Friday, February 19, 2010

Spain: Roof Collapse at Former Synagogue of Híjar

Híjar, Spain. Convent church of San Anton, formerly a synagogue. Photo:

Híjar, Spain. Convent church of San Anton, formerly a synagogue. Inteiro, view toward gallery.

Spain: Roof Collapse at Former Synagogue of Híjar (Aragon)
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) According to on-line reports, last month a part of the roof of the 15th-century church of San Antón in Híjar (Aragon), Spain collapsed, injuring two people and putting the fate of the building in jeopardy. San Antón has been identified as the former synagogue of Hijar Jewish community (which numbered 32 families as late 1481) by researcher Miguel Ángel Motis Dolader. As such, it is one of the best preserved former synagogues in the Iberian peninsula, after Toledo, Cordova and Tomar.

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 Hijar in Aragon. Aguilar Guiu draws especial attention to the fate of San Anton, which had been identified as the former synagogue in need to care prior to roof collapse.

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.


Mott said...

I have been in and out of many Jewish quarters in Spain, but I have never heard of Hijar. This is even more surprising since you say the town had a nice synagogue, a rabbi's house, a Hebrew printing press and other community facilities. Where is Hijar and why do you think it fell off the Jewish radar?

Unknown said...

My mum is originally from Hijar. I spent many summers there as a child and certainly remember the Church of San Anton. Hijar is actually in the middle of nowhere, in one of the most sparsely populated provinces in Spain, Teruel. You can get there by road, 70 km from Zaragoza and roughly 300 from either Barcelona or Madrid. You can get there also by train, a major trainstop is the neighbouring town, La Puebla de Hijar. I am glad Hijar's Jewish heritage is receiving now some more attention. Maybe we'll be able to see something like the Call in Gerona in the future.

Víctor Guiu said...

Híjar siempre ha estado ahí, pero bien por dejadez institucional, bien por desconocimiento, bien por un cúmulo de razones nunca ha potenciado lo suficiente su herendia sefardita.
Existe una red, la red Tarbut Sefarad, que cuenta con un grupo propio en la localidad.
Podéis contactar en:
Un saludo y muchas gracias por la difusión..

Unknown said...

I am from Híjar and I am the president of Tarbut Híjar, a recently founded association aimed to make Híjar's Jewish heritage known and respected in order to get support for a restoration and dynamization of our Jewish quarter.
I agree it is amazing that Hijar is not better known in the Jewish radar, despite that we have the only fully preserved synagogue in Aragon. In addition to this, Híjar was the home of the second Spanish Hebrew printing press.
As Víctor Guiu wrote, not only the synagogue, but also the houses forming the former Jewish quarter (today's San Anton) need immediate renewal.
An integral restoration of the whole quarter is a must and we are working to put a project together to make it possible.
Please, contact us at
And thanks for echoing on Híjar!