16 February 2010

Spain: Lleida's 14th-century Jewish community

Does the city Lleida or Lerida, in Catalunya ring a bell for Sephardic researchers?

There were two Jewish neighborhoods in the town - Cuirassa and Cuirassola - some 140km northwest of Barcelona.

The Lleida community was virtually destroyed in the 1391 riots, massacres and mass forced conversions; an attempt to reconstitute it years later never got very far.

There were Jewish communities in nearby villages as well - such as Alfés - which has numerous buildings with six-pointed symbols - una estrella de 6 puntes - above their entrance doors (see photos at left and below right). Some scholars and historians believe that these symbols were substituted for the six-pointed magen david.

In Converso communities elsewhere in the world - such as in New Mexico (according to Dr. Stanley Hordes and other historians), similar images are carved on gravestones.

Lleida's archives, housed in the Cathedral, are a treasure trove of documents for those who may have a connection to the ancient Jewish community.

On my most recent visit to the archives - a few years ago - with my good friend and excellent researcher Maria Jose Surribas, they had just received a computer and, for the first time, were entering and cataloging thousands of documents.

Maria Jose discovered a TALALAY (TALAYA, TALAY - there are various spellings) document dated 1358 in the archives, and others in towns not far away. Research in Barcelona's Crown of Aragon archives turned up a few other mentions of the family through 1396.

There is a Jewish cultural society in Lleida - TARBUT Amics Lleidatans de la Cultura Hebrea - providing programming, talks and conferences focused on the Jewish community.

Just a few days go, on February 12, the group held a conference - The Jewish Community of Lleida in the Middle Ages: Between 'Convivencia' and Segregation" - announced by Dr. Joan J. Busqueta, Faculty of Letters, University of Lleida.

For more information on Tarbut, visit the site at the link above, although it is mostly in Catalan.

1 comment:

  1. Schelly, This has jogged my memory of a similar discovery I made in 2006, though not one involving my family name(!). Also in Lleida province is the city of Tàrrega, which dates by that name back to 1056. While traveling, I'd seen a tourism brochure promoting Tàrrega's 'old synagogue'. Needless to say more than a bit surprising, so I went to investigate. The local archivists were as surprised as I was, and said they knew of no such building. They led me to a private house they believed had been a Jewish bakery centuries ago, 'where services were probably held.' The brochure photo had shown only a small detail of the buidling, but it seemed to me I'd found the place. And it did indeed look like it could have been a synagogue, albeit a very small one. I recall being struck by the 6-pointed flower/star motif, which was in evidence throughout the neighborhood.