Today I’m tipping my hat to late 15th-century conversa mystic, Inés of Herrera, as I find myself once again reading about a woman (well, a girl, actually) who was investigated—and in this tragic case, executed (1500)—by the Inquisition as a result of not only practicing her religion, but also publicising it. That said, most of the women mystics I come across are Christian. Thus, Inés and her ardent followers remind us that Christians were hardly the only Europeans filled with religious zeal in this period.
Inés was born c. 1488. In her late childhood, Inés began to have visions and transcendent experiences in which her deceased mother and angels accompanied her on ascents to heaven. As a result of her experiences, Inés began to prophesy about the deliverance of her co-religionists, Spanish conversos/conversas (Jews converted forcibly and otherwise to Christianity), to the Promised Land, as well as the coming of Elias (who would announce the coming of the Messiah in 1500). Despite having been coerced and even violently forced to convert to Christianity, many of her co-religionists lent her their eager ears. Adults and children alike travelled to Herrera to hear her prophecies, as well her messages about the importance of following the 10 Commandments, fasting, and observing the Sabbath. What I love most about this is that many of those who came to visit Inés were (or claimed to be?) tanners and shoemakers travelling under the guise of doing business. Inés’s father, Juan Esteban, was a shoemaker and tanner by trade, and would invite travelling colleagues ostensibly in Herrera to buy leather to his home to meet his daughter.
In 1499, Inés and her enthusiastic followers came to attention of the Inquisition. Although she and many of her followers were investigated and punished (with various degrees of severity and “lenience”), surviving inquisitorial records literally testify to the expressions of Jewish joy that Inés and her prophesies generated in the community. Many children were especially fervent followers of hers, and records mention how they played, danced, and sang in her presence.
Haim Beinart, throughout her chapter in Inés in Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World, points out that the records surrounding Inés’s case reveal how the Jewish faith remained very much alive among many conversos/conversas (at least those in and around Herrera) following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Despite having been coercively converted (at best), testimonies from Inés’s case show Jewish perseverance in their frequent references to passages from the Hebrew Bible, as well as the reports of fasting and Sabbath observance.
This entire post is based on information found in:
Beinart, Haim. “Inés of Herrera del Duque: The Prophetess of Extremadura.” In Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World. Edited by Mary E. Giles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 42-52.