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«by Alexandra Eni Paiva Guerson de Oliveira A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Graduate ...»

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Coping with Crises: Christian –Jewish Relations in Catalonia and 

Aragon, 1380‐1391 



Alexandra Eni Paiva Guerson de Oliveira

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Graduate Department of History

University of Toronto

© Copyright by Alexandra Eni Paiva Guerson de Oliveira (2012)



Coping with Crises:

Christian –Jewish Relations in Catalonia and Aragon, 1380-1391 by Alexandra Eni Paiva Guerson de Oliveira Doctor of Philosophy Graduate Department of History University of Toronto 2012   This dissertation explores Christian-Jewish relations in the decades prior to the watershed of 1391, when Christian mobs throughout Castile and the Crown of Aragon killed or, more often, forcibly converted many Jews. My research indicates that the explosive violence of 1391 was not the predictable, inevitable result of growing interfaith animosity in the Crown of Aragon but was sparked by developments in Castile. Because of the resultant converso problem many historians consider 1391 to be a turning point in Iberian history. Yet historians have not closely explored Jewish-Christian interaction in the crucial later fourteenth century, particularly not in the Crown of Aragon, and have assumed, wrongly I believe, that the period following the Black Death (1348) saw a steady deterioration in the Jews’ relations with Christians. The first three chapters of the dissertation deal with the “crises” that marked late fourteenth-century Catalonia and Aragon. In the first chapter I outline the long-term precedents - the Black Death and successive wars – of the economic crisis that would follow.

The second chapter focuses on economic matters – the Jewish contribution to the economy as well as the impact of growing debt and the development of new credit mechanisms. Chapter three, in turn, focuses on the impact of increasing taxation on Jewish communities. The final three chapters explore ways in which Jews and Christians coped with crises: chapter four deals ii with sources of conflict within Jewish communities, chapter five with conflict between Jews and Christians, while the last chapter looks at conversion as a way of coping with the crises of the fourteenth century. Throughout, my research shows how Jews and their Christian neighbours and rulers developed strategies and means of coping with the effects of epidemic disease, famine, and frequent warfare. I pay particular attention at how the law became a mechanism for coping with the worsening of economic conditions.

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The seed from which this dissertation grew was planted in a seminar on Crime and Disorder in Medieval Society taught by Shannon McSheffrey at Concordia University, Montreal, in the Fall of 2002. Being of Iberian background, I originally resisted the pull towards Iberian history but I am glad its diversity and complexity proved too attractive to resist. I have to confess that four Montreal winters also helped moving to a field that required constant trips to Spain. A Canada Graduate Scholarship by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada enabled me to spend a year at the archives in Barcelona and Girona. An Ontario Graduate Scholarship and a grant from the Fond québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture supported the early stages of my doctoral degree. I would not have gone far at the archives without the patience and generosity of Joaquín García Porcar, Virginia Moreno García-Cano, Rosa Gregori i Roig, José Luis Cabo Pan, and endless conversations with Felix de la Fuente Andrés at the Archives of the Crown of Aragon. At the Historical Archive of the City of Girona, I could not have located certain volumes without the help of Albina Varés.

Mark Meyerson’s work attracted me to the University of Toronto, where his humanity, engagement, passion, and wisdom have served as an example during the eight years of my doctoral degree. His confidence in me kept me going when the challenges seemed insurmountable. My debt to him far exceeds what I can express here.

At the University of Toronto, I had the privilege of receiving some of the best training a medievalist could dream. Virginia Brown, A. G. Rigg, Jill Ross, Joseph Goering, all ensured I had the technical and linguistic skills necessary to access the archival sources upon which this dissertation is based. The credit for introducing me to the wonders of the Iberian world goes, oddly enough, to a historian of medieval England, Shannon McSheffrey, my undergraduate advisor. Kenneth Mills made the comprehensive exams a more enjoyable experience and

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Mori, Nicholas Everett, David Stiles, John Christopoulous, Julie Gilmour, and other members of the Premodern Discussion Group at the Department of History heard me present parts of this thesis and provided important feedback and encouragement. Natalie Oeltjen, Paola Tartakoff, Jamie Smith, Joanna Carraway, and Sara McDougall shared valuable information on conversion, Jewish history, or the intricacies of medieval law. More recently, Doris Bergen, Ariel Beaujot, Carol Chin, and other members of the history community at U of T have also provided encouragement at key moments.

My graduate school years were some of the best of my life and I owe much of that to the incredible friends I made in Toronto and Barcelona. My dearest friend Dana Wessell Lightfoot was a mentor from my very first visit to Toronto and has continued to be my wisest sounding board. She kept me afloat when I thought I would drown. A gifted teacher, I have to credit her any success I may have in the classroom.

In Barcelona, I will never forget the hospitality of Sebastian and Jacqueline Breitinger, Joy Henderson and Jesús Villagran, Sara Castro Benito and her husband Andrea. Pau Parès and Mireia Coma brought us into the heart of Catalonia and its wonderful people. I will never forget our lunch on the top of the mountain. Naomi Ebert Smith, an Aussie living in Barcelona, incorporated my husband and I to her incredibly diverse group of friends. The experience of twelve-hour lunches at Jackie & Sebastian’s in the company of twenty very smart and very funny people from around Catalonia, Spain, and the world will remain some of my fondest memories. Francesca D’Alfonso, Sylvie Rotter, Matt Green and Elena Santiago, Citlali Vazquez Echeverria, Andres (who taught me to make mate), Yaniré Andrade, Francisca Fonseca Pietro, Eli Alfaro, made the year in Barcelona a turning point in my life. Estrella (“la jefa”), Paco, and Kiko, at Estrella de Galicia, our neighbourhood bar, made us feel at home.

–  –  –

Bell, Hallie Fischel, Lizzie and Alfred, have become friends for life. Pam Pessoa, Veronica Heringer & Myke Ames, Otavio Gouvea and Atila Meira, Maureen Bitencourt, have reconnected me to my Brazilian roots. In Montreal, Norbert and Carole Manger, Gordon Knowles and Jean Schaeffer, Christine Picard, Jennifer Patterson, have remained the wisest friends anyone could want.

I probably would not have considered becoming an academic if not for the collegial atmosphere I found at Concordia University’s History department, led at the time by the very considerate and thoughtful Ronald Rudin. At Concordia, Graham Carr, Norman Ingram, Rosemary Schade, Franziska E. Shlosser, Dana Sajdi, Shannon McSheffrey, and Frank Chalk made every course I took both challenging and fascinating. The breadth and depth of my training there shaped my graduate career and when I began to teach, I was fortunate to be able to draw from the experience of so many gifted teachers. My classmates Geneviève Vallerand, Ingrid Ravary-Konopka, and James Dodson became life-long friends.

The writing of this dissertation coincided with the development of a rich café culture in Toronto. Over a period of four years, many of the chapters were sketched and written over countless hours in the many excellent independent cafés of this diverse city I now call home. I have to acknowledge the support of the wonderful staff at Manic Coffee, Te Aro, Crafted, B Espresso, Jet Fuel, Rooster Coffee House, Dark Horse, Seven Grams, and Pamenar. Thiago Trovo taught me much about coffee during the past few years and the baristas in Barcelona taught my husband and I to appreciate cortados, which Toronto baristas were happy to make for us.

I was fortunate to find the most collegial working environment at New College, at the University of Toronto, during the final year of my doctoral degree. At New College, I would like to acknowledge the encouragement of Yves Roberge, June Larkin, and Deborah Knott. At the International Foundation Program, Kevin Fray, Bruce Russel, Lily Kwiatkowski, Andrew

–  –  –

Tracy Manning, Ross Brooks, Hong Si, Tim Clarke could not have made for a more welcoming and positive working environment.

I am enormously grateful to my family in Brazil. My parents Marcos Heleno Guerson de Oliveira and Zilmar Bezzi Paiva Guerson de Oliveira raised me for the world. My older brother Marcos Jr taught me to read and write when I was four and instilled in me a love of books and of learning. My younger brother Marcelo did not want to have anything to do with books but patiently suffered through endless lessons as we played “school” and I discovered my love of teaching. I owe special debt to my late grandmother, Heloisa Bezzi, who turned her back to a life of leisure in search of a life of meaning. She went to university in a day and place when few women did, and faced any difficulty life threw at her with unfaltering strength.

Ultimately, however, I could not have found the confidence or energy to write this dissertation without the unwavering support of my soul mate, Alan Bell. To say that his positive attitude and love of life were crucial would be an understatement (although I could have done without the text messages about the state of the beach in Barcelona while I was buried in the archives). This dissertation is for him.

–  –  –

Table of Contents  Abbreviations


Part I – The onset of crises Chapter 1: Death and taxes: plague and war at the end of the 14th century

Chapter 2: Jewish work, the economy, and the changing nature of debt

Chapter 3: The murder of Baruch Alentenç: royal taxation and the Jews

Part II – Coping with crises Chapter 4: Jews and the royal court: autonomy and acculturation

Chapter 5: Coping with debt: Christian-Jewish conflict in the royal courts

Chapter 6: Seeking remission: Jews, Christians, and converts




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Baer, Regesten Baer, Yitzhak. Die Juden im christlichen Spanien, Erster Teil. Urkunden und Regesten. Farnborough: Gregg, 1970.

Baer, History Baer, Yitzhak. A history of the Jews in Christian Spain Philadelphia:

Jewish Publication Society of America, 1992.

–  –  –

Escribà Escribà Bonastre, Gemma Escribà Bonastre and M. Pilar Frago Pérez, Documents dels jueus de Girona (1124-1595): Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat, Arxiu Diocesà de Girona (Girona: Ajuntament de Girona, 1992).

–  –  –

The summer of 1391 marked a turning point for the Jews of the Iberian peninsula. The longstanding (and often romanticized) co-existence between Christians and Jews was shattered when the masses of Seville, agitated by the archdeacon of Ecija, Fernán Martínez, attacked the local Jewish community. Two synagogues were converted into churches and hundreds of Jews lay dead or converted to Christianity.1 Had it remained confined to Seville, the episode would perhaps have been relegated to annals of local or micro history. News of the attacks, however, spread like wildfire and within a week similar attacks took place everywhere in the archdioceses of Seville. Ten days later it spread to the bishoprics of Cordoba and Toledo. Within the next two months it would reach the great Jewish communities of Valencia, Barcelona, and Girona, among others. 2 In a post 9-11 world in which religious conflict is often on the front page of our newspapers, it is tempting to see this violence as inevitable. This is particularly the case when 1 The contemporary chronicler Pedro López de Ayala lists the numbers killed in Seville as “more than 4,000”. Cited in José María Monsalvo Antón, Teoría y evolución de un conflicto social: el antisemitismo en la Corona de Castilla en la baja edad media (Madrid, 1985), 259. See also Emilio Mitre Fernández, Los judíos de Castilla en tiempo de Enrique III: el pogrom de 1391 (Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, 1994); Julio Valdeón Baruque, Los judíos de Castilla y la revolución Trastámara (Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, 1968); El chivo expiatorio : judíos, revueltas y vida cotidiana en la Edad Media (Valladolid: Ambito, 2000).

2 In addition to the studies of 1391 in Castile, cited above, see for the Crown of Aragon Jaume Riera i Sans, “Los tumultos contra las juderías de la Corona de Aragón en 1391,” Cuadernos de Historia: Anexos de la Revista “Hispania” 8 (1977): 213-225; For the violence in Valencia see Mark D. Meyerson, A Jewish Renaissance in Fifteenth-Century Spain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 22-64; Hinojosa Montalvo, The Jews of the Kingdom of Valencia: From Persecution to Expulsion, 1391-1492 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1993), 21-46;

for a still persuasive study of the social and economic context of the violence in Barcelona see Philippe Wolff, “The 1391 Pogrom in Spain. Social Crisis or Not?,” Past and Present 50 (1971): 4Jaume Riera offers a detailed study of the attacks in the city of Girona in “Els avalots del 1391 a Girona,” in Actes de les jornades d’història dels jueus a Catalunya (Girona: Ajuntament de Girona, 1990), 95-159; Yitzhak Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1992; originally published 1966), 2: 99-102.

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