Legend: Text in blue =Subject connected with Judaism,

orange = Dual rites, in different religions, brown = Bibliographical reference


from:  Feathers, angels, scales  -  sacred matters,

chapters 1-6: Sociological research [1994-2000 & on]
on Marrano-descendants in Belmonte, along with personal impressions
[1994-2007] of the researcher


Sara Molho (2001)


1.       Rainbows

2.      Angels

3.       “Ave de Pena”

4.       Marrano Kippur and Passover

5.       Kinds of Scales & Ladders

6.       Guttman-Scale Analysis




2.                  Angels


Translated from Hebrew by Mark Elliott Shapiro (2007)


For the past 500 years and up to this very day, even after most of them have converted to Judaism, the atmosphere among the descendants of the Marranos, or crypto-Jews, in Belmonte is such that they still anticipate the occurrence of a miracle at every moment. Their daily routine assumes the constant presence of a whole flock of angels who, in their view, have been sent by God to watch and protect them, in most cases because the Marranos themselves have requested their presence.


According to the Marranos, their custom not to emerge from their homes on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (since a synagogue is not part of the Marrano way of life, the home becomes the sole place where true communion with God can be achieved) stems from the fear that they might weary their “guardian angel” in their sallies on such a holy day.[1] Thus, in the first years following their conversion, they would remain in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, or Dia Kipure in their language, for the entire day (see below Noite Kipura); they even tried to impose on me this prohibition on going outside. They cite this heavenly presence and its great sensitivity as the reasons for their extreme reluctance at having strangers join them in their ceremonies. They fear that strangers could confuse the descending angels or even prevent the Marrano matrons from correctly performing their ceremonies, which require total concentration on the part of both the worshipers and the invisible entities who respond to their calls. This is the explanation I was given concerning the secrecy surrounding their hanuccat habayit (house-warming) ceremony, for example. Apparently, this explanation is what lay behind their initial rejection in the late 1980s of Frederic Brenner's request to film the Marrano ceremony of baking matzot (unleavened bread eaten on Passover). Only after they were explicitly promised that the filming would stop immediately if the matron felt that “she was forced to ask us to leave” and only after they were promised that “we would not be angry” if and when leaving the room, did they change their mind and agree to the filming.[2]


The Marranos thus customarily turn to the “upper worlds” at every possible moment, in their daily prayers, or in the special prayers composed for any difficulty or distressful situation they might encounter. They do so – either directly addressing God or appealing to his messengers, the various angels – and sometimes, when appealing directly to such mediators, they use the second person plural  (an element that can rarely be found in normative, rabbinic or halakhic, Judaism, where, if they are referred to at all, the angels are spoken of in third person plural). Nearly every event in their lives – such as, for instance, the tolling of a church clock or the rumble of thunder – is “covered” by a special prayer. In these two instances, the appeal is made directly to God.[3] I know for a fact that, although they were documented in the past from oral testimony by Marranos, some of the prayers that address a specific event have not yet been published, because of the respect researchers like David Canelo felt for the value that their research subjects (who were also their friends) so deeply cherished – namely, secrecy.


Sometimes, the Marranos turn to the angels, directly and in second person plural, addressing angels in general:


Anjos benditos, profetas, patriarcas, monarcas deante do Senhor...”


“May you, most welcome angels, prophets, patriarchs, and kings serve the Lord.[4]



However, frequently, they will address their private angel, namely, their guardian angel:


"Anjo da minha guarda

não te apartes de mim.

O Senhor te dê bons dias

e tu anjo mos daras a mim.

Anjo da minha guarda,

anjo bem aventurado,

te peco e rogo,

que o Senhor me livre do pecado.”


My guardian angel,

Please do not abandon me.

May God grant you good days

And may you, o angel, convey them to me.

My guardian angel,

O angel whose lot has been blessed,

I ask you, I beseech you,

May God deliver me from sin.”[5]




"Anjo da minha guarda,

anjo, estas tu por ai?

O Senhor te dê boas tardes

e tu anjo das-mas a mim.

Anjos que o Senhor me deu

para a minha guia

e para a minha companhia…”


My guardian angel,

O angel, are you there?

May God grant you good evenings,

And may you, o angel, convey them to me.

O angel, whom God has granted me

To guide me

And to serve as my companion....”[6]


Sometimes, the appeal is made to “celebrity-angels,” whose fame and special functions are praised by everyone, such as the holy Angel Raphael, a much beloved angel among the Marranos, who became aware of his unique talents through the apocryphal Tobit, or Book of Tobias:


Anjo S. Rafael bendito, que assistes ao meo Senhor,

peco-te anjo bendito, sendo omeo advogado,

faze-me esse favor, sendo o meo amparo fiel,

para pedires e rogares ao grande Deus de Israel,

que me guarde a mim e todas as minhas pressas e nececssidades…”


“Holy, blessed Angel Raphael, you who stand before God,

I beseech[7] you, o blessed angel, be my advocate,

Give me a good omen, and be my faithful shield,

So that you may beseech from and implore the great God of Israel

To guard me and my person and see to all my day-to-day needs....”[8]


In the eyes of the descendants of the crypto-Jews of Belmonte, anticipating the appearance of the seraphim and cherubim that populate their beautiful prayers - is completely realistic, and their existence is an unquestionable fact. Their conversion in the early 1990s did not change this attitude.[9] In any case, I myself heard with my own ears the phrase “seraphim and cherubim” in the secret prayers to which I was made privy by the elderly Marrano matrons who had not converted to Judaism. This happened in the home of Maria-Fernanda Rodrigo, during the preparation of the “holy, blessed wicks” for the memorial candles lit on the eve of Yom Kippur ( just before “Noite Kipura” in their language). A similar, but by no means identical, prayer has been documented by Schwarz:


 “…Anjos, archanjos, serafis, cherubins, patriarchas, monarchas…”


 “…O angels, ministering angels, cherubim, patriarchs, kings....”[10]


This was not the prayer that I heard while the wicks were being prepared. However, in all the prayers that various scholars have heard at various times from the mouths of matrons, there is always a hierarchy of celestial and earthly entities.


The clandestine, lengthy domestic ceremony I witnessed with the Rabino's wife in Maria-Fernanda's home on two occasions – in  1994 and 1995 respectively – was also attended by her sister Anna and her nieces, all of whom are Marranos who have not converted to Judaism, as well as by Maria-Fernanda's daughter, Beilinha, with whom we are already acquainted (in chapter 1). Although Beilinha had converted, she came to help her mother prepare the sanctified wicks, in accordance with Marrano tradition. The ceremony is performed only by women; in the course of the ceremony, the men (except for the very elderly or the ill) were supposed to protect us by standing guard outside.


-  You can show these photographs (there are many such illustrative photographs in this and other chapters – S.M.), if you wish, but only in Israel, even on Israeli television, but not in the foreign press or on foreign television stations! - Maria-Fernanda told me, solemnly demanding that I promise to follow her instructions. The reason is that, in the not-so-distant past, in the 1980s, several of the crypto-Jews of Belmonte suffered because of their exposure in a film about them that was shown throughout Europe. Naturally, this matron was unaware of the late-twentieth-century concept of the global village, of the possibilities of copying and replication, or of exchange agreements between television broadcasting stations. Well, my dear Maria-Fernanda, I have kept my promise to you! Even when I publicize your rituals in the very heart of the Land of Israel, I make a point of concealing the women’s respective identities whether through the use of fictitious names or whether through the blurring of the faces of the women appearing in the photographs. Please consider this a token of my immense gratitude to you for the generous hospitality you showed me, a stranger, when you took me under your wing. True, you did not always remember that I was an Israeli (sometimes you thought I was from Spain, not Jerusalem), but you never failed to define me as “one of us, one of the family” (that is, a true Jew, like the Marranos themselves).


This ceremony of preparing the wicks precedes by several days the holy day of Yom Kippur,[11] although each family holds it at a different time. The most important of these prayers is recited 73 times for each wick, and the number of wicks corresponds to the number of family members – those who are still living and the deceased who should be memorialized. The reason for the lengthiness of the ceremony is this abundance of prayers. There are also brief prayers each of which is customarily recited three, five or seven times.[12] When repeating the short prayers each of which they traditionally recite three to seven times, the women would bend their fingers in the counting process. A different method is employed when the prayer is recited the maximum number of times, that is, 73. For that level of counting, preliminary preparations are required and they entail the placing of two small bowls on the table. One of them contains a large amount of chickpeas, each of which is noisily dropped into the second bowl each time the prayer is recited, for a total of 73 times. The Marrano women explain that 73 is the number of God's names, as is stated in their prayers. However, in normative Judaism, the accepted number of God's names is 72.[13]


Counting process where fingers are used, 1995

Counting process where chickpeas are used, 1994


In the same prayer that the women customarily recited the maximum number of times, that is 73, the seraphim and cherubim were included in the opening text, in a hierarchy descending from God himself, only a very few of whose names – including Adonai – were mentioned, the only Hebrew word that clearly survived among the Marranos. As both the Rabino’s wife and I recalled, immediately after the reference to God himself, there was a reference to the Angel Raphael, whose full name was mentioned, followed by the reference to the cherubim and seraphim. From the various levels of angels to the various levels of mortals: further down in this hierarchy were the prophets, who headed the list of the mortals (and were not excluded this time). Following them, in descending order, were the other mortals: patriarchs, kings, etc.


Unfortunately, while listening to the prayers, I was unable to write them down. As noted above, in an unusual gesture, I had been given permission to take pictures of the two ceremonies, and, content to do that and no more, I did not want to make things any harder for the Marranos, who were troubled to the point of despair by the presence of strangers who interfered with the Marranos' flock of angels, and perhaps with another flock of transparent “tiny souls” in whose existence they believed.[14]


Different stages in the ceremony of
preparing the holy and blessed wicks, 1994


A few days after the ceremony in 1995, the Rabino, his wife and I tried, together with Beilinha, to reconstruct the prayers each of which was recited the maximum number of times (73). These are the prayers that she recited yearly throughout her life in her mother's home. However, in comparison with what the Rabino's wife and I had heard repeatedly in 1994 and 1995, and despite her willingness to help, the memory of Maria-Fernanda's daughter – who herself was, as noted above, a middle-aged woman – proved very faulty. What she recalled and what her husband Ricardo recorded in writing before our eyes (see below) did not reflect what we had both heard with our own ears! For his part, the husband was unable to help us in the reconstruction work, because, of course, his function had always been to protect the women worshipers by being on guard outside. In 1994, he did so as he sat, with such seeming innocence, in the coffee shop located on the ground floor, while, in 1995, he did so from his factory and by means of a cellular phone, an innovation that had just reached Belmonte. The failed attempt to reconstruct this beautiful, moving prayer immediately brought home to me both the problems involved in the transfer of a purely oral tradition and the important function of recitations conducted over and over so many times. The much-repeated recitations are intended to ensure that the daughters will remember over the years the text of the long and/or particularly important prayers recited in their mother's home. The number of repeated recitations for the shorter prayers could, of course, be smaller without any fear that the daughters' memory might betray them.




Document: The (relatively unsuccessful) attempt to reconstruct, in

Ricardo Vaz-Nunes’ handwriting, the prayer recited by his wife Beilinha


In light of all the above, I felt as if sometimes dozens of angels were clustered around me, as I walked through the streets of the Judaria; they were transparent, of course, but they certainly existed. Let us assume that the guardian angels of my friends were very near to my person, so much so that I sometimes feared that I would step on their toes by accident. It is thus not surprising that, in this Marrano atmosphere, I could imagine that, in their ardent desire to respond to any urgent request from Belmonte, the angels did not require any Jacob's Ladder or any other biblical/heavenly means of transportation; they could simply slide down from the heavens straight into our world riding atop ... the colors of the rainbow, just like the trained firefighters (bombeiros), whose presence is so prominent, and so audible, in rural regions like Belmonte (if in Portugal the firefighters slide down the fire-station poles, as in American films.) What is certain is that rainbows are readily available in Belmonte's skies. In any event, it seems to me that their frequency and the confidence that they will appear sometimes exceeds the expectations regarding the arrival of the rural buses that travel between the various villages and which we, mortals who have not yet learned how to fly, require in order to get around. And we can all be grateful that the bus service has recently improved considerably.


In the past, it was customary
to tear the linen into wicks by hand
and not to cut it using a sharp instrument.


© All rights reserved to Sara Molho, 2001

Publication of this article is permitted, but without changes,
and with the stipulation that full mention is made of the source:


[1] Garcia (1993), p. 73, and Garcia (1999), p. 207.

[2] See Steinhardt (1990). In the English translation of that article (1994/5), the author quotes phrases that were uttered by this matron at the time and which, according to my experience, are congruent with the secret dialogue conducted with the "upper worlds".  On that occasion, the dialogue was carried out through angel-mediators and similar beings: "There is much more to it…. Even more…. than what I am going to tell you".

[3] Readers might recall prayers in normative Judaism recited on the occasion of thunder and lightning: "Blessed is He whose power and heroism fill the world/Blessed is He who created the universe." The Marrano prayers referred to are cited by Samuel  Schwarz (1925/1993), nos. 66-67,  p. 98; Nahum Slouschz (1932) translated them into Hebrew and changed the numbering to 67-68 (p. 171 of his book). 

[4] This prayer appears in Schwarz (1993), p. 102, as no. 74 and in Slouschz (1932) as no. 75 (on p. 74); it relates to the lighting of the Sabbath candles. It is interesting to note the importance of the hierarchy of sanctity presented here.

[5] David Canelo (1995), p. 20.

[6] Canelo (1995), p. 22 (in both cases, the translation into Hebrew is my own – S.M.).

[7] The masculine gender in the Hebrew translation does not exist in the original. In Portuguese, the first-person pronoun is not gender-tagged; furthermore, among the Marranos, prayers are recited primarily by women. See the extensive discussion of this topic in the chapter about female or male rabbis on this website, namely: Marrano “Matron Rabbis” or Rabbis? See also discussion in C. B. Stuczynski’s preface(2005)  to S. Schwarz’s (1925) translation into Hebrew, pp. 71-72

[8] Oracão de S. Rafael, p. 79; Schwarz (1993), no. 34; in Hebrew: Slouschz  (1932), p. 153.

[9] In effect, even in the liturgy of halakhic Judaism in recent generations, angels are referred to as advocates. Before the Mussaf (additional) prayer service on Rosh Hashanah (New Year), the following prayer is recited in some congregations: “May it be your will, o Lord our God, that these angels emerging from the shofar (ram’s horn) will ascend … to stand before the throne of your glory and will serve as our advocates….” However, as noted above, the reference is in third-person plural. In other versions of this prayer, the names of God, not angels, emerge from the shofar. On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the following prayer is recited: ““May it be your will … that all the angels … will bring my prayer before the throne of your glory….”

[10] No. 41 in Schwarz (1993), p. 86 and Slouschz (1932), p. 159. It should be noted that the prophets are visibly absent from the list.

[11] This is contrary to what is cited in Garcia (1993), p. 71, and in Garcia, (1999), p. 207. In both footnotes, she claims that the ceremony is held on Yom Kippur eve. I therefore tend to assume that she herself was not present at these ceremonies.

[12] In normative Judaism as well, in the Ne’ilah (closing) prayer service on Yom Kippur, there are similar multiplications: Whereas the Shema Yisrael (Hear, o Israel) prayer is recited once, the phrase Baruch shem kevod malkhuto l’olam va’ed (Blessed is the name of the glory of his kingdom forever) is recited three times and the phrase Adonai hu ha’elohim (God is the Lord) is recited repeatedly seven times. Furthermore, in the normative Yom Kippur liturgy, there are five sets of prayer services. In Belmonte, Schwarz found that the Marranos similarly have five unique sets of prayer services on that day.

[13] See the discussion in Schwarz (1993), pp. 39-40, on this subject. Schwarz attributes a possible kabbalistic basis for the Marrano tradition of reciting this prayer 73 times. On this website, see the explanation of that phenomenon in Inacio Steinhardt’s article.

[14] In Brenner’s film and in Garcia’s book (1993), p. 81, which document the same era in the late 1980s, there is an identical scene involving additional spiritual-transparent entities, in whose existence the Marranos believe. These are the alminhas (the word is a diminutive of almas, souls). C. B. Stuczynski and I. Steinhardt (in personal interviews conducted to clarify certain points in early 2002) state that this is an ancient belief in Portugal, which the Marranos also hold, about the existence of wandering souls in this world. According to that belief, these souls, which have been returned from the next world, can cause much harm. However, in the course of my years of research, I have never heard of any report concerning such beings. Not even once! Could the reason be that the alminhas were viewed as a tradition alien to the spirit of halakhic Judaism, which those with whom I came in contact thought I represented?


© All rights reserved to Sara Molho, 2001

Publication of this article is permitted, but without changes,
and with the stipulation that full mention is made of the source: