The Lisbon massacre (alternatively known as the Lisbon pogrom or the 1506 Easter Slaughter) took place in April, 1506, in Lisbon in the Kingdom of Portugal. A crowd of Catholics, and foreign sailors who were anchored in the Tagus, persecuted, tortured, killed, and burnt at the stake hundreds of people who were accused of being Jews, and consequently deemed guilty of deicide and heresy. This incident took place thirty years before the establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition and nine years after the Jews were expelled in 1496 and forced to convert to the Catholic Church in 1497, during the reign of King Manuel I.
In the years that followed the banishment of the Jews from Castile and Aragon in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, thousands of Jews took refuge in the neighbouring Kingdom of Portugal. King Manuel I was by far more tolerant toward the Jewish community but, under pressure from Spain, decreed the expulsion of the Jews in 1496, and instead made their conversion to Catholicism compulsory in 1497.
It is reported that the massacre began in the Igreja de São Domingos de Lisboa (where there is today a memorial tablet) on Sunday, 19 April 1506. The faithful were praying for the end of the drought and plague that swept the country when someone swore they had seen the illuminated face of Jesus on the altar — a phenomenon that could only be explained by the Catholics present as a message from the Messiah, a miracle.
A New Christian, one of the converted Jews, thought otherwise, and voiced his opinion that it had been only the reflection of a candle on the crucifix. The men gathered for Mass, hearing this, grabbed the man by his hair and brought him outside the church where he was beaten to death by the crowd and his body was burnt in the Rossio, one of the main squares of central Lisbon.
From that point the New Christians, who were already not trusted by the population, became the scapegoats for the drought, famine and plague. Dominican friars promised absolution for sins committed over the previous 100 days to those who killed the "heretics", and a crowd of more than 500 people (many of them sailors from the counties of Holland and Zeeland, and the Kingdom of Germany) gathered and killed all the New Christians they could find on the streets, burning their bodies by the Tagus or in the Rossio. That Sunday, more than 500 people were killed.
The king and the court had earlier left Lisbon for Abrantes to escape the plague, and were absent when the massacre began. King Manuel I was in Avis when he was informed of the event in Lisbon, and dispatched magistrates to try to put an end to the bloodbath. Meanwhile, the few authorities remaining in Lisbon were unable to intervene, as the crowd grew and the violence spread.
By Monday, 20 April, more local people had joined the crowd, which carried on the massacre with even more violence. The New Christians, no longer about on the streets, were dragged from their houses and from churches and were burnt in the public squares alive or dead. Not even infants were spared, as the crowd ripped them to pieces or threw them against the walls. The crowd proceeded to loot the houses, stealing all the gold, silver and linens they could find. More than 1,000 people were killed on the second day. It is also recorded that more than New Christians of Jewish ancestry were killed that day: some people accused their neighbours of heresy, and these unfortunates met the same fate as the New Christians.
On Tuesday, members of the court arrived at the city and rescued some of the New Christians. João Rodrigues Mascarenhas, the King's Squire, was killed by mistake in the massacre, and this triggered the arrival of the royal guard—more than 1,900 people had been killed by then. Aires da Silva, head of the Lisbon Freguesia, and D. Álvaro de Castro, Governor, were among those who tried to stop the crowd, were backed by the Prior of Crato and D. Diogo Lopo, Baron of Alvito, who had special powers from the King to execute members of the crowd.
Some Portuguese were arrested and hanged, while others had all their possessions confiscated by the Crown. The foreigners returned to their carracks with their plunder and sailed away. The two seditionist Dominican friars who had incited the massacre were stripped of their religious orders and were burnt at the stake.
There are reports that the São Domingos Convent was closed down during the eight years that followed, and all the representatives of the city of Lisbon were expelled from the Council of the Crown—Lisbon had had a seat in the Council since 1385, when King John I gave the city that privilege.
Following the massacre, a climate of suspicion against New Christians pervaded the Kingdom of Portugal. The Portuguese Inquisition was established thirty years afterward; many families of Jewish ancestry either escaped or were banished from the country. Even banished, they still had to pay for their emigration; they had to leave or sell their properties to the Crown, traveling only with the luggage they could carry.
After the massacre, New Christians of Jewish ancestry still felt deep allegiance to the Portuguese monarch.