REPRODUCTIONS · Sefarad
Susona Ben-Susón Collection
THE LEGEND OF SUSONA · THE JULIET OF SEVILLE
Maybe the most beautiful part of Seville is the Barrio de Santa Cruz, or that is to say, the ancient Jewish quarter. This amazing neighbourhood is formed by very narrow streets and little squares. It is the ideal place for two lovers in order to meander along its labyrinthic alleys, both of them submerged in a cloud of love.
But this neighbourhood has a history. It is thought that these labyrinthic streets were so narrow for two reasons: On the one hand they were narrow in order to provide shade and on the other hand in order to organize and effective resistance in case the Jewish neighbourhood was invaded. Most of the time the quarter was in peace but it was invaded in many occasions. For example under Muslim domination most of the time the quarter was in peace but it is thought there were invasions with the fanatic almohades or with the fanatic benimerines, who came from the northern part of Africa in order to impose a strict law to their apparently relaxed Muslim brothers in Andalusia. (These apparently relaxed Muslims brothers in Al- Andalus had created the Arabic numerals and had brought Aristotle and Plato to the Western Civilization. From 712 to 1248 Seville was Muslim).
Later on, under Christian domination, since 1248 onwards, there were some invasions too, for example the terrible one in 1391, it was a pogrom which killed a lot of Jewish residents. And later on all the Jewish people (who were not converted to Christianity) were expelled under the reign of the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.
(Later on, the Muslims who were not converted to Christianity would be expelled too in 1609).
Let´s talk about one of Seville´s oldest popular stories that took place in the Jewish neighbourhood.
In 1480, in the final years of the Jewish community in Seville, many Jews had already left or converted to Christianity. But among many Christians there was the suspicion that these Conversos were not true converts, but they wanted to bring a restored Judaism. Many Christians called them “Marranos”, that is to say, not truly converted to Christianity. These suspicious and intolerant Christians created the Spanish Inquisition in order to fight Marranos. And this suspicion provoked, among other things, that since that time onwards Spanish people have two surnames in order to testify their origin.
Don Diego de Suson was a wealthy Converso in 1480. He was a wealthy and prosperous merchant. But many suspicious Christians grudged him and wanted to killed him. So Don Diego convened a secret meeting of prominent converses to discuss the possibility of an armed insurrection. (In fact they only wanted to defend themselves).
His daughter was called Susona Ben-Suson and she had a Christian boyfriend. This Christian was a young noble. Susona feared that her Christian boyfriend would be put in danger by an uprising, so she revealed her father´s plot to the young noble. But her boyfriend promptly reported it to the authorities and all the conspirators were duly arrested and brought before the Inquisition, tortured, tried and executed.
After that, Susona, stricken with remorse at the consequences of her betrayal, never again left her house. She stayed cloistered there. And when she died her last will was to hung up her head outside her house (where it remained as late as the 18th century) as a testimony of her grief and the duplicity of Christians. For this reason this street was called the Street of Death and Susona´s skull was outside her house for many centuries.
The building where this legend unfolds was my grandparent's home and where my mother was born. At its rear facade, which faces the street Susona, we can see the tile's murals that make mention of the Bella Susona and explain his life and events. The tile with the skull was relocated by my grandfather Deogracias when the house was restored in the late 19th century. Actually the house still belongs to our family.