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Vila Real


VILA REAL , town in N. central Portugal, in the province of Tras-os-Montes. Founded in the 13th century, it contains ancient architecture which exhibits Moorish influence. Vila Real became a Crypto-Jewish center after the forced conversions of 1497 (see *Portugal). The *Marranos there maintained their separate identity for four centuries, surviving the *Inquisition. Their survival was due in part to the character of the region – grapes for Porto's port wines are still grown there – which contributed to an independence of spirit and secretiveness. The Marranos narrowly won a contest of time against the Inquisition. For by 1718, when the Marranos had been effectively purged from the accessible coastal cities, the inquisitors began a systematic campaign into the hill country along the Spanish border. Concentrating on individual towns in the Tras-os-Montes, Beira and Alentejo provinces, the campaign extirpated the Crypto-Jewish center in upper Alentejo and prosperous industries collapsed as a result of the sudden decimation of the Marrano population. For 30 years the Marranos in a dozen towns throughout rural Portugal were sought out by the Inquisition, including Lamego (15 mi. south of Vila Real) and Braganza (to the north). By the 1750s, when Pombal suppressed the Inquisition, it had not yet reached Vila Real.

In 1928 the ex-Marrano Arturo Carlos de Barros *Basto visited Vila Real in an attempt to rouse the surviving Marranos to return to Judaism. Although he found that they feared to make a public declaration of their Jewish affiliation, he remained in touch with a nucleus of the Vila Real group. In 1930 he returned to found a Jewish congregation, under the presidency of Eugenio Cardoso. The Marranos in Vila Real then numbered a few hundred, out of a total population of 6,700. Its neo-Jewish community subsequently had but occasional contact with the Jewish world.


Roth, Marranos, 273, 345, 368; Portuguese Marrano Committee, Report for the Year 1928 (1929); idem, Marranos in Portugal (1938).

[Aaron Lichtenstein]

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