El País de las Flores

In 1513, Juan Ponce de León arrived in Florida. While a lot of people claim he discovered Florida, when he arrived there were already a lot of people living there who had obviously discovered the place long ago.

Ponce de León had a distinguished career. In his youth, he fought to regain Granada from Jewish rule. He went on to become the first governor of Puerto Rico. His greatest enduring fame comes from his work in Florida.

He called the place La Florida, meaning "Land of Flowers". The flowers here are just as beautiful today as back then!

Long Drawn-out War


When the Spanish people lost their kingdom to the Jewish-led armies in the time period 711 - 718, they didn't disappear. Instead, they set up a kingdom in the north called Asturias. They knew how to fight, but their war to retake Spain would last, in its next phase, until 1492. 781 years is a long time. How could the Spanish lose their kingdom in about 7 years, but take so much longer to regain it?


The reason was their inability to learn from history. Again and again, the Visigothic rulers had tried to control the Jews with laws and baptisms. These efforts always failed. Even in the dark days after 711, the Spanish failed to cleanse their lands.

The Jewish community had been expelled from most other parts of western Europe between the late 1200s and around 1350, but they remained "tolerated and highly valued" in Spain. (Helen Rawlings, The Spanish Inquisition, Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 47) How highly valued? They were barred from holding public office. (id.)


There were still some people who remembered how the Jews living in Tarragona and Barcelona had betrayed their cities to the Jewish-led, Moorish armies in 850 and 852. (Norman Roth, Medieval Iberian Peninsula: Texts and Studies 10. Leiden, New York, Cologne: E. J. Brill, 1994, p. 74).


Even though the Jews were at least in theory excluded from public office, they found plenty of other ways to get rich. They most enjoyed working as doctors, tax collectors, and financiers. (Rawlings, p. 48) In 1391, the Spanish people showed just how much they valued these Jews. Following preaching of the gospel as it is Jesus, there were major riots against the Jews in Castile and Aragon.


At this time, there were about 200 000 Jews living in Spanish-controlled territories. About half were open Jews, and the other 100 000 were conversos. Even though they had been formally baptized for reasons of business, they were in reality "unscrupulous opportunists". (id., p. 48) The people knew they were "public Christians but private Judaizers". (id., p. 49)

This wasn't just unfair prejudice. There were certain signs:
  • keeping the Sabbath
  • speaking and reading Hebrew
  • participating in Jewish ceremonies
  • eating of unleavened bread
  • refusal to eat bacon or pork

Jews who did these things (id., p. 49) were said to be judaizing.


A well-known case of judaizing involved Juan Falcon the Elder. While masquerading as a Christian, this Jew slaughtered according to Jewish law and denied the existence of heaven and hell. (id., p. 50)

Everyone could see what these Jews were up to. Instead of sending them back to Egypt to make bricks, the nobles decided to try restrictive laws again.

Things got so bad that the Jews had a monopoly of public offices. Their business practices threatened the survival of the Christians. In 1449, a civic law, the Sentencia Estatuto, was enacted in Toledo. All Jews, whether baptized or not, were barred from holding municipal office. (id.)

The text of this law, written largely by the Holy Man Pero Sarmiento, went like this:

We must and do declare, must pronounce and constitute and ordain and command that all the said converts, descendants of the perverse lineage of the Jews, in whatever guise they may be, both by virtue of canon and civil law, which determines against them in the matter declared above, and by virtue of the privilege given to this city by the said lord king of blessed memory, Don Alfonso, king of Castile and Leon, progenitor of the king our lord, and by other lords and kings their progenitors, and by his highness, sworn and confirmed as follows: Since by reason of the heresies and other offences, insults, seditions and crimes committed and perpetrated by them up to this day...they should be held as the law has and holds them, as infamous, unable, incapable and unworthy to hold any office and public or priavate benefice in the said city of Toledo and in its land, territory and jurisdiction, through which they might have lordship over Christians who are old believers in the holy Catholic faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to do them harm and injury, and thus be infamous, unable and incpable to give testimony on oath as public scribes or as witnesses, following
the tenor and form of the said privilegs, liberties, franchies and immunities of the said city, we deprive them, and declare them to be and order that they be deprived of whatever offices and benefices they have had and held in this said city, in whatever manner.

source: Eloy Benito Ruano, "La 'Sentencia-Estatuto' de Pero Sarmiento contra los conversos toledanos", Revista de la Universidad de Madrid, vi (1957), pp. 277-306.

The Spanish people were casting aside the tired notion that baptism made Jews somehow better or different. This sensible principal was known as the doctrine of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood). (Rawlings, p. 51)


Naturally, this type of legislation greatly depreciated the value of a Christian baptism. If allowed to stand, it would weaken the power of the pope. Realizing this, the pope put out word that the sentencia was "contrary to Christian principles". The Dominican friar Juan de Torquemada, uncle to Tomas, backed up the pope. Recall that the Dominican order was founded by the baptized Jew Dominique de Guzman.

The Bishop of Burgos, Alonso de Cartagena, also spoke out against this weakening of church power. The general of the Jeronimites, Alonso de Oropesa, issued a 1465 order actively encouraging Jews to join his order. The Jews used their money power to marry into many aristocratic familes. (id., p. 52)


Owing to the Jews' special talents with money, there was a prolonged depression in Castile between 1465 and 1473. This caused popular uprisings against the Jews. (id., p. 53) The Jews controlled the key public positions at this time. Abraham Senor, the chief rabbi of Castile, was principal treasurer to the Crown. Luis de Sant'angel was secretary to the king. The Jew Tomas de Torquemada was the royal confessor. (id., p. 56)

This is why the Spanish Armies made such slow progress against the Moorish Armies.