José María Perceval


Este artículo está publicado en una versión en castellano



Imagen del Santo Niño de La Guardia que sale en procesión cada 27 de septiembre en este pueblo toledano. 

"For centuries there had been tales that during Holy Week the Jews crucified a Christian child in the same way that they had crucified Christ. This time it was believed - not by the inquisitors, whom it was difficult to deceive, but by the people. The story of the Holy Child of La Guardia was the pretext with which those who were demanding the expulsion of the Jews extorted the consent of Isabel:", Pierre Chaunu, 1492. 1'année de 1'Espagne, L'Histoire

On each side of the gateway to the cloisters of Toledo Cathedral Francisco Bayeu (1734-95) painted a fresco that is more or less incomprehensible to the tourists buying their postcards nearby at the stall by the entrance. On the right an evil‑looking man is dragging a boy away, presumably kidnapping him. On the left his captors gloat at the crucifixion of the same child. The most ancient and widely‑established of all folktales is that of the bogeyman, the ogre who eats children, the vampire that sucks the blood of the innocent (a myth found from China to America), whether he is Saturn or, popular with us in Spain, King Herod. This nightmare is the basis of our most morbid lullabies.

Why is it that since the Middle Ages, 1171 to be precise, Jews have been the main victims of such accusations, which have led to the massacre of their ghettos in revenge? What aim could these periodic thefts of children have had? And who was this Holy Child of La Guardia a small town near Toledo, who has been the subject of one of the largest subgroups of the works on this disagreeable topic.

A Long History

In his list of the eighteen most common accusations against the Jews, Amador de los Rios (1818‑78) put at number six: "in memory of the death they inflicted on Jesus, they sacrifice Christian children or youths on Good Friday by crucifying them and drinking their blood.".

Nineteenth‑century researchers such as Salomon Reinach attributed such accusations to mere popular credulity, pointing out that such charges were frequently brought against the Christians during the period of the early church by pagans who did not understand the communion rite. The Jews had simply inherited a pre‑existing delusion. Gaetz tells us that the first charge of ritual murder was made at Blois during a quarrel between Isabelle the rejected wife of Count Theobald of Champagne 1, and Pulceline, his Jewish mistress. The accused was put in a boat on the River Loire to submit the truth of the charge to the judgement of God but, unfortunately, the boat failed to sink, so 34 men and 17 women were burnt alive on 20th Sivan (26th May 1171).

Gavin I. Langmuir comments that the charge has been repeated ever since 1144 and mentions the famous English case of Hugh of Lincoln in 1255. Alain Boureau speaks of a reign of terror after the Third Crusade, when the charge spread beyond France, entering the Holy Roman Empire where it led to 27 deaths in Mainz in 1283. In 1285 the charge of ritual murder was responsible for the slaughter of 127 victims in Munich. In 1286 the murder of a man called "good Werner" sparked off massacres in Boppard and Oberwesel near Bacharach. Emperor Rudolph I, frightened by the extent of this collective hysteria, tried to halt the flight of Jews with the laws of 1286, which temporarily restrained the wave of terror.

Three children were drowned at Vienna in Austria in 1420, which, in conjunction with the rumoured sale of a consecrated host to a rich Jew by the verger of Ems, unleashed a fresh catastrophe. In 1421 Archduke Albert arrested all the Jews of Vienna and, to calm things down, burnt a hundred of them. The same thing happened in Trent when Simon, a boy of three, drowned in the River Adige in 1475. After the resulting massacre a statue of the child was erected in Frankfurt am Main on the Saxenhausen Bridge. The problem spread to Passau in 1478 and Regensburg in 1480 following other supposed thefts of the consecrated host.

So it went on for centuries, with a progressive reduction in bloodshed, although there was always a latent threat of massacre whenever a Christian child disappeared or died in strange circumstances, especially during the days following Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. At the end of the last century L'Osservatore Catolico, an Italian magazine, collected 150 recorded cases of Jewish ritual crimes, all of them "scientifically proved"! Even at the beginning of the twentieth century Thomas Masaryk, later President of Czechoslovakia, had to act as counsel in the defence of a Jew accused of ritual murder. Nazism of course pounced on this Catholic delusion, filling books ad nauseam with such propaganda.

What about Spain?

"Since we hear it said that in some places Jews have celebrated and do celebrate Good Friday by mocking the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, stealing children and crucifying them or, when it is impossible to obtain children, making wax images and crucifying them, we command that, if henceforth it come to light that any such act be done in any place in our dominions and the same be proved, all those persons who were present at such an act shall be taken, guarded well, and brought before the King, who, having confirmed the truth of the matter, shall put them all to a most humiliating death.", Alfonso X the Wise, Siete Partidas, VII, XXIV, law 2

Juan Antonio Llorente (1756‑1823) explains: "The unbaptized Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, Torquemada and all the members of the Holy Office playing an important part in this decision. They quoted the legal code, the Siete Partidas, issued by Alfonso X in 1255, which said that the Jews had a custom of stealing Christian children to crucify them on Good Friday in imitation of the events in Jerusalem. They went on to list examples: the case of St. Domingo de Val, a Saragossan child crucified in 1250; the theft and desacration of a consecrated host in Segovia in 1406; the conspiracy in Toledo in 1445 to dig a mine and fill it with gunpowder under the streets through which the Corpus Christi procession was to pass; that at Tabara, a place between Zamora and Benavente, to scatter caltrops in the streets where the Christians were planning to pass barefoot and nail up the doors and set fire to the houses where they lived; the kidnapping and crucifixion of a Christian child in Valladolid in 1452; an identical case in a village of the Marquess of Almarza's lordship near Zamora in 1454; the sacrilegious vandalism of a cross at Puerto del Gamo in the open countryside between El Casar and Granadilla in the diocese of Coria in 1488; the kidnapping in 1489 of the child of La Guardia and his crucifixion in 1490; the attempt to commit a similar crime frustrated by the authorities in Valencia, and other similar cases; together with the numerous deaths of Christians blamed on Jewish physicians, surgeons and pharmacists who abused their trust, in particular the murder of Henry III of Castile by his doctor Don Mair."

This astounding rigmarole of accusations had been foreshadowed in a book by a New Christian 2 friar, Alonso de la Espina Fortalitium Fidei. Against Jews, Saracens and Other Enemies of the Christian Faith (1459), a horrifying catalogue of charges, listing events in Tabara, Toro, Avila, Segovia and other places, supporting with specific cases his belief that the Jews ritually slaughtered innocent children on Good Friday and desecrated the consecrated host. He included certain events of his own time which, he said, he had witnessed while collecting material to write the Fortalitium between 1454 and 1457.

The atmosphere was tense. Colmenares in his Historia de Segovia (1637) relates: "Christmas was being celebrated peacefully by the Christians in 1468 when their tranquillity was disturbed by the infuriating news that the Jews of the ghetto of Sepulveda, counselled by their rabbi, Salomon Picho, had taken a Christian child, conveyed him to an extremely secluded place, submitted him to all sorts of humiliations and brutalities and, finally, killed him by crucifixion in the same way as their ancestors had done with Our Saviour. When these facts became known, they came to the attention of the Bishop of Segovia, Don Juan Arias Dávila ‑ a New Christian  and son of Henry IV of Castile's Accountant General. Don Juan, following the usual policy of the converts, insisted on the punishment of the accused when they were brought to Segovia, so as many as sixteen of them were burnt alive, while the rest were hanged after being dragged through the streets. This harsh punishment did not however appease the people of Sepulveda. On learning that their bishop had been satisfied with so little, they took up arms and made a surprise attack on the Jewish quarter, slaughtering the majority of its inhabitants in their own houses. Some saved themselves by flight but, when they sought refuge in the neighbouring towns and villages, they found that news of their crime had preceded them, causing similar suspicions and accusations everywhere." Given such examples, it is not surprising that Friar Tomas de Torquemada should have organized the affair of the Holy Child of La Guardia twenty years later in order to eliminate the Jews from Spain for ever.

In the sixteenth century, when there was no longer any Jewish community, the accusations against them, including that of ritual murder, were transferred to the Moriscos. The rumour spread that, in order to avoid baptism, the Moriscos would select one baby from among those of their religion, thus avoiding the admission of the others to the Christian faith. The consequence seemed logical: when the selected child reached "the age of reason" and could no longer serve for a repeat baptism, he would be eliminated in a monstrous ritual for being a multiple Christian.

In a hysterical report sent by Arias Gallego, Inquisitor of Saragossa, to th Inquisitor‑General, Diego Tavera, he added to the usual charges against the Moriscos (keeping Ramadan, circumcision, praying and, least frequent of them, proselytising) a novel one: "besides this, there have been some who killed an Old Christian 3 child out in the country as a sacrifice to Mohammed.”

The Trial of 1491 and the Expulsion of 1492

"All of us who were in the cave crucified the boy on a cross we made of stakes." Confession of Yuce Franco, Avila, interrogation of 19th July 1491, afternoon.

The Inquisition functioned according to a fixed programme, which subsequent investigations and discoveries had to conform to. Arrests and sentences were the result of the lists of sins to be ferreted out, just as in any other old‑style police operations. The preliminaries of the case of the Holy Child of La Guardia are very complicated, but it seems that it all began with the disappearance of a child in Toledo during the Corpus Christi procession or that of the Assumption of the Virgin. The confusion      about the start of the inquiry is so great that, though the child is said to have been baptized in the church of San Andres de Toledo, his origin was Aragonese, causing several historians to confuse La Guardia with a town of the same name in the Rioja (Alava), while some mention the one in Jaen Province and others the one in the Province of Toledo. The child was called Juan according to the earliest documents but later the more Christ‑like name of Christobal was preferred. So as not to get in a muddle, the chroniclers therefore chose to call him the Holy Child of La Guardia, a generic name for a child who may have never existed, either dead or alive.

According to confessions extracted under torture, the Holy Child was three or four years old when kidnapped at the Puerta del Perdon in Toledo, but some preferred the age of seven as marking the boundary between the age of childish innocence and that of reason.

The events had purportedly taken place in 1489 and the trial began on 17th December 1490. It was between 6th June and 19th July 1490 that Tomas de Torquemada ordered the arrest of Yuce Franco and his alleged accomplices, whose cases he intended to judge "in person or by such person or persons as are properly informed about them to whom we may entrust the hearing of the cases." The accused persons were of varied origin, a fact that reveals the inquisitors' desire to implicate the various ghettos and Jewish groups of Castile in a single network of conspiracy.

What could have inspired this abduction and the subsequent murder? According to the record of the trial the accused believed that, by mingling the blood of the child with a consecrated host, they could poison the wells, thus causing the death of the inquisitors. They had been recommended to do this by the Grand Rabbinate of France! All the participants were Jews and New Christians of Jewish origin fearful of justice for having "lapsed into their former religion". Despite exhaustive search no body was ever found in the cave where the boy was supposed to have been tortured to death, and the reason most frequently given for this failure on the part of the authorities is that the Holy Child had, of course, ascended to Heaven after his martyrdom.

The detained Jews and New Christians confessed that they had taken the child to La Guardia because of the town's similarity to the landscape of Palestine. This, though it may seem weird to us, was the principal evidence in the trial: "Since the place was geographically like, and had geologically similar surroundings to, those places in Asia that saw the birth and death of the incarnate Son of God when He made His pilgrimage to redeem humanity, the rite would there have more similarity to, and would gain more realistic force from, that great event which lives for ever in the memory of every generation and epoch."

The similarity of this district to Judea was defended by Friar Antonio de Guzmán using maps and the irrefutable evidence provided by divine revelations granted to his saintly colleague, Simon de Roxas. To confirm the verisimilitude of the crime, were that necessary, each of the butchers played the role of one of the personages in the gospel story of the Passion (Judas, Pilate, the High Priest, etc.), while the unhappy child took the main part, Jesus Christ.

A recent historian, Luis Suarez Fernandez, tells us: "The Inquisition proceedings began on 17th December 1490 and ended on 16th November of the following year with the execution of all the accused men: two Jews ‑ Yuce Franco of Tembleque, and Moshe Abenamias of Zamora; and six New Christians ‑ Alonso, Lope, Garcia and Juan Franco, Juan Ocaña and Benito Garcia, all of them residents of La Guardia in the diocese of Toledo. The declarations of the condemned men, both under torture and when free from it, seem to show that in fact two crimes were committed at La Guardia: desecration of a consecrated host, which the New Christians bought so as to practice magic that would save them from the Inquisition, and the ritual murder of a child crucified on Good Friday."

With an interesting mixture of ingenuousness and brutality Anton Gonzalez, notary of the town of Avila, described the execution of Benito Garcia de las Mesuras from La Guardia on 17th November 1491: "Thanks be to God, I can inform you that he died a Christian and a Catholic, and I had him strangled (at the stake before he was burnt). Juan de Ocana and Juan Franco also showed much faith and penitence. They died professing their belief in God and acknowledging their crimes, and I hope that God may have mercy on their souls. The others died as good Jews, tortured with red‑hot pincers (and burnt alive over a slow fire). They denied their cruel crimes and called neither on God nor on the Virgin Mary, not even making the sign of the Cross. Do not intercede with God for them, since their sepulchre is in Hell."

This notary, Anton Gonzalez, who participated in the proceedings, taking down the depositions of the Franco brothers at E1 Brasero de la Dehesa, wrote also on 17th November 1491 to the magistrates of La Guardia, telling them not to allow the dogwood field at Santa Maria de Pera to be ploughed, since it was there that Juan Franco had, at the very last, indicated that the child was buried and "this is something that must be seen by Their Majesties and by the Lord Cardinal and by all the world." But the body did not appear.

The Expulsion of 1492

Father Fita, the principal and most intelligent of those wise investigators who have accepted as gospel truth this catalogue of witchcraft and purported necromancy, showed in 1887 that the decree of 31st March 1492 expelling the Jews was influenced by the trial of those condemned for the alleged murder of the Holy Child of La Guardia. In the first place, the convicted men were not all New Christians, but an alliance of Jews, baptized and unbaptized, thus supporting a fundamental idea of Torquemada, cited also in the expulsion decree: the Jews could pervert their New Christian relatives. Relying on his trump card ‑ the murder of an innocent child ‑ Torquemada broke all legal bounds on his jurisdiction to obtain the decree, arguing that he should concern himself only with the spiritual health of the baptized.

Secondly, in opposition to another group of historians that included Menendez Pelayo (1856‑1912), Father Fita showed that the date of the sentence (16th November 1491) was not later than, or simultaneous with, the edict of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel, but four months and fifteen days before it. In the following month they had to give a charter of royal protection to the Jews of Avila, who were terrified by the danger to their lives and property as soon as the reputed murderers of the Holy Child had been condemned by the Inquisition (16th December 1491).

Out of the property of the condemned men, confiscated and held in Segovia part of the construction of the Church and Royal Monastery of Santo Tomas of Avila was paid for and it was here that it was for the first time laid down ‑ in a papal brief granted to Torquemada on 12th November 1496 ‑ that monks descended from Jews were not to be admitted. Building began on 11th April 1482 and was completed on 3rd August 1493. Torquemada, having lived to see his work completed, died in 1498.

In La Guardia the houses of Juan Franco were demolished and a chapel built on the site. Pictures were painted at his birthplace and others in the Trinitarian convents in La Guardia and Toledo, as well as in La Guardia parish church. Fita describes an oil painting from the Toledo Inquisition that was deposited in the Historical Archive at Madrid: "The only one that exists, doubtless brought here with the case records and other documents of the Toledo Inquisition, is a small painting on wood, in very poor condition, which shows the crucifixion of the Holy Child. He is shown on the Cross, surrounded by his butchers, one of whom is amusing himself by pulling out his bowels or putting his hand into a deep wound in the child's side. Although the painting is bad, it may very well be contemporary with the events or from a period shortly after."

Reasons for the Frame‑up

“From Quintanar and Tembleque

eight Jews set out,

with evil hearts intent

 on the hunt for the Holy Child.” Sebastian de Orozco

The crime is explained in such a way in the confessions of the convicted men that it is clear from reading the record that only a Christian could have dreamt up such a script. It is a passion play, similar to the theatrical performances put on at the present day in Olesa, Esparriguera or Chinchón. The difference is the supposed presence of the live child, crucified and murdered, and therefore representing the person of Christ to perfection. The rest is a masterly production: the buffets, the bearing of the cross, the Sanhedrin, the condemnation, Veronica and Pilate are all included. The account could not fail to impress anyone who heard it during the annual sermons on Maundy Thursday. For the benefit of who in particular were these judicial records cooked up?

Torquemada's concern was to demonstrate to the Queen the danger to the New Christians that the presence of members of their former religion represented, especially as many of these were relatives or old friends of the converts. That is why the convicted men belonged to two groups: Jews by religion, and Jews by descent who had converted to Christianity. Torquemada was also eager to dispatch the condemnation of Benito Garcia all over the country, as is shown by the Catalan translation that the Barcelona inquisitors had printed, which is to be found in the Coleccion de Documentos Ineditos in the Archive of the Crown of Aragon.

During the sixteenth century the affair of the Holy Child of La Guardia was used in the internal disputes of the chapter of Toledo Cathedral, as can be seen from Cardinal Siliceo's letter of 23rd July 1547 against the section of his chapter at Toledo who, obviously because of their Jewish connections, were opposing the Statute of Purity of Blood, which excluded Christians of Jewish ancestry from obtaining or enjoying any of the cathedral benefices. He based his argument on the Memoria de 1544 del licenciado Damian de Vegas acerca del Nino de La Guardia (Memorial of 1544 by the learned Damian de Vegas regarding the Child of La Guardia), which Orozco used as the preface to his report accompanying the archbishop's decree. This led to a series of letters from the Emperor Charles V between 13th September 1547 and 11th February 1548, until Paul III settled the matter by papal provision on 28th May 1548. The Child of La Guardia thus continued to assist those who championed his cause.

This holy child has served the most varied purposes, even helping an American Hispanic scholar who, after the Civil War, used the surnames of the supposed criminals to argue the possible Jewish origin of General Franco.

In his play The Innocent Child or the Second Christ Lope de Vega‑(1562‑1635) combined the fairy story of the chocolate house, in which the child is carried off by ogres, with the Passion story of the Bible. The story of Christ is brought to Spain, which is converted into the new promised land, the new Jerusalem freed from unbelief, as shown by the exact similarity of La Guardia to Judea:

A thousand times blessed is Spain

To have merited such a martyr,

The son and father of your Fatherland.

Jose de Canizares (1676‑1750) reached the nadir of racialism in his dramatized version of the crime, La viva imagen de Cristo (The Living Image of Christ); in it the comic characters are called significantly Requeson (an evil‑smelling cheese) and Churrusca (singed toast). The heroine, Esther, is never called by her real name by her Christian lover, who always addresses her instead as Beatrice, a canonized name. In the end she turns out to be a foundling and, therefore, free of Jewish blood and also free to denounce her father/foster‑father and marry the stool pigeon with the approval of the Catholic Monarchs.

The Defenders of the Holy Child

There were enthusiastic contemporary propagators of the story, starting with Francisco de Zepeda and his Resunta Historial del año 1491 (Historical Summary of the Year 1491). Friar Francisco de Arcos told the story in his biography of Father Simon de Roxas; Friar Rodrigo de Yepes in his lengthy Historia del Nino Inocente (1583); it was repeated by Friar Juan de Cantabrana; and by Francisco de Quevedo (1580‑1645) when running out of arguments for his Memorial por el patronato de Santiago (Reasons why St. James should be Patron Saint of Spain). The most important of these popularisations was that of Friar Antonio de Guzman entitled Historia del inocente trinitario, el Santo Nino de La Guardia, retrato de Christo nuestro redemptor (The History of the Innocent Catholic, the Holy Child of La Guardia, Representative of Christ Our Redeemer).

In the nineteenth century the subject was taken up again by Alonso de Castro, who wrote Vidas de niños celebres (Lives of Famous Children), published in Cadiz in 1865. Father Fita wrote his articles in reply to Isidore Loeb in 1887, and his facts were repeated by Fun and by Llorca in their ecclesiastical histories. Sabatini and Baer 4 came to the conclusion by scientific methods that the Child of La Guardia had not been the victim of ritual murder, but of black magic connected with the reputation for inverted folk healing that the Jews had naturally acquired. In 1926 Revd. Martin Martinez Moreno used the trials of the convicted men, the evidence in the Inquisition records, and other documents in the parish archive at La Guardia.

Among the present defenders of this long tradition we find Nicolas Lopez Martinez writing in favour of the truth of the story in 1950: "This hatred of the person of Jesus, almost innate in persons of that race, shows itself particularly in their loathing for the sacraments. The child murders at Sepulveda, Segovia, Avila, La Guardia... such criminally realistic desecration as, in the specific case of La Guardia, took place at the end at Casar de Palomero, which we restrict ourselves to listing, do not give a very favourable impression of that race, not so much for the number of such crimes as for the manner of their performance. The murder of the Holy Child of La Guardia, for example, as it is recorded in the case against Juce Franco of Avila, reveals satanic premeditation,  sadism, and minds tortured by age‑old hatreds."

The motive discovered by Revd. Father Llorca to give some probability to the crime seems to us about the best: "It is also the fashion! among the enemies of the Inquisition flatly to deny the truth of the actions attributed to the Jews that most contributed to excite people against them. But in the majority of cases the proof is only too plain: in some the original records of the trials are extant; as for the rest, just as religious enthusiasm caused the Christians to lynch and murder Jews and New Christians, it is equally understandable that the same enthusiasm and fanaticism would inspire the New Christians to take such sacrilegious revenge on the Christians."

Romero de Castilla goes as far as to say: "Among all the Inquisition trials concluding in sentences inspired by the purest desire for complete justice, there was no case that was treated, because of its motivations and far‑reaching importance, with such seriousness and care as regards procedure as that required to investigate such an extensive and intricate conspiracy, whose limits extended beyond the usual in its effort to infiltrate and replace all national authority and power, as the confessions of the Jews who took part in the crucifixion of the Holy Child of La Guardia in 1489 revealed."

Faced with the trial of the ritual murder of the Holy Child of La Guardia one can only take one of two positions: either one accepts the possibility that Jews committed ritual murders ‑ and, unfortunately, a large number of Spanish historians have left this possibility open; or one flatly denies it, consigning all the Inquisition documents, including the confessions, to the rubbish heap where Christians keep their guilty consciences. Then they reveal their real nature: a sample of the fears and wishes of the inquisitors themselves, from whose nightmares sprang these imaginary crimes. The condemned had no reality except to prove the truth of the inquisitor's thoughts. Benito Garcia and Juan Franco were not even heroic victims though they tried to be. Their resistance was to be taken as obstinate persistence in crime, and their confessions under torture as finally accepting repentance. Whatever they did, they just played one role in a play written for them.

An Explanation of the Phenomenon

Rabbi: Because his heart is needed for a particular sublime sacrifice in our religion. Lope de Vega, E1 niño inocente o el segundo Cristo

The complicated web behind the accusations of ritual murder was woven of threads from different traditions, both learned and popular. From the start of Christiantiy it was a problem to explain the mystery of transubstantiation and, when told in a hostile way, it could make people believe in cannibalistic rites, as several pagan Roman courts decided.

The converse cases to the one under consideration (those in which, instead of a child disappearing to be sacrificed, a child appears when the consecrated host is desecrated) illustrate this question. The obvious connection between these two kinds of event explain why books on the Eucharist always treat them together. In the first case, the child is kidnapped to be consecrated before his blood is drunk in a satanic ritual, which is the mirror image of the Christian mass; and in the second, it is the consecrated host that pours out its blood to convince the incredulous of the mystery of transubstantiation. The Jews are in the majority of cases responsible for buying the hosts from vergers or women ‑ the weakest sheep in the Christian flock in the imagination of the defenders of the mass ‑ or for demanding them as interest payments on their usurious loans, as in the Deggendorf case in Bavaria in 1337, as described by Friar Antonio Serpa.

According to Friar Roque Fuci and Friar Jaime Baron, it was a Mohammedan who, in Saragossa in 1427, to cast a magic spell required a host, which eventually turned into a child, who ended up on a golden paten and was swallowed by the archbishop of the city. Pictures of all this are to be seen in the Chapel of San Dominguito de Val. The subject of sacrilege and desecration committed by one or more Jews against the consecrated host was regularly on the agenda in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. At the height of the anti‑Jewish wave Catalan and Valencian artists illustrated it on altars, particularly those dedicated to the Trinity and the Eucharist. Apart from the sections of the altarpiece of the chapel of San Bartolome at Villahermosa (Castellon), those of Vallbona de les Monges, now kept in Barcelona, also dating from the fourteenth century and commemorating a seven‑stage miracle, are very interesting.

This ill‑understood cannibal aspect of transubstantiation is reflected rather ingenuously in a miracle by Friar Juan Ejido in 1406,  recorded by Father Manuel Traval y Roset in Prodigios a Eucaristicos (Miracles of the Mass), Barcelona 1900. in which one can read: "one day a boy standing beside the celebrant at the solemn moment of the elevation of the host saw a most beautiful child in the hands of the priest, who during the communion service, to the boy's astonishment, gobbled him up. The boy fled in terror looking for somewhere to hide. At the end of the mass they looked for him without success. He did not want to come anywhere near the monk and, on sighting him, began to howl: 'Save me! Save me! He wants to eat me just as he ate up a child today while he was saying mass.' The special grace granted to such innocence and angelic purity was the cause of such an extraordinary shock and fear."

In the Revue des etudes Juives (1889) Strack reviewed this chaotic muddle of Western fantasies about blood from the mythical banquet of Thyestes, through the human sacrifices of the druids, stories of ogres and of vampires, of "lamies, goules et striges", wine which turns into blood and the consecrated bread that sweats blood, the stigmata of the saints, enchanted arrows and bullets, the story of the Merchant of Venice, various pacts with the Devil, or simply with friends, signed in blood, and the power that witches and inquisitors both attributed to the blood of the tortured. "Those who accuse the Jews accuse themselves in this conflict that simultaneously attracts and horrifies them."

We are faced with a combination of a deep current of popular belief, the bogeyman myth, with the confusing explanation of an excessively complicated dogma, transubstantiation. All this is then joined by another great current in Western society, the great value given to inheritance ‑ and therefore blood ‑ since the thirteenth century, first in obsession with genealogy, than in primitive biological theories. These contradictory preocccupations of Western society were in each case to select the Jew as the customary fall guy.

The fundamental root of the myth of ritual crime is the conception of time that Christendom had: everything happens in a short period of time during an annual cycle of agricultural and ritual renewal. It is difficult to imagine a world in which the individual did not remember the year of his birth but only the patron saint under whose protection he had been born; a world whose time was not organized numerically but in cycles of harvests, experienced always with anxiety that they might be interrupted and confidence that, thanks to the approval of a divinity both marvellous and terrible, the customary seasons would be repeated.

How was such dramatic anxiety introduced into that world of recurring seasons and how was such apocalyptic anguish resolved? The Passion of Christ provides the key. The Jew is the witness of the death of Jesus Christ because only one of them exists in all the world ‑ the Wandering Jew, who condemned Christ by preferring Barabbas. Like the harvests and like the seasons, the dramatic event was repeated every year.

By using the Child of La Guardia as his strategy Torquemada employed a sentimental factor which the powerful groups opposed to the expulsion found hard to answer. As we have seen since the days of Alfonso X's Siete Partidas the political e1ites had not disputed the existence of ritual crimes, which fitted so perfectly both with traditional lore and with intellectual, or rather clerical, culture, especially in a social group that was beginning to construct noble genealogies that gave so much importance to blood. The Queen was the perfect target for such a double‑bladed argument. Five months after the unfortunates responsible for the crime were condemned, Isabel the Catholic signed the expulsion decree, which did not stop the persecution of those of Jewish origin but unleashed even more, as the obsession with statutes of purity of blood shows. Blood once again!

The crime without a corpse of the Holy Child of La Guardia, like the immense series of accusations of Jewish ritual crimes, shows that the dividing line between the learned and the popular, the cultured and the ideas of ordinary people, is difficult to fix, if such a boundary exists at all. We must, therefore, abandon exclusively positivist research that only leads us to note the existence of a cascade of accusations, which, in the end, might even make us accept the possible existence of such crimes, as so many serious researchers have done. To do so would be to fall into the police trap of 'no smoke without fire' that Torquemada was so good at using. Reality is discovered by inverting the problem and asking why Christian society needed for six centuries to have a ritual murder of an innocent child carried out annually by the Jews in order to confirm its own identity. We hope to have suggested some clues as to the solution of this tangle.

Translator's Notes

1.   Some may note that Theobald IV of Champagne and Blois died in 1152. There was a Count Theobald V of Blois in 1171 but his wife was Alix, daughter of Louis VII of France, not Isabelle. Werner Keller Und Wurden Zerstreut unter alle Volker suggests that the man referred to by Gaetz was Theobald "Landgraf" (Viscount?) of Chartres.

2.   I have used the term 'New Christian' to translate Spanish 'converso' wherever it appears. In some cases they were what English‑speakers would call 'converts' but usually they were descendents of forced converts. Anyone converted from Judaism during or after the great pogrom of 1391 was regarded, often correctly, as doubtfully Christian. Thus Mendizabel, who briefly became Prime Minister of Spain in the 1830s, is referred to in many history books as a "Jew" though all his ancestors had been Christians for a dozen generations.

3.   Old Christians conversely means those like, for example, the Spanish Royal Family whose Jewish ancestors changed to the correct religion in the early fourteenth century. Jewish and Mohammedan ancestors of this date or earlier do not count.

4.     This Baer is surely not the well‑known Yitzhak Baer, author of Toledot ha‑yehudim bi‑Safarad ha‑nosrit (History of the Jews in Christian Spain), 1945, 1959.

Trials, Tortures and Charges

The trial or, more correctly, trials resulting from the case of the Holy Child of La Guardia have a common element in the inquisitorial procedure. The summary, made in the Supreme Council of the Inquisition in 1569 by Pedro Tapia, Alonso de Doriga and Mateo Vazquez, and published in the work of Martinez Moreno (1866) together with a text of the learned Villegas. From this material was to come books with a double child: Cristobalico, seven years old, or, if one prefers, Juan the son of Alonso de Pasamontes and Juana la Guindera, three years old, who disappeared at the Puerta del Perdbn in the Cathedral of Toledo.

Amador de los Rios (1845) used the trials in the General Archive at Alcala and Father Fita transcribed the trial of Yuce Franco for the Revista de la Academia de la Historia in 1887 from papers provided for him by the head of the Municipal Archive in Madrid, Timoteo Domingo y Palacio. Father Fita was able to disentangle seven trials from these documents: that of Yuce Franco of Tembleque in Avila; of Benito Garcia de las Mesuras in Astorga on 6th June 1490; of Mose Abenamias of Zamora; of the six residents of La Guardia, all of them New Christians ‑ Alonso Franco, Lope Franco, Garcia Franco, Juan Franco, Juan de Ocana and, once again, Benito Garcia. They also tried Mose Franco, father of Yuce Franco, in Avila; and Benito Garcia, Juan Franco and his brothers, Alonso, Garcia and Lope, together with the verger of Santa Maria de La Guardia and three deceased Jews ‑ Master Yuqa Tazarte, Mose Franco (Yuce's brother) and David de Perejon.

This complicated patchwork could only have been made with materials provided from outside by plans and decisions of the judges, which had been fixed early on in the charges brought by the prosecutor against Yuce Franco on 17th December 1490. These were set down in order of seriousness: propagating the Mosaic Law; crucifying a Christian child on Good Friday; and entering into a contract for the theft of a consecrated host.

A group of Jews and New Christians were arrested over a period of two or three years, detained for differing reasons: the Jews for incitement to judaize; the New Christians for lapsing into Mosaic practices. Thus far it was a normal legal process, though the Inquisition's legal powers did not extend to unbaptized Jews. This time, however, the judges set about creating and implicating a network of Jewish communities, using the reciprocal denunciations of the two groups. After the criminals had denied the charges, they were left to rot in the dungeons for a while, which brought them round to denounce other Jewish communities, other groups (New Christians against Jews and vice versa), and the dead. The inquisitors themselves helped widen the number of abettors by suggesting the names of people involved in other cases or already imprisoned in the Inquisition's own cells. The conspiracy theory having been invented like this, its extent in the end astonished the judges themselves. Soon these delaying tactics changed to forcing admission of the charges, which were by now capital.

The case of Yuce Franco, a Jew from Tembleque, is most instructive. When he denied the charges in December 1490, a series of interrogations followed with disappointing results. On 10th January 1491 he confirmed an account that he had given on the previous 27th October about looking for unleavened bread for the Passover, which had made him travel from Tembleque to La Guardia and meet some New Christians, with whom he talked about circumcision. On 10th April he added to his account references to a consecrated host, for the moment only in connection with the Franco family, who were New Christians. On 7th May he had already found the perfect place for their criminal conclaves, some caves on the Cuesta de la Horca, a hill on the way to Ocana between La Guardia and two outlying suburbs; and some accomplices had appeared, who were of course already dead, Moises Franco and Yuga Tazarte.

Torture and the position taken up by other detainees facing similar charges brought into the story Benito Garcia, who, in the hope of not being burnt , dreamt up the idea of cutting off his own penis so they should not see he had been circumcised. Benito confessed that "he was in for it because what with the torture he'd said more than he knew". The story then centred on the reciprocal accusations of one New Christian, Benito Garcia, and one Jew, Yuce Franco, fastened together by the inquisitors.

By 9th June the depositions already mention the heart of a Christian child and a consecrated host in connection with the deceased Yuga Tazarte. The Francos of La Guardia were implicated as New Christians, since the aim of the conspirators had been to free themselves from possible persecution by the inquisitors. During the summer of 1491 the story was completed. The charges were agreed in Salamanca on 25th October and a preliminary verdict by the panel of judges was recorded. On 26th October 1491 Yuce Franco was put to torture and a confession obtained, which was completed after further torments on 12th November; here for the first time we hear about a child kidnapped in Toledo. On 4th November sentence was confirmed, and on 5th November the key to the whole affair was obtained: "the Jews could not carry out witchcraft without Christians". The essential aim had been achieved: in order to perform any magic spell the Jews needed a consecrated host, a Christian child, and even the participation of New Christians with the (evilly perverted) spiritual force imparted by baptism. The religious justification, underlying every auto‑da‑fé, had been obtained and everything was ready for the actual auto‑da‑fé on 16th November.


José María Perceval

Translator: Ifan Lloyd



Materiales de historia es una web de investigación en ciencias sociales basada en trabajos de José María Perceval