On Exhibit: The Infamous 1492 Decree

By Jennifer Siegel

Published June 25, 2004, issue of June 25, 2004.

The original decree ordering the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 will come to New York this month, as part of an exhibit commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of Queen Isabella I. Titled “Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Two Worlds (1451-1504),” the presentation also will feature illuminated manuscripts, rare documents, 17th-century paintings, gold and silver coins, and personal effects.

Issued March 31, 1492, “The Decree of the Expulsion of the Jews” gave Jewish families four months either to convert or to leave, forcing them to sell all gold, silver and horses. According to the Simancas Historical Institute at the University of Valladolid, Spain, which is sponsoring the exhibit, there were approximately 120,000 Jews in Spain at the time; half converted, and approximately 60,000 to 80,000 emigrated.

Isabella’s reign, which bridged the Middle Ages and modern times, is marked by the unification of Spain and by its emergence as a world power.

Christopher Columbus’s voyage aided Spain’s economic expansion during this period. Interestingly, the leader of the Jewish community, Isaac Abravanel — who subsequently chose to leave Spain — paid for one-third of the voyage. Visitors also will be able to view a letter that Columbus sent to Spain upon his arrival in the New World.

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