1492 Reconsidered: Religious and Social Change in Fifteenth Century Ávila

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Johns Hopkins University
This dissertation is an assessment of the impact of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 on the city of Ávila, in northwestern Castile. The expulsion was the culmination of a series of policies set forth by Isabel I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon regarding Jewish-Christian relations. The monarchs invoked these policies in order to bolster the faith and religious praxis of Catholics in the kingdoms, especially those Catholics newly converted from Judaism. My work shows how the implementation of these strategies began to fracture the heretofore relatively convivial relations between the confessional groups residing in Ávila. A key component of the Crown’s policies was the creation of a Jewish quarter in the city, where previously, Jews had lived wherever they chose. This transformation of a previously shared civic place to one demarcated clearly by religious affiliation, i.e. the creation of both Jewish and Christian space, had a visceral impact on how Christians related to their former neighbors, and hostilities between the two communities increased in the closing decades of the fifteenth century. Yet at the same time, Jewish appeals to the Crown for assistance in the face of harassment and persecution were almost always answered positively, with the Crown intervening several times on behalf of their Jewish subjects. This seemingly incongruous attitude reveals a key component in the relationship between the Crown and Jews: the “royal alliance.” My work also details how invoking that alliance came at the expense of the horizontal alliances between Abulense Jews and Christians, and only fostered antagonism between the confessional groups. Ultimately, this antagonism was resolved by the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. But rather than plunge the community into a decline, the expulsion had no immediate detrimental effect on the city; rather, post-1492 Ávila experienced economic and social growth.  
European History, Medieval History, Spanish History, Christian-Jewish Social Relations