[ by Charles Cameron — “Conversion is sort of like the untouchable ‘third rail’ of religion” ]
It’s an ancient, uncomfortable story:
The Genetic Legacy of the Spanish Inquisition
As Spain simultaneously persecuted its Jews and expanded its colonies in the Americas, conversos secretly came over to the New World. Their legacy lives on in DNA.
In 1492, best known as the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Spain also decided to expel all practicing Jews from its kingdom. Jews who did not leave—and were not murdered—were forced to become Catholics. Along with those who converted during earlier pogroms, they became known as conversos. As Spain expanded its empire in the Americas, conversos made their way to the colonies too.
The stories have always persisted—of people across Latin America who didn’t eat pork, of candles lit on Friday nights, of mirrors covered for mourning. A new study examining the DNA of thousands of Latin Americans reveals the extent of their likely Sephardic Jewish ancestry, more widespread than previously thought and more pronounced than in people in Spain and Portugal today. “We were very surprised to find it was the case,” says Juan-Camilo Chaco?n-Duque, a geneticist at the Natural History Museum in London who co-authored the paper. [ .. ]
In the case of conversos, DNA is helping elucidate a story with few historical records. Spain did not allow converts or their recent descendants to go to its colonies, so they traveled secretly under falsified documents. “For obvious reasons, conversos were not eager to identify as conversos,” says David Graizbord, a professor of Judaic studies at the University of Arizona. The designation applied not just to converts but also to their descendants who were always Catholic. It came with more than a whiff of a stigma. “It was to say you come from Jews and you may not be a genuine Christian,” says Graizbord. Conversos who aspired to high offices in the Church or military often tried to fake their ancestry.
The genetic record now suggests that conversos—or people who shared ancestry with them—came to the Americas in disproportionate numbers.
Nature, Latin Americans show wide-spread Converso ancestry and imprint of local Native ancestry on physical appearance
A variant on that story then reappears in the life of Gustav Mahler. My nephew Daniel Hardin explains:
Two comments on Mahler and conversion:
On 23-02-1897 (Year 1897) Gustav Mahler walked into the St. Michael’s church in Hamburg and was “received” or baptized into the Roman Catholic faith. The rite of conversion, Mahler believed would clear away a major stumbling block as a prerequisite for being named principal director of the Vienna Hofoper, the Court Opera, today’s Vienna State Opera, and a position for which he and his supporters had been discreetly campaigning for many months.
Conversion is sort of like the untouchable “third rail” of religion: switching faiths is frequently the cause of family rupture, personal torment and bitter theological debates. Some parents consider converted children to be dead, both spiritually and physically.
National Catholic Reporter, Unconventional converts Gustav-Mahler.eu, Religion
Simon Dubnow Institute, Christianity and Conviction: Gustav Mahler and the Meanings of Jewish Conversion in Central Europe Academia.edu, The Conversion of Gustav Mahler
Here Daniel Harding conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in Mahler‘s 5th Symphony, in a live recording this year:
Daniel’s recording of the Mahler 5th with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra,very recently released by Harmonia Mundi, won enthusiastic praise from The Gramophone, the reviewer concluding:
In a market where modern rivals sound pedestrian or perfumed with finesse by comparison, this Fifth raises high hopes for what the graphic cover artwork implies may become a complete cycle.
Here’s from another review of the same recording:
Rarely have I heard the few opening measures of this symphony unleashed with such oppressively inexorable force, and its final minutes infused and driven by such ecstatic euphoria, with everything in between shaping the radical transformations that link the two extremes. After all the Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) is an expansive epic journey ‘per aspera ad astra’ (‘through hardship to the stars’) from fears of oppressive intolerance to great feelings of overwhelming joy.
Highly, obviously, recommended.