Tough topic today. A history lesson, not about food, but it is about language (and a bit of perversity) pertaining to the Judeo-Spanish experience, so I’ve included it here.
I have a bit of a question for you about Sephardic history/culture. I know that the yellow ritual garment worn by the accused “heretics” (especially marranos) during the Inquisition was/is called a sanbenito or sambenito in Spanish. What does this mean? Some translate it as “blessed sack”. People have linked it to Saint Benedict… I assume it refers to Saint Benedict of Monte Cassino, the founder of Catholic monasticism, since the persecution of Jews and heretics was so often linked to the monastic orders, particularly Dominicans and Franciscans. But could it also be derived from the Ladino name for G-d? In a Ladino version of Chad Gadya, I heard G-d referred to as “Santo-Bendicho-El”, i.e. the Holy Blessed One (ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu). I know it’s a strange linkage to make but could it be plausible? – Mark L.
Yikes! No way, Mark. In the 1500’s, New Christians and Old spoke the same Spanish. This one belongs strictly to the Spanish Inquisition, though the convicted heretics (i.e. Jews) condemned to wearing one did coin an enduring expression around the word, which I’ll explain at the end of this post.
Without going into great detail about the various designs (there were several), the ‘saco bendito’ – or sambenito, as it came to be known – as such was an invention of the Spanish Inquisition. The former name does mean ‘blessed sack’ and the latter is a contraction of San Benito, i.e. Saint Benedict.
Anyone found guilty of heresy was required to wear a saco bendito as part of their punishment, either when being led to be burned at the stake, or, if one was not condemned to die, then at all times when appearing in public, for the duration of their punishment. Imagine having to walk around dressed like this for the rest of your life:
As a written word, ‘sambenito’ is first known to have appeared in the notes of a Jesuit missionary Continue reading