Samuel Abravalla, called ‘the great’, was the richest Jew in Valencia. He was forced during the persecution of 1391 to accept Christianity. The jurados of Valencia reported on this baptism on July 14, 1391, as follows: “Yesterday there was baptized the great Don Samuel Abravalla with great solemnity in the palace of En Gasto under the patronage of the marquis, and he has received the name of Alfonso Ferrandes de Villanueva, from an estate which he owns in the marquisate, called Villanueva” (De los Rios, “Hist. de los Judíos de España y Portugal,” ii. 603). This Samuel Abravalla can scarcely be identical with Don Samuel Abravanel, who was also baptized in 1391, but took the name Juan de Sevilla. Abravalla soon returned to Judaism, as did also Abravanel. He was sent with Don Solomon ha-Levi to Rome as ambassador of the Spanish Jews, and had an interview with the pope. [Jewish Encyclopedia]
Shebeṭ Yehudah, No. 41;
Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, iv. 219.
In Valencia, the wealthy and influential Joseph Abarim and Samuel Abravalla led the way; and they were followed by all of their surviving coreligionists, except a few who remained in hiding. So many came forward for baptism, it was said, that the holy chrism in the churches was exhausted, and it was regarded as miraculous that the supply held out. The number of converts here alone was stated, with palpable exaggeration, to amount to eleven thousand. In some places, the Jews did not wait for the application of compulsion, but anticipated the popular attack by coming forward spontaneously, clamoring for admission to the Church. All told, the total number of conversions in the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile was reckoned at the improbable figure of two hundred thousand. It was a phenomenon unique in the whole of Jewish history. [The Marranos: Cecil Roth]
Reflection: Whilst there is some confusion as to the precise identity of Samuel Abravalla, there is little doubt of the sad circumstances, replicated many times over in medieval Spain, that left a lasting and damaging legacy on Jewish-Christian relations. The church still has a long way to go to show repentance, reconciliation and restoration of relationship between Jewish and Christians, and Messianic Jews often suffer the stigma and scrutiny of both communities as to the genuineness of their characters and motives, because of such oppressive circumstances and the duress under which so-called ‘converts’ were placed. Lord, have mercy!