Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spain: Medieval Mikveh Discovered in Girona

Spain: Medieval Mikveh Discovered in Girona 
by Samuel D. Gruber 
(ISJM) I recently reported on a several mikva'ot that have been discovered and excavated in the old and new worlds.  The pace of discovery continues - now that archaeologists are on the lookout, and know what to look for.  The most recent discovery is of a late medieval mikveh from the Jewish center of Girona, Spain.  Archaeologists from the University of Girona led by Jordi Sagrera identified the remains of a pool and a water tank at the site of one of the cities three known synagogues.  In 1964 a large impressive mikveh was discovered at the Catalonian town of  Besalú, not far from Girona.

A statement issued by the Museum and Patronat Call di Girona says the mikveh is located on the site of the third and last of the Jewish Quarter’s synagogues that were built before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

The archaeologists report that:
The pool was directly connected to a small adjacent chamber located on the western side, of which the western curtain wall and original rectangular adobe paving have been uncovered. Together they comprise a unitary and perfectly watertight whole, accessed via a single doorway in the southern wall. The lintel and lower parts of the doorjambs are preserved. The pool was fed by water from a tank located some two metres to the south of this doorway, a space which at the time probably served as an open patio.

The water tank, another new discovery, is a structure bounded by walls made of stone and mortar. It has a rectangular floor 110 cm by 160 cm and a depth of 50 cm covered entirely by a detailed opus signinum. The bottom is not flat but slopes in a northerly direction and it empties into a drain that passes through the northern wall of the tank towards the pool room.

All of the documented structures were covered with earth and re-used between the late  fifteenth century (the tank) and the mid-sixteenth century (the room adjacent to the pool). The results of the excavations have therefore been effective and we can now state that these are the remains of the ritual baths or mikveh used by the Girona Jewish population from 1435 until the time of its expulsion.


Elissa said...

I'm truly pleased that archaeologists have found a mikveh in Girona. I'm less pleased by the archaeological statement issued in English; Girona's 15th century history is difficult at best since most of the community was previously expelled or forcibly converted. IMHO, Jewish Virtual Library's summary on that is reasonable given the history of that "last" synagogue. "During the 1391 persecutions the majority of the Jews of Gerona chose martyrdom. A few were converted to Christianity, mainly merchants and artisans. Some Jews found refuge in the citadel and others managed to escape to Perpignan. The community had already been reconstituted by 1392. The Jews of Gerona were compelled to send two representatives to the disputation of Tortosa, which resulted in an intensified tendency to conversion as well as increased attacks on Jews. However, the city authorities and King Ferdinand took action to protect the Jews in Gerona (1413–14). In 1415 the king ordered that the synagogue in Calle San Lorenzo, and the adjoining public bath, should be restored to the Jews. The synagogue was partly destroyed during the civil war in 1462–72."

1492 as such is an artificial sort of end date; the statement seems to use the mikveh as a symbol of continuity and tolerance.

Samuel Gruber said...

Elissa, I agree that the Spanish passion for digging the Jewish past is often myopic at best. In defense of the mikvah excavators, the first paragraph of their statement - from which I only quoted a part - does say this, acknowledging the expulsion and the confiscation of property. True, this was just the culmination of more than a century of intense often very intense and sometimes violent oppression:
"In the summer of 1492 King Ferdinand’s expulsion of the Jews forced the Girona Jewish community to sell its synagogue together with the surrounding community areas. Thanks to documents of sale preserved in the archives, the site of the synagogue has now been located to the north-east of what is today the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre, on the upper patio level."