Limpieza de sangre, purity of blood in English, was primordial in Spain especially after the Fall of Granada in 1492, and the expulsion of the Jews shortly after. “Old Christian” ancestry was at a premium while “New Christians” (conversos), descendants of Jews, Moors, heretics, and idolatrers, those illegitimate at birth were considered “tainted.” In the “Old Christian” Kingdom of Spain, only those who passed the stringent tests of pure blood could be appointed to high positions in the State and Church.
There was a limpieza de sangre statute in 1391, which took legal force in 1449, when the city council of Toledo issued a Sentencia-Instituto (Ortiz, 1992) against Jewish tax collectors who happened to be converts to the Catholic Faith. They were made the scapegoats for the repressive fiscal policies of the King Juan II, which the people hated. Spaniards believed that “converts” harbored heretical tendencies and that they secretly hated “Old Christians” for being the protectors of Faith and King.
To get a Probanza de limpieza de sangre (certificate of purity of blood) was a tedious, time-consuming, and expensive procedure for those who needed or wanted it. Only the Holy Inquisition could issue the probanza.
An applicant to an office, title, or profession, or to a position in the Holy Inquisition itself has to have “purity of blood” and to get the certificate to prove it, he had to submit genealogical information in great detail about his family and that of his wife’s, or wives’ in case he was a widower before his second marriage. An investigator (inquisitor) of the Holy Inquisition had to very carefully trace the bloodlines of both the applicant and his wife because a man married to a woman with “tainted” blood inevitably “contaminates” his family and the coming generation of descendants. The four sets of grandparents and great great grandparents, the places of origin and current residences of all concerned had to be listed so the investigator could visit them, go to town halls to examine records, look into ecclesiastical archives and private and public registries as well. Even a hint of illegitimacy meant automatic disqualification because, how can purity of blood be ascertained if the biological parents are unknown?
After genealogical verification, the investigator would go about interviewing the “Old Christian” elders of the town, collecting neighborhood gossip, tall stories, even rumors about the applicant. New converts were considered impure as they harbored heretical tendencies; those who had been castigated with sanbenitos by the Inquisition were already “tainted.” The Holy Inquisition’s investigative processes could take months, if not years with the applicant paying for all the expenses. Wittingly or unwittingly, the “limpieza” produced a cultural model that consisted of certain political, religious, social and sexual practices, as well as notions of honor and loyalty to Faith and Crown. “It gave Spanish society an imagined Christian genesis,” said historian H. Franco (Cultura y Limpieza de Sangre).
What about Spain’s colonies? In the Virreinato de la Nueva España (Mexico) and other colonies like Peru, limpieza de sangrewas also instituted, though not as severely as in the Metropolis. As early as 1523, an edict forbade those with “tainted blood” – Jews, Moors, New Christians, gypsies, heretics and their respective descendants – from migrating to the New World, lest they contaminate indigenous peoples and undermine evangelization. Despite stringent measures, quite a number of New Christians and other “tainted” categories eventually slipped through, forcing theVirreinato de la Nueva España to require “certificates of purity of blood” forapplicants to imperial posts like royal councilors, judges, and secretaries, and for positions in colonial institutions, professions, and the ecclesiastical sector. Consequently, the colonial governments and the Church were in the hands of “Old Christians.”
The “limpieza” regulations were formalized in the colonies in 1574 with the passage of the Ordenanza del Patronazgo, which strengthened the control of the Crown over ecclesiastical benefices, including cathedral chapter appointments. Towards the end of the 16th century, more certifications were requested in Nueva España to curb the flow of Portuguese New Christians into the colonies, an aftermath of the unification of Spain and Portugal. The Counter-Reformation put Spain, the Guardian of the Catholic Faith, on the defensive. To prevent heresy and the revival of idolatry in the colonies, the Holy Inquisition was established in Mexico and Peru in 1571. All that contributed to the increase in the demand for “certificates of purity of blood.”
As for the colony Filipinas, the Holy Inquisition did cross the Pacific to establish itself in Intramuros, eager to thresh out heretics and suppress idolatrous practices. But, it was never as severe as it was in Spain and in the Virreinatos in the Americas because the natives in this archipelago were very New Christians, always expected to fall back into idolatry. Neither did they demand “limpieza de sangre.” What for? Natives were not even considered worthy or qualified for high positions in State and Church. That was why Apolinario de la Cruz, popularly known as Hermano Pule, had to form his own Cofradia exclusively for natives, and though it caused him his life, his struggle lived on until the 19th century when three Filipino priests surnamed Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora, who could not be bothered about limpieza de sangre, demanded the secularization and Filipinization of the Church.
(Source: Martinez Maria Elena, “Interrogating Blood Lines,” 2007)