Lost 400-year-old Jewish manuscript to be returned to Mexico

Marcus Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — The oldest Jewish document of the New World will be returned to Mexico  more than seven decades after it disappeared.

The 1595 autobiography of Luis de Carvajal, who was a New Christian or “converso” Jew in Mexico, will be returned this month, the Mexican consulate in New York said on Friday.

The document is considered to be an important artifact showing Jewish life on the American continent, but disappeared from the Latin American country’s national archives more than 75 years ago, according to the consulate.

Mexican Consul General Diego Gomez Pickering hailed the “cultural and historical significance” that the document represents for his country and for the history of the Jewish presence in the Americas.

The manuscript was loaned to the museum of the New York Historical Society by the government of Mexico after reportedly resurfacing on the auction circuit in 2015.

Portuguese-born Luis de Carvajal was governor of the Spanish province of Nuevo León in present-day Mexico. His enemies knew he was a descendant of “conversos” and bribed one of his captains to mention his name to the Inquisition in Mexico City.

There, Carvajal was accused of several charges, but only the charge of concealing that his relatives secretly practiced Judaism was upheld. He was put on trial during the Inquisition and executed in 1596, after he denounced more than 120 other secretly practicing Jews, according to the New York Historical Society.

The “Memorias” manuscript consists of Carvajal’s memoirs, a book of psalms and commandments, and a collection of prayers, Mexico’s consulate in New York said. The manuscript is slated to be returned to Mexico’s Museum of Memory and Tolerance after its exhibition is complete on March 12.

Luis de Carvajal wrote under a pseudonym and told of his Jewish faith, according to Swann Galleries in New York, where the manuscript was on sale last June. After he was incarcerated, a cell mate exposed his manuscript whereupon Carvajal gave in under torture and was ultimately killed.