Híjar, Spain. Convent church of San Anton, formerly a synagogue. Inteiro, view toward gallery.
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) According to on-line reports, last month a part of the roof of the 15th-century
Though to my knowledge no study of the building has been yet published, the documentary evidence as well a several still-visible features in the church indicate its origins as a synagogue. These include a niche (now housing a statue of Saint Anthony) that was likely once part of the Aron ha-Kodesh, and a well preserved raised gallery, presumably used by women. Recent excavations beneath the sanctuary floor have revealed the masonry foundation for a tevah. Overall, the building is designed as a simple almost cubic space surmounted by three large diaphragm arches that support the wooden roof.
In late January 2010 there was a meeting of cultural heritage officials in Híjar to consider what to do with the building, and the projected short-term and long-term restoration costs. It is estimated that repairing the roof would cost 90,000 euro, and the complete restoration of the building 370,000 euro. Local discussion of care of the building has continued for six years. No doubt earlier intervention would have saved injury and also would required less funds.
Híjar, with its Jewish Quarter, was declared a site of cultural significance by the Government of Aragon in 2002. The 15th-century Jewish community itself had achieved considerable renown in the decade just before the expulsion of 1492 when its Jewish craftsmen specialized in the trades of preparing parchment and in bookbinding, and Híjar was also an early center for Hebrew printing.
Recently several articles by Victor Aguilar Guiu in the local publication La Comarca have highlighted the lack of organization and planning regarding the care of historic resources by the town of
He writes that the “The destruction [over the past three decades] has been brutal: an eighteenth-century hospital, the remains of the castle-fortress destroyed by the government itself, several Aragonese Renaissance and Baroque palaces, a nineteenth-century church, the medieval rabbi’s house, dozens of houses of traditional architecture, mills.” Aquilar Guiu believes that attention to the former Jewish history and the towns surviving Jewish sites might be a way to spur more widespread attention to historic preservation in Híjar.
He and the organization regional cultural heritage advocacy group APUDEPA have especially called for greater protection and a care of the former synagogue building.