Vicente Ferrer and the Kings’ Jews: Reassessing the Modern Image of a Medieval Dominican
By Michael Sean Hatch
Honors Thesis, Emory University, 2011
Abstract: In recent years, the historiography of the persecution of late-medieval Iberian Jewry has shifted towards an emphasis on local economic, social, and political pressures, rather than a teleological understanding of persecution as a constant. However, Vicente Ferrer, a preacher from Valencia, is singled out as one of the principal figures in the persecution of Jews across Iberia, and this image ignores the influence that communal pressures had on the Jewish experience. Historians emphasize too much the impact of Ferrer’s preaching, and this investigation aims, with an emphasis on sermons delivered in Castile from 1411-12, to more accurately interpret Ferrer’s impact on Iberian Jewish communities.
Introduction: Almost every place Ferrer preached about the dangers of Jews and Judaism to Christians and of the need to isolate the Jews who still refused baptism, he incited local Christians to maltreat the Jews in some way.
The above quotation, taken from Mark Meyerson’s, A Jewish Renaissance in Fifteenth-Century Spain, mirrors almost exactly the image of Vicente Ferrer promulgated famously by the celebrated historian of Iberian Jewry, Yitzhak Baer. Writing in the early- to mid-twentieth century, Baer asserted that Ferrer, “según su propio testimonio, detestaba los derramientos de sangre y la coacción religiosa, pero en la práctica… sus palabras… hacían que de nuevo se inflamara el fanatismo de los cristianos y el odio hacia los judíos.” The function of this investigation is to offer up to the reader a different perspective of Ferrer’s itinerant preaching campaigns from 1408-1416, with a particular focus on the sermons he delivered in Castile from early 1411 to mid-1412. Today, Ferrer’s name and legacy are highly polarized, depending on one’s beliefs. He is either the image of late-medieval anti-Semitism, or the Saint with the tongue of flame and the gift of tongues, whose spiritual gifts guided countless souls to paradise. Ferrer’s Castilian campaign, which he began at the tender age of sixty, has entered the imagination of historians tracing back to Jose Amador de los Ríos and Yitzhak Baer and still informs historians’ conception of him today. This investigation of his sermons will provide insight into Ferrer’s goals, his lasting impact on Jewish communities, and will provide a new lens through which to view Ferrer’s place in the history of the Sephardim.