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Santa Fe’s Crypto-Jews, Illustrated

January 31, 2013 | By

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Quick, name 3 centers of Jewish culture. New York, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv? Why not include Santa Fe, New Mexico?

A new graphic novel, El Iluminado, depicts present-day Santa Fe as the center of a thriving, yet hidden Jewish world: the land of the crypto-Jews, who emigrated from Spain after the expulsion in 1492. These Jews, known as conversos, practiced Judaism in secret after public conversions to Christianity.

Written by Amherst College professor Ilan Stavans and illustrated by Steve Sheinkin, El Iluminado starts with a mysterious death in the desert outside Santa Fe. An academic expert on conversos – a character named Ilan Stavans – is drawn into the mystery and New Mexico’s unseen Jewish world by a woman who believes the death is connected with the secret papers of Luis de Carvajal the Younger, a crypto-Jew burned at the stake in 1596.

El Iluminado is a thriller reminiscent of both the Indiana Jones movies and The DaVinci Code, with its hidden religious symbols and breakneck pace. It abounds with obscure literary and historical references, including a 400-year-old Santa Fe church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which plays a major role in unraveling the mystery.

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Piqued? You can buy El Iluminado here.

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