Hidden Faith & Other Customs

San Felipe de Neri altar.

The altar at San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque featured the Star of David. The symbol became a reminder of the previous homeland for the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain. Many of New Mexico’s early Spanish settlers practiced a hidden faith. They were the Sephardic Jews who had eluded the Inquisition under the guise of being conversos. These Jews had to convert to Catholicism. They became known as crypto-Jews because they practiced their Jewish faith secretly while presenting a different persona to the public.

Ark of the Covenant

La Santisima Trinidad of Spain.

This image of La Santisima Trinidad, the Holy Trinity, became New World Hispanic art. In the center of the box is the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God. In the 1500s the Roman Catholic Church forbade the use of this symbol. The Judeo-Spanish culture in exile used the written Medieval Spanish verses known as coplas. They were often religious in theme and utilized by those who did not know Hebrew and had no access to rabbinic literature. The coplas reflected the customs, folkways and characteristics of the Sephardic Community.

Give Us Our Daily Bread

The  empanada of the Sephardic Jews.

The forced conversion of Catholicism gave birth to counter prayers. The Sephardic Jews held the rosary in one hand and would recite a psalm before reciting a Hail Mary. Many foods came to the New World with those who practiced a hidden faith. The Sephardic Jews of Salonica introduced the empanada. The dish consisted of a casserole of chopped meat or fish with a layer of piecrust on top. New Mexico empanadas consist of fruit, beef tongue or pork. Bagels are as popular in the eastern United States as empanadas in the Southwest.

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