On 26 Janauary 1531, three tremors shake Portugal and numerous houses are destroyed in Lisbon by an earthquake which the Pope and others believe confirm the prediction of suffering made by Solomon Molcho who was seeking relief for Jews and Marranos.
The earthquake of January 26 1531 occurred between 4 and 5 am and was felt in Lisbon and along the Tagus estuary. The shock caused severe damage in the city downtown and neighbor areas, causing approximately 1000 casualties. Two strong foreshocks preceded the event on the 2nd and the 7th of January respectively. The waters of river Tagus flooded some places along the estuary and ships in the harbor touched the riverbed due to the movement of the water. The maximum reported MSK intensity is IX, making it one of the most severe earthquakes felt in Portugal.
Solomon Molcho, original name Diogo Pires (born c. 1500, Portugal—died 1532, Mantua, Italy), was a martyr who announced the Messiah, arousing the expectations of European Jews.
The son of Marrano parents, Pires attained the position of royal secretary in a Portuguese high court of justice. When an Arabian adventurer, David Reubeni, arrived in Portugal, Pires became possessed by mystic visions and was convinced that Reubeni was an augur of the Jewish messiah, the divinely chosen leader who would destroy the enemies of the Jews and initiate the Golden Age. Reubeni, claiming to be the brother of an Arabian Jewish king, had asked the Portuguese king for weapons so that he could lead a Jewish army to drive the Turks out of Palestine.
Pires circumcised himself, took the name Solomon Molcho, and approached Reubeni, telling him of his conversion and desire to openly espouse Judaism. He was rebuffed, however, by Reubeni.
Molcho left Portugal and for a time lived in Salonika, Turkey, where he joined a circle of Kabbalists. He began to preach that the Messiah would arise in 1540 and published several sermons. After dwelling for a time in Safed, Palestine, he went to Rome (1529) and managed to win Pope Clement VII’s protection from the Inquisition. Preaching at the great synagogue in Rome, Molcho accurately predicted two natural catastrophes—a flood in Rome (8 October 1530) and the earthquake in Portugal (1531).
Molcho met Pope Clement VII and tried convincing him that the redemption of the Jewish Nation was here. He tried convincing him to allow for the formation of a Marrano army that would wage a war against the Ottoman Empire to free the Land of Israel from their hands. In Rome, Shlomo Molcho lived amongst the paupers on the Tibur bridge for the period of one month as he was commanded to do so in his dreams and according to the Talmudic aggadah that the Messiah dwelt among the lepers at the gates of Rome. Pope Clement VII was so impressed by the truth of Mocho’s predictions that he granted him written approval to give public sermons and then have them published on condition that they would not be anti Christian.
In the meantime, Reubeni had come to Rome and joined forces with Molcho. In 1532 they went to Regensburg, Germany, to see Emperor Charles V in a vain attempt to persuade him to arm the Marranos against the Turks. Charles imprisoned them and turned them over to the Inquisition in Mantua. Given the choice of returning to Christianity, Molcho refused and was burned at the stake. Reubeni died in prison, probably poisoned.
Prayer and reflection: In such heady times of mysticism, messianism and military engagements it is not surprising that Messianic expectation was high, nor that those with Jewish background and Christian connections should be caught in the middle of such political and religious ferment. The forces that threw up these circumstances in European society would lead to revolution, nationalism and romanticism in the centuries that followed. Scientific development would challenge miraculous explanations, but history would still be seen as under the eye of the Almighty, as we recognize today. Have mercy, Lord, on our misplaced faith, and protect your Church and your people Israel from false hope, false Messiah’s, and ungodly behave. Help us prepare our hearts and lives for the return of Yeshua, and not to be deceived by those who try to precipitate such events. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.