Ignacio de las Casas, a morisco wise Jesuit a peacemaker between two worlds


By César de Requesens Moll.


The upheavals that Granadan society experienced in the 16th century, after the uncanny finding of the so-called Sacromonte Leaden Books, and the Morisco issue, gave voice to Jesuit Ignacio de las Casas, he himself of Morisco origin, to search for solutions to the problem of his ancestors.

In 1597, during a visit to Granada, archbishop Pedro de Castro was assigned one of the most praiseworthy tasks: the translation of the Libros Plúmbeos (Lead Books) found in Valparaiso Mount (later known as Sacromonte) De las Casas was favorable towards their authenticity at the beginning, but he discovered and defended the fraud, which caused enmity with De Castro and Ignacio’s departure from Granada.

By analysing the documents in depth (which was possible thanks to his knowledge of both Arabic as Muslim religion, wisdoms that the other experts who studied the texts lacked) he demonstrated that they were an eyewash invented by the Moriscos because there were many references to Muslim culture and religion. In his opinion, an appropriate education would be sufficient to avoid the repetition of incidents as such; in fact, he did not trust the interpreters because they did not have a solid theological and religious formation and besides, as it happened in the case of Granada, they could be handled. De las Casas accused them of being responsible for the upheaval caused by their misinterpretation of the content of the books.

Francisco Heylan, «Detail of the inhabitable Turpiana Tower”,

Ilustration depicting the Turpiana Tower, the minaret of the main mosque in Granada, demolished in 1588 to build the cathedral. Scattered amidst the rubble were the relics and parchments that gave rise to the affair of the Leaden Books.

THE LEAD BOOKS. The plot of a novel to save the Moriscos.


. In the course of the works in the Turpiana Tower of the Main Mosque of Granada (currently the church of El Sagrario, one of the three that compose the ensemble of the cathedral of Granada) to turn it into a church, a chest was found, wherein was found an apparently old parchment that explained that some texts of very old origin would be soon found, containing a revelation to Christianity. The parchment appeared in March 1588, the day of Saint Gabriel, together with a bone and another textile relic, with texts in Arabic, Latin and Spanish. The bishop of Granada was at the time Juan Méndez de Salvatierra. It caused a major stir among the Granadan community, Catholic and Morisco. The definitive expulsion of the Moriscos from Granada was near, and the atmosphere already reflected the tragic decision of expelling the last Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula.

Expulsion would not take place until 1609-1613, at the same time the findings took place, which later was proved to be but an ingenious and complicated plot, half true and half fiction, engineered by an elite of knowledgeable Granadan Moriscos. What these cultured writers did was nothing but to take advantage of the pervasive religious ignorance among the Christian and Muslim population, as they granted written religious dogma equal ranking with mere and vague popular beliefs without further doctrinal foundation.

According to the manuscript, they were found a few years after having been discovered in the so-called Turpiana tower in 1595 by some treasure hunters who were inspecting the labyrinthine passages of Valparaiso Mount, together with some relics that were attributed to one of the early Christian martyrs, who, according to a text of the time: “were burnt in the second year of Nero inside the caverns of the mount then known as Illiputano […]”. The find consisted of an ensemble of some twenty small roundish lead sheets inside a box made of lead and stone. The books were written in Arabic, very old, with very well done and complete Solomonic characters, in which, together with some mysteries of the Catholic faith, the names and date of the saint’s martyrdom could be read.
These books, a compilation of legends and sacred stories based on oral and written culture, meant the last attempt for the survival of Islam in a framework markedly disadvantageous. Although the intention of the probable authors, the Moriscos Miguel de Luna and Alonso del Castillo, was not to restore Islam, what they purported was to perform a religious syncretism of the Christian and Muslim doctrines. What they intended, in short, was to reconcile both communities through a link that could be true for the believers of both religions, by using the less striking beliefs from the Muslims, and vice versa. For that purpose, in the texts, both religious doctrines relinquished partially their dogmas: the proposal of a God that could be accepted by all the monotheistic religions, the virginal conception of Jesus; that Christ was not the son of God but the manifestation of his spirit.

Through these texts, it was intended to give birth to a Christianized Islam and an Islamized Christianity. With Arabs and their language, Christianity might reach its climax; however, to achieve it, every falsification and misinterpretation in the light of the “true doctrine”, that of the Koran, should be abandoned.

The guiding threat of this fictional plot was the union of the two main religious traditions still present in the Iberian Peninsula. The texts found included, in a free rewriting of biblical events, the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, the Paleochristian origin of the Granadan church, as well as accurate biographical data from the first bishop in Granada (Saint Cecilio). In the same way, it had key elements of the Islamic faith. Besides, it claimed the vindication of language and Arab culture, including the one which was God’s favourite by putting it into the very Virgin Mary’s mouth: the praises to this civilization and its culture. Also included were these elements of praise to the city of Granada, placing it like an example to follow both for Christian as for Islamic civilizations and culture.

Illustration showing one of the component discs of the so-called Leaden Books.
Francisco Heylan, «Detail of the inhabitable Turpiana Tower”,

Chalcographic engravemetn by Roberto Cordier representing saints Cecilio and Tesifón before the columns holding the croisiers of bishop and tha leqaden books. Illustration of the frontispiece of Adán Centurión, Marquis of Estepa: Information to tell the story of the Sacro Monte, called Valparaíso and in ancient times Illipulitano next to Granada, Where appeared the ashes of Saint Cecil, Saint Thesiphon and Saint Hiscio, apostles of James, the only patron of all Spains and other disciple saints of them and their books written in lead sheets, Granada, 1632.

No fewer than eighty years lasted in the Granadan archdiocese the belief in the finding of a key element of faith, an element that was to change the course of the Church and its relationship with “the other”, the Arab world. Such was the importance given to the finding that a copy was immediately sent to Philip II, who summoned the top experts in the country, among them the very forgers themselves (the Moriscos and official interpreters of Arabic language Miguel de Luna y Alonso del Castillo).

In 1590, the new bishop of Granada, Pedro de Castro, showed great enthusiasm on the subject. He firmly believed that the finding of the relics and the strength of its sacred writing was a miracle. The issue then started to get out of control despite the negative report forwarded by the old man Arias Montano, after having analyzed and copied it with the help of his disciple Pedro de Valencia. In his report, he advised that the collection of texts was “old, but not antique”, and neither the letter nor the ink corresponded with the antiquity attributed to them.

Neither the archbishop of Granada, nor that of Seville wanted to hear the voices throughout their mandate that denied the authenticity of the documents. Granada had started to be one more site of pilgrimage in Christianity. Up to one thousand crosses were erected in the road up to the Sacromonte by the faithful devotees, and in 1610, while searching for evidence of the discussed authenticity of the “saint” books, a church was built.

Almost a century after the books appeared, and after many attempts to clarify this issue, as the one undertaken by Ignacio de las Casas (who declared them heretical and a forgery), the one performed by the perpetrators of the “deceit”, Alonso del Castillo and Miguel de Luna, (who also declared not being able to make a good translation, due to the antiquity and complicatedness of the script), Pope Innocent XI issued in 1682 a condemnatory decree for the Lead Books and their contents. The Lead Books were then sent to Rome, remaining there until the year 2000, in the secret chamber of the Vatican, from where they left for their current location in the Sacromonte Museum. It is curious that the man responsible for their return was the then-cardinal Ratzinger, who was to be Pope Benedict XVI later.

The dream of a union of both beliefs with a common base vanished as if by magic. All that remains of this story is the superb abbey in the Sacromonte, built by archbishop Pedro de Castro, a place where those findings are kept still today. They are preserved as a huge reliquary to house and disseminate for the coming centuries those “revealing” discoveries which, as the Catholic church still maintains, attest to the birth of Christianity in Andalusia and Spain, disputing the post to the Church of Saragossa.

. In short, what De las Casas wanted was to put an end to the suffering of the Morisco population by reminding the Church and the Crown of their duties. He recommended a better training of clergy, returning to the apostolic model and a greater respect to the new Christians. The cultural boundaries they were aimed at overcoming were very big; they must be interested in the culture and mentality of those that wanted to be converted. This barrier was even more insurmountable given that Muslim culture meant the enemy’s culture, rejected even by the most open minded. De las Casas was convinced that the main reason why evangelization failed was the disregard and humiliation that the Moriscos suffered, as well as the methods used.

In his requests, it can be observed the sharpness and the ongoing struggle between his Christian beliefs and his origins, as he suffered when he saw his people being despised by old Christians, the Crown and the Church he belonged to.

His enthusiasm for Muslim culture might have aroused suspicion, but Ignacio De las Casas dismissed Islam and the fact of being interested in Muslim culture as he was aimed at the conversion of the Moriscos; indeed, his projects of expanding Christianity demonstrate this.

Francisco Heylan, «Detail of the inhabitable Turpiana Tower”,
Francisco Heylan, «Detail of the inhabitable Turpiana Tower”,
Engravements by Francisco Heylan depicting some episodes of the discovery of the Leaden Books in the Sacromonte Abbey. To the right, the opening of the chest containing the famous relics. Engraving with burin, they are dated between 1624 and 1674 on drawings by Girolamo Lucenti. Grabados a buril datados entre 1624 y 1741, sobre dibujos de Girolamo Lucenti.
Up to his death in 1608, De las Casas, as well as another evangelist of the Moriscos in their own Language, Blas de Vera, became firm defenders of the fraud. De las Casas used all available means to avoid the relics and books to be considered authentic, as the Granada bishop pretended. Roberto Belarmino and Cesare Baronio, and also the popes Clement VIII and Paul V, reserved themselves the case and required that the books were sent to Rome.

Notwithstanding his ill health and scruples, he worked in the Morisco apostolate until very old age. He pursued further study of their problematics and methodologies, in search of solutions as well as the knowledge of Islam, the religious and ideological basis of the Morisco opposition to being evangelized. He eventually died in Ávila, in 1608, right after General Aquaviva asked him his expert support in the assemblies in which the serious issue of the “final solution”, the final expulsion of the Moriscos from the territories under Spanish rule, was discussed. But the die was already cast.


By César de Requesens Moll.

Journalist and writer.



F. B. Medina. Diccionario enciclopédico de la Compañía de Jesús.

Youssef El Alaoui, Universidad de Rouen, ERAC-CRIAR (Francia). Historia de Al Andalus. ‘Ignacio de las Casas, jesuita y morisco’. Boletín n° 52 -07/2006.

Benítez Sánchez-Blanco R. De Pablo a Saulo: traducción, crítica y denuncia de los libros plúmbeos por el P. Ignacio de las Casas, S.J. CSIC. Al-qantara: Revista de estudios árabes, vol. 23, Fasc. 2, 2002 , pags. 403-436.

Barrios M. “El castigo de la disidencia en las invenciones plúmbeas de Granada”. CSIC. Al-qantara: Revista de estudios árabes, vol. 24. Fasc. 2, 2002, pags. 477-531.

VV.AA (Coord. Manuel Barrios). ¿La historia inventada? Los libros plúmbeos y el legado sacromontano. Coedición Fundación El Legado Andalusí-Universidad de Granada.


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