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 authorities.

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.