Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Sobre la lletra que Hasday Cresques adreçà a la comunitat jueva d'Avinyó parlant dels avalots de 1391

Eduard Feliu


Jewish chronicles of the 15th-16th centuries contain curiously little information
about the massacres which so ravaged the Jewish communities of the various
Hispanic kingdoms in 1391. In some cases, we find mere allusions, while
in others the briefest of accounts marred by anachronisms and confusion. None
of them has a historical value comparable to that of the letter written by Hasday
Cresques, reported by Gedalyahu ibn Yahya. Indeed, it is the latter document
that modern historians have drawn on in their discussion of the 1391 massacres,
because the information it gives coincides with that of the accounts provided
in the Christian chronicles of the events.
In fact, the archives, chronicles and journals of the cities which experienced
the upheavals are full of the most detailed accounts of what happened, allowing
the reader to gauge the huge social and political impact of the events. There is
no doubt that the massacres rocked the foundations of the bourgeoisie, who
realized that the intentions of the populace went far beyond the naïve aim of
forcing Jews to convert to Christianity, because the riots involved attacks not
only against Jews, but also against the property of rich citizens and the municipal
The spark which lit the blaze of persecutions of 1391 (which had its roots in
the prevailing political and social conditions) was the fierce, anti-Jewish
preaching of Archdeacon Ferrand Martínez of Écija. The rumours and news reaching Catalonia and Aragon incited the common people of Valencia,
Barcelona and Majorca, among other cities, to storm their respective Jewish
quarters. These same chronicles explain how the people?s rage against both patricians
and government was redirected against the Jews. The people had many
reasons to revolt, but they could hardly be attributed to the peace-loving Jewish
communities in their midst.
During the reign of Alfons el Benigne, the wheat crop failure of 1333- 1334
had led to widespread famine and suffering. Some friars even went so far as to
incite the people to revolt against the rich and powerful, and against the honourable
citizens for their bad government. From 1348 to 1351, the Black
Death spread throughout Catalonia, in some areas resulting in the death of
three quarters of a population already weakened by poverty and hunger. As
elsewhere in Europe, the people blamed the Jews for the epidemic. In May
1348, they stormed the Jewish quarter, destroying houses, stealing property
and killing a number of the Jewish residents. In 1363 there was a new outbreak
of the epidemic, which principally affected children, and in 1371 yet another
whose chief victims were adults. Both were deadly. The onslaught against the
Jews was just one aspect of popular grievances against the ruling classes. The
underlying causes of the revolt were undeniably rooted in social discontent.
The article includes a transcription of the Hebrew text and a Catalan translation
of the letter written by Hasday Cresques to the Jewish community in
Avignon, together with the three introductions which precede it in each of the
existing editions. It also reproduces several texts in Latin and Catalan containing
direct information about the massacres in the Catalano-Aragonese cities
mentioned in Cresques?s letter - Barcelona, Gerona, Lleida, Majorca, Morvedre
and Valencia ? as well as reports of riots in other towns and cities to which
Cresques does not refer, such as Castelló d?Empuries, Cervera, Menorca, Perpignan,
Puigcerdà, Santa Coloma de Queralt, Tarragona, Tortosa and Valls.
The report of the death of Hasday Cresques?s son in Barcelona: There are several
documents dating from the period following the assault on the Jewish communities
which appear to contradict the information concerning the death of
Hasday Cresques?s son reported in the text published by Carmoly in 1855. One
such document is the letter, dated 12th August 1391, which was written by the
queen and addressed to the bishop of Barcelona and other Church dignitaries;
another, written in Saragossa by the king and dated 16th August, 1391, is addressed
to Jaume Devesa; another letter from the queen, dated 18th August and
also written in Saragossa, is addressed to P. de Queralt; in the letter, the queen
writes, ? In recognition of the many valuable services rendered unto us by Azday
Cresques, a Jew of our household, we wish to procure him graces and favours, particularly now that he is in such pressing need of them. Therefore, as
and when the said Azday Cresques writes to you concerning the safe return of
his son and his servants, who are detained in Barcelona, as you will read in
detail in his letter, we earnestly request you, for the sake of our honour, to do all
that is within all your power to protect the said son and his servants, as well as
their property?. It is difficult to understand how, given the protection of so
many illustrious supporters, and having taken refuge in the houses of ecclesiastical
dignitaries, the son of Hasday Cresques could have been killed in the
castle, along with common run of Jews. The author points out that the role of
Elyakim Carmoly (1802-1875)- a well-known falsifier of Hebrew literary
works - in editing Hasday Cresques?s letter, which was sincluded at the end of
Solomon ibn Verga?s Sevet Yehuda, published by M. Wiener in 1855, is highly
detrimental to the authenticity of the text, particularly as far as the variants of
the text edited by Gedalyahu ibn Yahya are concerned. The author is of the
opinion that there is no justification in the historical documents for the reported
death of the son of Hasday Cresques, which was presumably added by Carmoly
to Gedalyahu ibn Yahya?s text, together with other minor modifications.

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