In Spain, a Family Reunion, Centuries Later

tags: Spain



Doreen Carvajal is a correspondent at the International New York Times in Paris and author of a memoir, “The Forgetting River.”

At twilight, I roamed a honey-colored labyrinth of brick houses in Segovia’s medieval Jewish quarter, walking a cobblestone path in the footsteps of my distant ancestor from 16 generations ago.

In the shadows, I reminded myself that every element in his story is true: a Vatican power struggle; an Inquisition trial that confused our family’s religious identity for generations; and a neighborhood infested with spies, from the queen’s minions to the leather maker and butcher.

I was hunting for documents, landmarks and even medieval recipes that could bring to life the family history of Diego Arias Dávila, a wealthy 15th-century royal treasurer to King Enrique IV who was loved and loathed for the taxes he extracted. Call it ancestral tourism, a quest for roots, branches and a family reunion across centuries. 

My quest was inspired, in part, by the ancient Spanish custom of Holy Week religious processions: brotherhoods of penitents in robes and peaked hoods that for centuries marched through the narrow lanes in different regions in cities like Seville, Málaga and  Segovia. The first time I saw them was in the south of Spain, passing an old Jewish quarter of whitewashed houses where the images plunged me into a medieval era when inquisitors in anonymous hoods confronted suspected heretics, including my own ancestors.



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