New Genetic Study of Spaniards Finds Echoes of the Inquisition

By Eliza Strickland | December 4, 2008 5:36 pm

Spanish InquisitionThe tumult of the Spanish Inquisition, which began over 500 years ago, has echoed down through the generations of people living on the Iberian peninsula in a remarkable way. A new genetic study has revealed that many current Spaniards have Sephardic Jewish or North African heritage, indicating that their ancestors converted to Christianity during the religious upheaval of the 15th century in order to remain in Spain. The study showed that one in ten Iberians has a North African ancestor, while one in five had Jewish forebears.

This melting pot probably occurred after centuries of coexistence and tolerance among Muslims, Jews and Christians ended in 1492, when Catholic monarchs converted or expelled the Islamic population, called Moriscos. Sephardic Jews, whose Iberian roots extend to the first century AD, received much the same treatment. “They were given a choice: convert, go, or die,” says Mark Jobling, a geneticist at the University of Leicester, UK. Some of those that became Christian would have ended up contributing genes to the Iberian pool [New Scientist].

For the study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics [subscription required], biologists analyzed the Y chromosomes of 1,140 men living on the Iberian peninsula. They developed a genetic signature of Sephardic men from communities founded by Jews who migrated from Spain after 1492, as well as one for Moroccan men; then they looked for those genetic traces in the Iberian population. Because most of the Y chromosome remains unchanged from father to son, the proportions of Sephardic and Moorish ancestry detected in the present population are probably the same as those just after the 1492 expulsions [The New York Times].

Researchers say the findings offer a glimpse back into Spanish history, and helps refute the creed presented by generations of Spanish monarchs: that Spanish civilization is fundamentally Catholic and that other religious and ethnic groups left few traces. Studies such as the new one “tell the true history of everyone’s ancestors and not just the history book lessons of kings and queens,” says James Wilson, a population geneticist [Science News].

Related Content:
80beats: Ancient Phoenicians Left Their DNA in the Mediterranean Gene Pool
80beats: To Tell an Englishman From an Irishman, Look at Their Genes

Image: Wikimedia Commons

  • Loldemort

    Will you please stop repeating the old canard about “centuries of coexistence and tolerance” under Muslim rule? The Muslims in Spain were invaders, and established a kingdom where non-Muslims had an extremely second class status – they ran regular slaving runs to the north, for goodness sake! The situation in Moorish Spain could be compared, though disfavourably, to that in Imperial India and, as in India, the invaders were eventually kicked out.

  • Joseph

    History records plenty of massacres against the Jews in the 400 years before the Inquisition came into being. Entire communities were wiped out.

  • Franco

    Here are the facts:Take a Swede(blond/blue eyed) and place him in the Congo.
    After 500 years of genetic mixing,his male descendents,all of whom will
    appear sub-saharan african,will have a European genetic marker as a consequence of the “Y” chromosome,but is he European?I think not.

    The same is true of the 10.6% of Spanairds that have the “Y” North African
    chromosome.The problem of these genetic test is that they fail to report 99.9% of the entire genetic puzzle! Spain is European.The fact that so few
    carry this marker,is an index of Spain’s European genetic legacy.

  • Wes

    If he lives in Europe, then he would be European. If he lives in Africa, then he would be African. The only difference is he has some European ancestors. And as for Spain, there had been a lot more racial mixing from the time of Hannibal to the time of the Black Moors. We put more into race than we should.

  • zach

    The point isn’t to say, “haha those Spaniards are mongrols” this article is pointing out that genetics puts to lie the story that Spain was successful in the Inquisition to remove or kill the non-Catholic population.

  • stacey lawhorn

    i am a blonde haired, pale skinned ,blue eyed girl whos grandmother was full spanaird and i am proud to have spanish in me. I would rather be spaniard than anything else. Spaniards are kind careing pple and not mongrols. Who ever thinks they are are mutts that need to get a life.


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