Purity and Impurity of Blood in Early Modern Iberia

Authored by: Rachel L. Burk

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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The Spanish term limpieza de sangre and its Portuguese equivalent limpeza de sangue began as a legal designation of religious identity attributed to the supposed purity or impurity of one’s blood. Instituted via local statutes beginning in the mid-1400s in Spain and a century later in Portugal, the pureza laws were propagated widely by the end of the sixteenth century in the whole of the Peninsula. 1 Local regulations on limpieza-limpeza prohibited recent converts to Christianity and eventually their descendants from holding select offices in government, the Church, guilds, schools, and universities. To qualify for these positions, proof of lineage free from Muslim and Jewish relatives even in generations past was required. With these entrance demands developed an inquisitional process for accessing and certifying a supposedly physical verity that ended in a set of documents called blood purity proofs, as well as a generalized social preoccupation with lineage.

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