A New Century

We’re in the early years of the new century. A time full of promise, because the galleons come back every month laden with spices from the Indies—the real Indies, that is. They bring gold from West Africa, and slaves to do the heavy lifting.

It’s the perfect economic model: cheap imports, a strong currency, and labor at a marginal cost—room and board. But there are a few social issues.

Slavery is one, but there are no international tribunals, and the Roman model of enslaving captives still thrives. Life is very cheap in Europe, for the most part—epidemics sporadically decimate the population, spreading rapidly in the cities, where open sewers and contaminated drinking water are a microbial paradise.

And apart from the economy, the newfound wealth, and the cosmopolitan lifestyle, there are other changes. King John has died—and oh how we miss him. The Perfect Prince, the man who had all the right answers, has been replaced by his cousin.

Worse yet, the cousin married a Castilian Infanta, the late king’s daughter-in-law. But there were strictures imposed by Infanta Isabel before consenting to the marriage.

The new king, Manoel the Fortunate, besotted with his bride, agreed to those conditions—in 1497 he ordered the mass expulsion of the Jews. The Spanish model, conjured up by the madman Torquemada, and his equally insane predecessor Vicente Ferrer, was transposed to Portugal—the Jews converted, fled, or died.

In the early years of the new century, the Black Death arrived in Lisbon. By Easter, the king had fled to Abrantes, a town on the north bank of the river, about twenty-five leagues from the capital.

Crowds took refuge in the monastery of São Domingos, in downtown Lisbon—outside the bodies lay on the street. No one understood this killer disease—the rich left town and the poor perished.

Throughout April, more people flocked to the monastery—perhaps hiding in the house of God would protect them, save them from a certain death. There were ‘Old Christians’ but also ‘New Christians’, the converted Jews who’d stayed in Portugal.

Easter came and went, and the plague continued, unstoppable—it had been raging for seven months.

The Sunday after Easter is known as Pascoela. It is the Octave Day of Easter, also known as Quasimodo, because the liturgy begins with the words Quasi modo geniti infantes.

This year Pascoela fell on April 19th, and what took place that afternoon is testimony of the unspeakable cruelty of the human race—we are truly the masters of death.

Downtown lisbon - the monument to Jews burnt at the stake to exorcise the plague.

Downtown Lisbon – the monument to thousands of Jews burnt in pyres to exorcise the plague.

A ‘New-Christian’, a marrano, sheltering in the convent, witnesses a light shining from the crucifix. He is not the only one—all around him, desperate people are hailing the flame as a sign from god, as a sign of hope and deliverance from the plague.

The marrano observes that the light is a reflection, and cries of heresy rise from those around him. The Jew is dragged outside by the hair, killed, and set on fire. Soon, the inflammatory speeches of two Dominican friars add to the flames—quite literally.

Christians go on the rampage, killing and burning, and killing by burning. For three days the carnage continues—as families are burnt, their possessions are looted. At the end of this rampage, over two thousand Jewish people have been murdered.

The monument in the square of São Domingos, just off the northeast corner of Rossio, has at its base an inscription from the Book of Job.

O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry never be laid to rest.

Within the Star of David, the words bear witness to the tragedy.

Em memória dos milhares de judeus vítimas da intolerância e do fanatismo religioso assassinados no massacre iniciado a 19 de Abril de 1506 neste largo.

In memory of the thousands of Jews, victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism, murdered in the massacre that began on April 19th 1506 in this square.

It is the beginning of a new century. It is the Year of Our Lord Two thousand and sixteen.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

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