This Day in Jewish History / Rabbi Turned Archbishop and Jew Hater Dies

Paul of Burgos, born Solomon Halevi, came to serve the court at the highest levels and to embitter the lives of his former people.

David Green
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Paul of Burgos
Paul of BurgosCredit: Wikimedia Commons
David Green

On August 29, 1435, Paul of Burgos, a Jewish scholar turned Christian convert and cleric, who would reach the lofty position of archbishop of Burgos, died, in that city, capital of the Spanish province of Castile.

Solomon Halevi, as he was known as a Jew, was born in or around 1351, in Burgos, to which his father had moved from Aragon or Navarre a short time earlier.

Halevi was both a rabbi and scholar, as well as a royal tax collector. His Jewish erudition was well-known; his correspondence with, for example, the Talmudic scholar Isaac ben Sheshet on matters of ritual law was collected in book form. But he also was well-grounded in non-Jewish subjects, and is believed to have had a fascination with Christian theology even before his conversion.

Whether Halevi’s conversion was based on conviction or on a desire to advance socially and economically – or perhaps a combination of the two – is unclear. The answer could be connected to whether he underwent baptism on July 21 of 1390 or 1391 (there is evidence to support both dates), as it was in the summer of 1391 that massacres of Jews took place in a number of communities around Spain. These were followed by vast numbers of conversions.

For his part, Halevi, who took on the name of Pablo de Santa Maria (Paul of Burgos in English), when he was baptized, wrote to a former rabbinical colleague that he had been convinced to become a Christian from his reading of St. Thomas of Aquinas.

Halevi’s two brothers and his sister, as well as his five children, were also baptized at the same time. Only some time later, however, did his wife, Joanna, decide to join them.

Turning against the Jews

Paul studied Christian theology at the University of Paris, where he took rites as a priest. It was in Paris that he became acquainted with Pedro da Luna, soon to be the (anti)pope Benedict XIII. Paul accompanied Pedro to Avignon when the latter became pope, and encouraged the pontiff to expel the Jews from that city.

In 1398, Benedict appointed Paul archdeacon of  Treviño, in the diocese of Burgos. That was followed by the bishopric of Cartagena, and then, in 1415, with the position of archbishop of Burgos.

He also was a confidant of King Henry II, and when that monarch died, in 1406 at the age of 27, Paul was a member of the council that ruled Castile in the name of his widow, and tutored his son, the future King John II. Later, he became John’s lord chancellor.

As an apostate Jew, Paul was active in encouraging other Jews to convert, and in making their lives bitter so long as they didn’t. As chancellor, he was the moving spirit behind a edict, introduced in 1412, that greatly restricted the ability of Jews to move around and to engage in commerce – unless they were willing to undergo baptism.

Paul was succeeded as archbishop of Burgos by his second son, Alfonso de Cartagena (1384-1456).