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Old Christian (cristiano viejo in Spanish, cristão velho in Portuguese) was a social and law-effective category used in the Iberian Peninsula from the late 15th and early 16th century onwards, to distinguish Portuguese and Spanish attested as having cleanliness of blood from the populations categorized as New Christian, mainly persons of partial or full Jewish or Moorish descent who converted to Christianity, and their baptized descendants. The term was introduced in order for "Old Christians" to distinguish themselves from the converts (conversos), who were also insulted as marranos, "pigs", in a derogatory manner.

After the expulsion of the Jewish population from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497 all the Jewish population in Iberia became officially Christian. The New Christians were always under suspicion of apostasy. The creation of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 and the Portuguese Inquisition in 1536 was justified by the need to fight heresy. It was believed that many New Christians were practicing their original religion in secret and, in fact, large numbers were Crypto-Jews.

The system and ideology of cleanliness of blood ostracized New Christian minorities from society, regardless of their actual degree of sincerity as converts, giving far more privileges to Old Christians (the majority of the population).

In Portugal, the legal distinction between New and Old Christian was ended through a legal decree issued by the Marquis of Pombal in 1772.


  • J. Lúcio de Azevedo (1989). História dos Cristãos Novos Portugueses. Lisboa: Clássica Editora. 
  • David M. Gitlitz (1996). Secrecy and deceit: the religion of the crypto-Jews. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0-8276-0562-5. 
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Old Christian. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.