VATICAN CITY -- She sent Christopher Columbus on his voyage and opened up the New World for the spread of Catholicism, but did Queen Isabella I of Spain have the stuff of saints? Jews and Moslems are outraged by the idea.
The Vatican is studying a petition that supporters hope will put the queen on the road to sainthood in time for 1992, when the church plans to celebrate 500 years of Christianity in the Americas.
One of the most significant figures in Spanish history, Isabella commissioned the 1492 voyage of Columbus to the New World.
Isabella is also remembered as the queen who expelled the Jews and Moslems from Spain, and for the dreaded Inquisition that began during her rule with her husband, Ferdinand II.
Samuel Toledano, head of the Federation of Spanish Jewish Communities, calls Isabella "a symbol of intolerance."
The Vatican petition, he said, "would reopen old wounds that we thought were closed forever."
But an Argentine-born priest pursuing the queen's cause says her contributions to unifying Spain and spreading Catholicism were immense and worthy of recognition.
"She was one of the great women of history," said the Rev. Anastasius Gutierrez, who is serving as postulator to argue Isabella's case before Vatican commissions.
Gutierrez, who is representing the Spanish archdiocese of Valladolid, near the site of the queen's death in 1504, says Catholics in many Latin American countries are supporting the effort.
The review process begins with the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which would send it on to the cardinals of the congregation and eventually the pope.
If approved, the candidate would be declared "venerable," the first step up the ladder.
Gutierrez said he is hoping for this approval by the fall of 1991, but admitted the next step -- beatification -- might be more difficult.
"We need a miracle that doesn't exist," he said.
One miracle attributed to the candidate is needed for the declaration of "blessed."
Chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro of the Vatican press office said the Vatican is not working under any deadline. "There is no special desire to complete it by 1992," he said.
Jewish representatives in Spain, Italy and Britain have called on the Vatican to shelve the petition for the time being.
"I do hope the Vatican will listen and not place an obstacle in the path of dialogue," said Tullia Zevi, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.
She said Isabella's reign destroyed "a unique example of fruitful cooperation among Jews, Moslems and Christians," and a move toward beatification would only encourage extremists.
Hesham el-Essawy, chairman of the Islamic Society for the Promotion of Religious Tolerance, was quoted in the Times of London as saying: "Moslems and Jews were forced at the point of a sword to covert to Christianity or die. She is more of a demon than a saint."
The Inquisition began in Spain in 1478, and originally was aimed at discovering and punishing Jews whose conversions were considered insincere. It was later extended to Moslems, and then to any Spaniard suspected of heresy.
Meanwhile, plans to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in America are under fire from Native American groups that say the Spanish conquest of the New World involved the devastation of their way of life.
The Spanish conquerors transferred tons of gold and silver to Spain from the New World, much of it from Mexico and Peru, after defeating the natives in bloody wars.
The National Council of Churches, which includes most of the leading Protestant churches in the United States, is planning counterdemonstrations to the Catholic Church's 1992 celebration. The council wants to call attention to what Columbus did to exploit Native Americans.