his books and booklets, Dr. David Canelo begins to publish various materials on the Marranos in his town, Belmonte, and on Portugal's Marranos in general.


A group of about eight young male Marranos, interested in returning Marranos to Judaism, found the Jewish Association of Belmonte for that purpose. Jewish organizations begin arranging trips to Israel, although the trips are in the format offered to… Christian pilgrims!


The Jewish Association founded in Belmonte a year earlier becomes an official Jewish Community, which begins to establish contacts with the Jewish community in Lisbon, the Israel Embassy there and the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. The contacts are partly effected through mediators, including well-educated Marranos from Lisbon and abroad.


(1)   The first Israeli rabbi arrives in Belmonte; his trip is funded by the Jewish Agency and a Jewish philanthropist, Shlomo Azulay. The rabbi's quarters are adjacent to a temporary synagogue that the Jewish Community establishes. Previously, the members of the Jewish quasi-community would pray in private homes, in temporary improvised synagogues, or sometimes in the Municipal Auditorium, since the Municipality is now lending a hand to the process of their return to Judaism.


(2)   Considerable media attention is generated worldwide by the film “The Last of the Marranos” produced by anthropologist Frederic Brenner and colleagues. The film is aired on French television and in other countries. The photography was done a year or two earlier, primarily in Belmonte, but also in about five other northern villages.


To mark the 500th anniversary of the Expulsion of  the Jews from Spain, Yigal Losin issues his film, produced under the auspices of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, “Spain's Jerusalem” (which was also photographed a year or two earlier), featuring former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon. In this film about former Jewish communities in Iberia, relatively considerable footage is devoted to Belmonte’s Marranos. During this period, the Marranos are advancing toward a return to normative Judaism, but have still not yet reached the stage of conversion.


Two waves of conversion in Belmonte:

About 85 out of a total of 110-130 Marranos (that is, more than two thirds), convert to Judaism, most of them in the more lenient form of conversion (giur lekhumra). Now, after 500 years of being severed from the Jewish people, these converts must perform – for the first time since their ancestors became Marranos – the commandments of the halakha (Jewish law). Naturally, the learning process takes a considerable amount of time.

The remaining third (about 35 individuals or more) decide to continue with their traditional Marrano way of life.


Dr. (Maria) Antonieta Garcia, wife of the mayor of Belmonte, publishes her first book documenting Belmonte's Marranos and their current religious ceremonies, and places special emphasis on their attempts to reestablish contact with normative (or halakhic) Judaism. The importance of her writings lies in her descriptions of the integration of Belmonte's Marranos into the local authority in the early days of the First Republic (from 1910 onwards), as well as in her firsthand descriptions of their attempts to rejoin mainstream Judaism (chiefly from 1988 onwards), as well as the actual stages of their return before conversion.


Dr. Sarah Molho initiates her field study of this transition process, namely, the multi-staged return of Belmonte's Marranos to normative Judaism, after their formal conversion, and documents their deeds and thoughts following conversion.

Summer 1996

The second Israeli rabbi finishes his term of office in Belmonte and the Jewish Agency's (partial) funding of religious services to Belmonte ends. From now on, ritual slaughterers will serve the new Jewish Community there for short periods of time, at least before Jewish holidays, such as Passover, or during the period between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New-Year) and Simkhat Torah, their services being funded again by the above philanthropist.

Hanuccah 1996

Closing of the circle: On the 500th anniversary of the issuing of the decree ordering the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal, a new synagogue is founded in Belmonte. The same philanthropist once again provided a generous donation, funding the budget for the construction of the synagogue on land bequeathed by a Marrano Matron-Rabbi. An official ceremony is held with the participation of representatives from the Portuguese Government, the Belmonte Municipality, rabbis and Jewish activists from Israel and the Diaspora, and an Israeli delegation headed by Knesset Speaker Dan Tichon.


Dr. Elias Lipiner continues to publish a number of books about Jews in Portugal, including Two Portuguese Exiles in Castile: Dom David Negero and Dom Isaac Abarbanel. [See a chapter of his book on this site]

prior to 2000

A Jewish cemetery is established in Belmonte. Again, it is funded by the same donor, who devotes much time, energy and money to this project, since this event is of great importance to the descendants of the Marranos. In 2000, the first funerals are held in the Jewish community's new cemetery.

From 2000
to the present

About three or four young members of Belmonte's Jewish community arrive separately in Israel, either as tourists, or due to romantic relationships, or for the purpose of studying in a yeshiva in order to become Jewish ritual slaughterers. This is not a wave of immigration, nor is its reason Zionism, although most of Belmonte’s Jews are very interested in Israeli life. Some of them might manifest – even though from the distant shelter of the Diaspora – somewhat rightist tendencies with regard to Israeli politics.


The Israeli Amishav organization tries to help Belmonte's Jewish Community and become its patron, by sending a ritual slaughterer to serve the community on a regular basis in that capacity and as a rabbi. However, after a short duration, the community decides to end this arrangement. As in the past, and again with funding from the same philanthropist, a 20 year-old yeshiva student, who is also a qualified ritual slaughterer, arrives in Belmonte for the Jewish festival season of fall 2004 (the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the holidays that come immediately afterwards).  After he leaves, from time to time the Belmonte Community employs - for the purposes of ritual slaughter only - the services of the previous Amishav rabbi, who has taken up residence in Oporto (by then Amishav has changed its name to Shavei-Israel).

April 19, 2005

A Jewish Museum is opened in Belmonte under the auspices of the national and local authorities and the Jewish Community.

September 2005

[Eve of Rosh Hashanah]: Dr. Dov Stuczynski’s Hebrew translation of Samuel Schwarz' book is published, with a comprehensive introduction about the author. See Bibliography under “Shmuel Schwarz” (in Hebrew).



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