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Unveiling 16th-century Torah used by crypto-Jews in Portugal

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COVILHA Portugal - A small city in northeast Portugal recently unveiled a 400-year-old Torah scroll that a local contractor had found 10 years ago at a demolition site.
by JTA | Sep 21, 2016

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COVILHA Portugal - A small city in northeast Portugal recently unveiled a 400-year-old Torah scroll that a local contractor had found 10 years ago at a demolition site.

The ancient scroll, written on parchment, was put on display in Covilha City Hall last week and is believed to have been used in secret during the Portuguese Inquisition by crypto-Jews, or so-called New Christians.

In excellent condition even after centuries of storage in less than ideal conditions, the scroll will be taken for preservative storage at the end of the month, the paper reported.

It was discovered during a demolition carried out in 2006. The contractor was intrigued by the scroll and took it from the site. He kept it rolled up in a bed sheet at his home until earlier this year, when he mentioned it to archaeologists working on a different project, who offered to help him figure out what the object was.

Portugal once had a Jewish population of hundreds of thousands before 1536, when the country initiated its version of the Inquisition - a campaign of persecution led by the Catholic Church and local rulers against non-Christians, who fled the Iberian peninsula en masse or stayed after converting to Christianity under duress.

Whereas many of the Jews who fled tried to take certain religious artefacts with them, including Torah scrolls, others hid them before.

Carlos Madaleno, the co-ordinator of municipal museums in Covilha, told Diario de Noticias that the old Jewish quarters of the city was no longer in existence when the scroll was used. He said it was likely the possession of forced converts to Christianity who kept the scroll in secret. (JTA)

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