Fire and Song: The Sto­ry of Luis de Car­va­jal and the Mex­i­can Inquisition

Anna Lany­on
  • Review
By – June 29, 2012

With great sto­ry­telling style Anna Lany­on takes the read­er on a jour­ney well doc­u­ment­ed, full of detail, and very poignant. The de Car­va­jal fam­i­ly had its roots in Por­tu­gal. The first Luis was tried and con­vict­ed of Judais­mo, here­sia, and apos­ta­sia. All were crimes against the state. He was lat­er par­doned. The Luis de Car­va­jal of this sto­ry, aka Joseph Lum­broso, was born in 1566 in Spain, to sec­ond gen­er­a­tion con­ver­sos. He, his moth­er, and five sis­ters all met their deaths, con­vict­ed of heresy, in Mex­i­co City in 1596

In search of a more peace­ful exis­tence, the fam­i­ly left Spain for Mex­i­co. It is here that Luis de Car­va­jal had an aston­ish­ing trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence” lead­ing to self-con­ver­sion back to the Law of Moses. The years in Mex­i­co, no mat­ter where they lived, were fraught with fur­ther per­se­cu­tion as con­ver­sos, tri­als, pun­ish­ments, more tri­als, and impris­on­ment. At twen­ty-two, in the midst of this oppres­sion, he began a jour­nal, his book of mir­a­cles,” doc­u­ment­ing his Juda­ic awak­en­ing. A most dan­ger­ous activ­i­ty, Luis kept the book secret, hid­den in the floor­boards of the fam­i­ly house. Insis­tent that his moth­er and sis­ters give up prac­tic­ing their false Chris­t­ian rit­u­als and observe the Law of Moses, he placed them in grave dan­ger. And, indeed it did, expos­ing them once more to the Inquisi­tors. It is from this stead­fast con­vic­tion and devo­tion that Luis defi­ant­ly, proud­ly went to his death, as did the rest of his fam­i­ly. His quest for reli­gious free­dom is fas­ci­nat­ing, impres­sive, and timeless.

The doc­u­men­ta­tion is tru­ly remark­able as exten­sive tran­scripts were writ­ten at each tri­al, read and approved by each con­ver­so, and then archived along with many per­son­al writ­ings of Luis and his sis­ters. These doc­u­ments had mirac­u­lous jour­neys of their own and even­tu­al­ly found a home at the Uni­ver­si­ty of California’s Ban­croft Library, in Berke­ley. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

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