Saturday, August 24, 2013

France: Restoration Work at Little-Known Bidache Sephardi Cemetery

France: Restoration Work at Little-Known Bidache Sephardi Cemetery
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) The JTA relays a report from the French daily Sud Ouest  that the French municipality of Bidache, not far from the Sephardi center of Bayonne in the far south-east corner of France, has begun renovating an ancient Sephardi cemetery.  The restoration of the 17th-century cemetery began last week.  The first work, funded with an $8,000 allocation from the regional cultural affairs directorate of the Pyrenees-Atlantiques region will focus on a large arch built on the premises. The restoration is being led by the Jewish Liturgical Organization in cooperation with architect Soizic Le Goff, who received the go-ahead from local authorities in June. 

Sephardi Jews who fled from Portugal and Spain settled in the area with permission from the princes who ruled Gramont and an independent principality from 1570 until the French Revolution.  Thus French laws excluding Jews were not in effect in the borderland.  A local researcher says that  members of at least 40 Jewish families are buried  in the cemetery.  In the 1960s Gérard Nahon recorded 62 inscriptions from the cemetery in Inscriptions funéraires hébraïques et juives à Bidache, Labastide-Clairence (B. Pyr.) et Peyrehorade (Landes)(1968), including the family names Dacosta, Henriquez Lopez Nunez, Depas and Alvares.

A photo of the cemetery shows several dozen large flat gravestones lined in even rows typical of Sephardi burials elsewhere in Europe (Amsterdam, Venice).  It is not clear if these are in their original locations atop burials or if they have been arranged as a sort of lapidarium (as has been done in other old cemeteries).  At least some inscriptions are bi-lingual in Hebrew with Roman lettered abbreviations - either in Spanish or Portuguese. 

According to the website of the French Ministry of Culture the cemetery site includes "enclosures with ruined wall and entrance gate arc full-handlebar unit of limestone. The cemetery was used from the second half of the 17th century to the second half of the 18th century, of the dispersion of the Jewish community of Bidache. The cemetery contains hundreds of graves. The inscriptions, which generally include anything else that the name and surname of the deceased and the date of their death, ranged between the 3rd quarter 17th century and 4th quarter 18th century."

To read more about the Jews of Bidache see the article (in French) by Gérard Nahon, "Le registre espagnol des circoncisions de Samuel Gomes Atias (Bidache 1725-1773)",  Bulletin Hispanique, 1974, Volume 76: 1-2,  pp. 142-182,  online here

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