Dr. Pedro Basalar de Vasconcelos speaks at the dedication ceremony of the monument
Dr. Pedro Basalar de Vasconcelos speaks at the dedication ceremony of the monumentCIP/CJP

A 10-year-old girl, a 110-year-old woman and members of the Spinoza family were all recalled at a memorial service held earlier this week, on Sunday, in memory of those persecuted by the Inquisition in Portugal.

Cecilia Cardoso, 110, was the oldest citizen of Porto to be persecuted by the Inquisition and accused of practicing Jewish customs. A 10-year-old boy, monks, nuns, aristocrats, lawyers, rich and poor, young and old, were all born in Portugal’s second-largest city, where they also found their bitter ends due to persecution by the Portuguese Inquisition.

Similarly, three men from Spinoza's family were put before the Inquisition’s religious court and its methods of torture in 1544, 1620, and 1624. In 1632, the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam after his parents managed to escape Portugal and the horrors of the Inquisition.

These and other stories of victims of the Inquisition who were born in Porto are now taught by the Historical Research Department of the local Jewish community. A book on the subject will be published next year.

The dedication ceremony for the 842 victims of the Inquisition was held as part of the European Union Day for Jewish Culture, which is marked annually in the main European Jewish communities on the first Sunday in September. An impressive plaque bearing the victims’ names on the Porto Jewish Museum’s exterior wall was inaugurated in a moving ceremony attended by senior representatives from the European Union, members of the Jewish community in Porto and many guests who came from across the country and Europe to mark the day.

Speakers at the dedication ceremony were Dr. Michael Rothwell, Director of the Holocaust Museum and Jewish Museum of the Jewish Community of Porto, Dr. Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos, National Coordinator of the European Strategy to Combat Antisemitism and Promote Jewish Life in Portugal, and Dr. Sebastião Payão de Azevedo, President of the Municipal Assembly.

In his speech, Dr. Vasconcelos emphasized that “fear is something that Jewish communities have become accustomed to knowing and dealing with. Against the fear and hypocritical temptation of forgetfulness, we stand here today,” he declared. Dr. Azevedo spoke about the importance of the Jews in the history of humankind and their role in developing the city of Porto, including in the commercial and maritime sectors.

The Portuguese Inquisition operated in Portugal between 1536 and 1821 - almost three centuries during which Jewish religious belief was banned in Portugal.

“European Union Day for Jewish Culture” is an initiative of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage and the National Library of Israel, and is supported by the European Jewish Association (EJA) and B’nai B’rith International.

As part of the day, thousands of visitors visited the community’s institutions and were impressed by the displays at the Jewish Museum and Holocaust Museum. They also viewed an exhibition of paintings in the magnificent Kadoorie Mekor Haim Central Synagogue, and even tasted kosher and authentic Jewish food at the local restaurant, Iberia.

Members of the Jewish community in Porto at the monument's dedication ceremony
Members of the Jewish community in Porto at the monument's dedication ceremonyCIP/CJP