Deciphering Secrets

Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain

Medieval Spanish Manuscript and Transcription Collection

Manuscripts in an archive.
Manuscripts at the Archivo de la Catedral de Burgos (Spain)

About the Collection


The Deciphering Secrets medieval Spanish manuscripts collection is a developing digital compilation of several thousand ecclesiastical, royal, municipal, and familial folios and transcriptions that focus on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interreligious relations during the later Middle Ages (11th through 16th centuries). It assembles manuscripts that detail the daily economic, social, religious, and political interactions, as well as larger communal relations, of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who resided in the cities of Burgos, Toledo, Plasencia, and Granada in the Kingdom of Castile and Leon.

The collection is primarily composed of four categories of documents:

  • cathedral administrative records, legal agreements, privileges, and correspondence;
  • papal privileges and correspondence;
  • city administrative records, legal agreements, privileges, and correspondence;
  • royal decrees, privileges, and correspondence; and
  • familial documents including testaments, genealogies, and legal agreements.

The complete searchable collection with access to all Dublin Core Schema Metadata is available at: University of Colorado-Colorado Springs Digital Collections. The collection may also be searched on Google Scholar by adding the search terms “deciphering secrets mountain scholar” and additional specific terms such as “Jew”, “Muslim”, “morisco”, and “converso” to refine your search. A limited version of the collection is also accessible via JSTOR Open Community Collections at JSTOR Open Community Collection: Deciphering Secrets.

<strong>Historical Significance</strong>

The bulk of collection concentrates on the cities and Catholic dioceses of Burgos, Toledo, Plasencia, and Granada during the fourteenth and fifteen centuries. Significant historical events were either directed from these multireligious communities, or, where they occurred.

Burgos was the royal administrative center of the Kingdom of Castille and Leon and a diocese led by elite conversos like the Santa María clan. Toledo held a long-standing position as an intellectual capital built upon Jewish, Islamic, and Christian shoulders and was the first locality that implemented “blood purity statutes” in the 1450s that blocked the participation of conversos in municipal government.

Plasencia generated the administrative and ecclesiastical leadership that propelled medieval Spain into an imperial power during the early sixteenth century. This direction was specifically embodied in the converso personages of Cardinal Bernardino López de Carvajal (1456-1523), who secured the titles “Catholic Monarchs” for Queen Isabel and King Fernando II and the Inter caetera papal bull (May 4, 1493) granting the monarchs control over most of the Americas, and Lorenzo Galíndez de Carvajal (1472-1528), the historian of Queen Isabel and King Fernando II who cleansed royal and noble genealogies of Jewish ancestries and was first de facto royal governor of the Spanish dependencies in the Americas per his position of Correo Mayor de Indias.

Granada, the last of the Islamic kingdoms ruled by the Nasrids (1230-1492) at the Alhambra, is where Isabel and Fernando rode triumphantly into the city on January 2, 1492, and completed the eight-hundred-year Spanish Christian reconquest of Iberia from Islamic civilization. Moreover, on March 31, 1492, at the Alhambra the Catholic Monarchs issued the Edict of Expulsion that decreed all Jews to leave Spain within four months, and by 1502, a similar order was issued pertaining to the remaining Muslim population (a population majority in the city) who did not convert to Christianity.

Thus, by constituting disparate secular and ecclesiastical archive collections from these four cities into a new one centering on those manuscripts pertaining to interfaith life in late medieval Spain, a new digital archive can be realized and shared globally. Although it is presently a small collection, it will grow substantially over the next five years.

<strong>Collection Origins and Institutions</strong>

Although some of the digital folios from municipal and national institutions are presently available via archive portals, Deciphering Secrets’ cathedral collections are entirely unique in that none of these folios are presently available as digital artifacts. The collection’s manuscript folios, which specifically focus on inter-religious affairs, were individually researched, reviewed, and selected for inclusion by Prof. Martinez-Davila; onsite inspection of original physical manuscripts was performed in 2005, 2006, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Publication of the digital collection began in 2019 with the first series of thirty unique folios, but when completed, will be composed of over 5,750 individual folios from eight Spanish cathedral, municipal, and archival institutions. These entities include:

  • Archivo de la Catedral de Burgos (Spain),
  • Archivo Muncipal de Burgos (Spain),
  • Archivo y Biblioteca Capitular de Toledo (Spain),
  • Archivo Municipal de Toledo (Spain),
  • Archivo Historico de la Nobleza (Toledo, Spain),
  • Archivo de la Catedral de Plasencia (Spain),
  • Archivo Municipal de Plasencia (Spain), and
  • Archivo Municipal de Granada (Spain).

LocalityArchive (Manuscript Collection)Raw Count of Folios
BurgosArchivo de la Catedral de Burgos (Libros, Registros)750 folios
Archivo Historico Muncipal de Burgos (Sección Histórica)500 folios
ToledoArchivo y Biblioteca de la Catedral de Toledo (Obras y Fabricas)250 folios
Archivo Municipal de Toledo (Archivo Secreto)500 folios
Archivo Historico de la Nobleza-Toledo (Baena, Bornos, Covera, Frias, Griegos, Luque, Osuna, Polop, Priego, Torrelaguna)350 folios
PlasenciaArchivo de la Catedral de Plasencia (Actas Capitulares, assorted folios)2,300 folios
Archivo Municipal de Plasencia (Libros de Actas Capitulares, assorted folios)600 folios
GranadaArchivo Municipal de Granada (Actas del Cabildo)500 folios
Total5,750 folios

<strong>Collection Structure</strong>

The historical research collection is housed within the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs Digital Collections and was thematically curated by Prof. Dr. Roger L. Martinez-Davila of the University of Colorado (USA). The UCCS Digital Collections is a member of the Mountain Scholar regional open access repository that offers a solid platform for our preservation, cataloguing, and distribution of medieval manuscripts and transcriptions. The collection is one component of his Deciphering Secrets project, which motivates citizen scientists to learn the craft of paleography and collaboratively crowdsource the transcription of selections of the manuscripts within Massive Open Online Courses (2014-ongoing) and university courses. A primary research outcome of Deciphering Secrets is the digital indexing and publication of a growing collection of folio images (in the archival Adobe PDF format) as well as rough and finalized transcriptions of those folios.

Critical to the curatorial endeavor of this collection is its specific focus on the creation of new indexes and metadata descriptions that identify issues and topics related to the study of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interrelations. Deciphering Secrets’ organization and presentation of these folios represents a fundamental restructuring of existing archival records for scholarly studies not previously contemplated by the institutions that presently hold the original physical manuscripts.

In this respect, the collection is modestly akin to the great Spanish editorial projects of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as Coleccion de documentos ineditos para la historia de Espana, 112 vols. (1842-1895). By transcribing and printing documents, these projects made primary sources easily accessible to scholars across the globe and thereby advanced scholarship. Today, we are entering a new era of large-scale editorial projects. The digitalization of archives and new information technologies makes it easier to transcribe and edit primary sources and subsequently make those sources accessible to scholars and students in machine readable file formats. These new editorial projects, such as Deciphering Secrets, rely heavily on crowdsourcing, or the practice of soliciting and employing the assistance of large groups of persons, to transcribe the text.

<strong>Dublin Core Metadata Dictionary</strong>

During 2019, the first preliminary efforts began to create metadata standards to organize and describe the DS collection, as well as to publish manuscript images prepared as PDF-As (an archival form of the popular file format that is used for long-term preservation) and transcriptions. During spring and summer 2020, the twenty-eight folios and crowdsourced transcriptions were abstracted using our custom metadata descriptors and published in Mountain Scholar. For example, these metadata extensions center around medieval European themes, ecclesiastical organizational and content factors, and highly-specific issues of interreligious relations. The document, “Deciphering Secrets Collection Dublin Core Metadata Descriptors and Sample Data for the manuscripts,” presents the collections’ metadata descriptors as well as sample metadata elements for one of the collection’s folios.

Among the innovations of this new digital archive is its framing of collection descriptors (Dublin Core Metadata Schema) through the lens of Spanish Jewish, Christian, and Muslim economic, social, religious, and political relationships during the Middle Ages. The collection’s contents uniquely focus on manuscripts that record interfaith economic transactions that detail property leases, sales, individual and communal agreements, and other routine dealings documenting payment for services or religious poll taxes. At this time, there is no other collection that specifically examines this interreligious dynamic. We employ several metadata elements to categorize manuscripts and transcriptions along these lines, namely, dc.description, dc.subject, and dc.title. These elements, which are presented in English and Spanish, describe the items according to religious identities and proper names of the reported individuals. An important characteristic of medieval Spanish manuscripts is that when an individual who is not a Christian is reported in a document, the recording notary will almost universally notate their religious status (Jew/judio, Muslim/moro, Muslim convert/morisco, Jewish convert/converso) and their Hebrew and Arabic given and surnames using a Latin alphabet phonetic spelling. While these religious details exist in the original manuscripts, they are routinely omitted from abstracts and indices prepared by the institutions because these data were not important or relevant for the institutions’ purposes.

Mountain Scholar displays the full range of our metadata. In addition, the collection’s content is now searchable on Google Scholar as that search engine continuously “crawls” our institutional collections. For example, a search for “moro Burgos” on Google Scholar will locate and link to the sample manuscript described in the Dublin Core Metadata Schema PDF discussed above. Therefore, our efforts have realized a crucial foundational goal of making our scholarly-curated collection searchable using universally accessible search tools (Google Scholar) and accessible via an open source digital repository (Mountain Scholar).

<strong>Legal Permissions</strong>

The images and materials in this manuscript collection are either within the public domain or published with verbal and/or written permission from the copyright holders.

Each archival institution granted explicit verbal and written permission to Prof. Martinez-Davila and/or Deciphering Secrets to digitally photograph manuscripts (or receive photographs from the institution) and to distribute those images to students and researchers as a part of the overall project funded primarily by the European Commission in 2015. The Deciphering Secrets project received funding from the University of Colorado and the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement nº 600371, el Ministerio de Economia Competitividad (COFUND2013-51509) and Banco Santander.

Digital photographs created by Prof. Martinez-Davila (which include those taken at the Archivo de la Catedral de Burgos, Archivo Municipal de Toledo, Archivo de la Catedral de Plasencia, and Archivo Municipal de Plasencia) constitute his original intellectual property per United States copyright law; he grants use of these photographs for non-profit research and educational use per Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Digital photographs from all other institutions included in this collection remain those institutions’ intellectual property, however, may be examined for non-profit research and educational use per the original agreements with those institutions. All metadata descriptions and transcriptions in the collection are the original intellectual property of Prof. Martinez-Davila; he grants use of these transcriptions for non-profit research and educational use per Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


Deciphering Secrets acknowledges the invaluable collaborative efforts of tens of thousands of MOOC learners, Mary Rupp (UCCS), Jennifer George (UCCS), Deborah Keyek-Franssen (University of Colorado System), Sean Perrone (St. Anselm College), Francisco Garcia Serrano-Nebras (St. Louis University-Madrid Campus), Jaime Alvar Ezquerra (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid), Maria Martin de Vidales Garcia (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid), Christopher Schreck, Brittany Abshire, and Agata Costa Dekker.

The Collection

The Deciphering Secrets collection of manuscripts and transcripts can be searched at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs Digital Collections. As of spring 2021, the collections’ first series of manuscripts and transcriptions, all of which pertain to the city of Burgos, include the following items listed in the table below.

Manuscript TitleURLTranscription Available?
[Additional Payment Ordered to Muslim Carpenters] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Alfonso Garcia de Santamaria, converso and Abbot of Compludo, leases houses of the Pataneria.]
[Alms to a imprisoned cleric in the land of Muslims]
[Alonso Rodriguez, converso, is free from paying lease. Ibo Moro, morisco, makes an offer on archdean Palenzuela’s orchard. Cabanas’ abbot must pay the money owed.]
[Archdean of Palenzuela Replaced by Pedro Garcia de Olmillos. Fernando Garcia, witness, morisco.]
[Authorization to Obtain Bids from Muslim Carpenters]
[Bartolome Sanchez, sieve maker and merchant, possible converso, leases houses adjacent to cathedral of Burgos.]
[Church Collects Debts from Zag de Belorado, Jew]
[Church payment to Fernando Garcia, morisco]
[Concord of chapter and its bishop with monastery of Santa Maria de las Huelgas and Hospital del Rey about their tithes]
[Debt of dean Lopez Hurtado de Mendoza with the chapter and order to arrest Jews when they owe money]
[Derramen de Porres, Muslim, to Sell the Houses] No
[Diego Garcia de Vivar y Aflonso Fernandez de Viejarrua recived a granted power to lease the mill. Juan Fernandez del Corral responsible for collecting debt of rented lands to Muslims. Martin Diez must pay for plaster….
[Fernando Garcia, morisco merchant of cloth, receives payment.]
[Fernarndo Garcia, morisco merchant, witnesses church lease of farm to a tavern keeper.]
[Gonzalo Rodriguez de Maluenda names his cousin, Gonzalo Garcia de Carvajal, as his representative] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Grant of Lease to Audalla de Valladolid in the Muslim quarter] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Lease Dispute between the Church and Audalla de Valladolid]
[Lease granted by this cathedral chapter for some houses on San Gil street in this city to Juan Martinez de Frias.]
[Lease Granted to Fernando Alonso and Isabel Alonso on Tenebregosa Street]
[Lease Granted to Fernando Garcia, Muslim, on Tenebregosa Street]
[Lease granted to Fernando Sanchez Pardo, tailor, and his wife Isabel Sanchez, resident of Burgos in some houses near Carniceria de en Medio street]
[Lease Granted to Juan Fernandez del Corral on Malburguete Street]
[Lease Granted to Juan Sanchez Alvadan in the Muslim Quarter] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Lease granted to Maria Gonzalez in the Muslim quarter]
[Lease Granted to Muslim Merchant Fernando Garcia]
[Lease Granted to Pedro Gonzalez and Pedro Rodriguez in Arcos]
[Lease Granted to Pedro Gonzalez de Huermeces and Marina Gonzalez]
[Lease Granted to Zopin Lopez on Silleria Street]
[Lease of Property on Cerrajeria]
[Lease of the mill of Fuente de Vega to the muslims, Brahem de Carrion and his wife, Axa.]
[Leasing of  the houses that Juan Martinez owns in Coroneria Street, city of Burgos] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Legal Dispute With Jewish Leasees over Seaport Rental] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Master carpenters, who are conversos, receive alms of 30 bushels of wheat.]
[Order for Muslim Craftsmen to Work on Ojo and Quintanaortuno Mills]
[Order to Build Houses and Give Alms in the Cerrajeria]
[Order to Hire Builders for Houses on the Cerrajeria] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Order to Pay Muslim Carpenters to Build and Repair Buildings] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Order to Pay Rent and Hire Muslim Carpenters to Build Houses] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Order to Present and Deliver Funds to Muslim Carpenters] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Order to Record Funds Collected from Zag de Belorado, Jew]
[Orders for Muslim Craftsmen to Build and Repair Houses ] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Papal Bull of Nicolas V banning business conducted between Old Christians and New Christians (conversos)] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Payment Order to Muslim Craftsmen] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Payment Ordered to Muslim Carpenters for Plaster and Other Work]
[Payments Made to Moriscos, Rental of Mount Negredo, and an Account of Assets]
[Power Granted to Alfonso Garcia de Santamaria, converso, and Ibo Moro, morisco]
[Power Granted to Alfonso Rodriguez [de Maluenda], converso, and Alfonso Fernandez de Viejarrua]
[Power Granted to Alfonso Rodriguez [de Maluenda], converso, Juan Gonzalez de Yeles, and Benito Sanchez]
[Power granted to Alfonso Rodriguez and Alfonso Fernandez de viejarrua, to lease the houses of San Gil quarter in Burgos]
[Power Granted to Alfonso Rodriguez and Juan Sanchez de Yeles]
[Power granted to Diego Garcia de Vivar and Alfonso Fernandez de Viejarrua to lease Jewish properties]
[Purchase of Grain and Land from a Muslim]
[Release from an Income Tax Debt] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Rental agreement with the Jewish Community] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Repair/Construction agreement with Muslim Carpenter] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Sale of estates of Pedro Moro, Muslim, to Sancho Perez] – See “Relation-Has Version” link
[Testimony of a Payment to Muslim Carpenters] – See “Relation-Has Version” link