New Christian (Spanish: Cristiano Nuevo; Portuguese: Cristão-Novo; Catalan: Cristià Nou) was a socio-religious designation and legal distinction in the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire. The term was used from the 15th century onwards primarily to describe the descendants of those Sephardic Jews and Moors who were baptised into the Catholic Church following the Alhambra Decree. The Alhambra Decree of 1492, also known as the Edict of Expulsion, was an anti-Jewish law made by the Catholic Monarchs upon the completion of the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. It required Jews to convert to Catholicism or to be expelled from Spain. Most of the history of the "New Christians" refers to the Jewish converts, who were generally known as Conversos (or in a more derogatory fashion Marranos), while the Muslim converts were known as Moriscos.
Because the conversions were achieved in part through coercion and also with the threat of expulsion, especially when it came to the Jews, the Inquisitions and Iberian monarchs suspected a number of the "New Christians" of secretly being Crypto-Jews (that is to say, to be privately adhering to Rabbinic Judaism while masquerading as faithful Catholics as a public show).[undue weight? ][verification needed] Subsequently, the Spanish Inquisition and then the Portuguese Inquisition was created to enforce Catholic orthodoxy and to investigate allegations of heresy. This became a political issue not just in Spain and Portugal itself, but their respective empires abroad, particularly in Spanish America, Portuguese America, and the Caribbean. Sometimes "New Christians" travelled to territories controlled by Protestant enemies of Spain, such as the Dutch Empire, the early English Empire, or Huguenot-influenced areas of France such as Bordeaux, openly practicing as Jews, which furthered suspicion of Jewish crypsis. Nevertheless, a significant number of those "New Christians" who had conversos as ancestors, were deemed by Spanish society as sincerely Catholic still managed to attain prominence, whether religious (St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of Ávila, Tomás de Torquemada, Diego Laynez, Francisco de Vitoria, Francisco Suárez and others) or political (Juan de Oñate, Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva, Hernán Pérez de Quesada, Luis de Santángel and others).
According to António José Saraiva, a famous or "Emeritus" Portuguese literature teacher and historian, "The reality of the dichotomy between Old and New Christian only existed in the Inquisitorial taxonomy. The religious or ethnic definition of the New Christians was, in the last analysis, merely formal and bureaucratic. Also, the label of the New Christian can be based on rumors originating from dubious genealogies, slander and intrigue." By law, the category of New Christians included not only recent converts but also all their known baptized descendants with any fraction or quantum of New Christian blood up to the third generation, the fourth generation being exempted. In Phillip II's reign, it included any person with any fraction of New Christian blood "from time immemorial". In Portugal, it was only in 1772 that Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquess of Pombal, finally decreed an end to the legal distinction between New Christians and Old Christians.