After the Spanish monarchy outlawed Judaism in 1492, many Jewish converts to Catholicism and their descendants who sought to practice their religion in secret fled to the New World, hoping to be far from the watchful eyes of neighbors and ecclesiastical authorities. But the inquisition soon followed them, and was established in Mexico in 1521—where it was not abolished until 1820. Mark Schneegurt discusses what the poems and prayers of Mexican crypto-Jews reveal about their inner lives:
The sacred writings of crypto-Jews in Mexico 400 years ago ring with a desperation tempered by deep faith in the God of their ancestors. It was, [in their eyes] their own sin—turning their backs on the Law [and outwardly embracing Christianity]—that led to their suffering. Despite it all, they called out in repentance, hoping, knowing that God would in some way hear their cry—if sincere—and then generously shine His favor upon them once again.
The Carvajal family in Mexico was led by Luis de Carvajal, the younger, an alumbrado, or mystic. His family and friends became embroiled in the inquisition. Many of them, including Luis, were finally martyred at the auto-da-fé of 1596 in Mexico City.
Luis wrote a number of religious poems in Spanish; Schneegurt presents one in English translation:
As for myself, I have a heart enameled
with the name of the Lord, holy and blessed,
and as much as I feel faint,
in just thinking of Him my spirit rejoices. . . .
Remind me of the time that teaches me,
it was to deliver me from Egypt,
and to see that He that was then is now.
I hope for better times, I pray.