Secret Codes Left by Portugal's Expelled Jews

Hebrew Letters and Markings Found in Ancient Homes

By JTA

Published April 21, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Portuguese researchers have catalogued hundreds of secret markings that Jews left on structures in the northern Portuguese municipality of Seia in the 16th century, after their forced conversion to Christianity.

The team’s three members – Alberto Martinho, Jose Levy Domingos and Luiza Metzker Lyra – say they found 500 markings in Seia, including coded Hebrew letters and words carved into walls of homes where converted Jews used to live, as well as distinctive indentations in stone doorframes where the residents would have placed mezuzahs.

Martinho told Portugal’s Lusa news agency on Friday that the findings “elucidate the Jewish presence” in the region. According to Jose Oulman Carp, the president of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, Portugal had a Jewish population of about 400,000 Jews in 1536, when the Portuguese Inquisition officially began.

Many of the Jews in Portugal were refugees from neighboring Spain, where the Inquisition – an organized campaign of persecution led by the Catholic Church – began in 1492. Persecution in Portugal forced many Jews into exile, whereas those who stayed became known as “New Christians” though many of them continued to practice Judaism in secret and developed special customs to set themselves apart in discrete ways from the rest of the population.

The Portuguese parliament earlier this month passed a law which says descendants of Jews who left are entitled to citizenship. A similar bill is being prepared in Spain.

According to the researchers, who are scheduled to publish their full study within two weeks, they found 42 marked houses in the small village of Santa Marinha alone. The town of Trancoso has many more marked houses, they said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.