More than three centuries after 37 Jews from Mallorca were killed during the Spanish Inquisition for secretly practicing their faith, the island's leading government figure issued an official condemnation Thursday.
It was the first time the 1691 killings were criticized in Mallorca by an official, and Spain's national Jewish federation said it may have been the first event of its kind for the nation.
"We have dared to gather here to recognize the grave injustice committed against those Mallorcans who were accused, persecuted, charged and condemned to death for their faith and their beliefs," Balearic Islands regional president Francesc Antich told about 130 people gathered for the memorial service in the city of Palma.
In 1492, Spain's Jews were given two choices: convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Many departed, fleeing to places like Istanbul, London and Cairo. Others abandoned their religion for Catholicism.
But some who converted did so only publicly, continuing to practice Judaism in secret. The Spanish Inquisition sought to identify and punish the false converts.
On Mallorca, 82 were condemned in 1691. Three public "auto de fe" sentencing ceremonies were held in Palma from March through July in which 34 of them were garroted, their bodies burned in bonfires. Another three _ including a Rabbi _ were burned alive.
The chairman of the Israel-based group that came up with the proposal for the ceremony lauded the event as "an important gesture of friendship and reconciliation."
"I hope that this ceremony will become an annual event, and will inspire other (Spanish) regions to do the same," said Michael Freund of Shavei Israel, which sponsors rabbis and teachers to work with various groups of "lost Jews."
Spain's Federation of Jewish Communities praised Antich for holding the memorial service and issuing the condemnation, and federation spokeswoman Maria Royo said her group was unaware of any similar government-sponsored events in recent history.
King Juan Carlos attended a Madrid event in 1992 that was the nation's first to recognize "injustices of the past" against Jews, but no specific Inquisition killings were mentioned at that gathering in a synagogue, Royo said.
Mallorca has about 15,000 people living on the Mediterranean island who are descendants of the island's Jews, though almost all are Catholic.
Antich said the purpose of the recognition was to "recover part of that memory" of Mallorca's dark past and recognize the violence and discrimination that converts faced for centuries.
"Memory opens wounds, but also helps to serve justice," he said. "The time has come to close these wounds that have bled generation after generation."
At the memorial service, Mallorca Rabbi Nissan Ben Avraham read the names and occupations of those killed in 1691, and a descendant of Mallorca's Jewish converts called the event an act of justice for the victims and their descendants.
"Their crime was none other than to practice the religion of their ancestors: Judaism," Aina Aguilo Bennassar said.