Archaeologists uncover rare remains of 14th-century Spanish synagogue

The Spanish Inquisition Tribunal, a 19th-century work by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY)
The Spanish Inquisition Tribunal, a 19th-century work by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY)

Archaeologists in the southern Spanish town of Utrera confirm that they have uncovered a 14th-century synagogue hidden within a building that was later converted into a church, hospital and most recently a bar.

Archaeologist Miguel Ángel de Dios tells journalists that “the first thing to confirm is the presence of the prayer room” following years of analysis of the building’s walls and floor.

“The fundamental elements of the synagogue, such as the entrance hall,” he says, “or the perimeter benches that have emerged in this survey, now confirm that we are indeed in the prayer hall.”

The only hint of the Jewish temple’s existence came from a priest and historian, Rodrigo Caro, who wrote in 1604 that a hospital now stood on a site where Jews used to pray. There are a tiny handful of medieval synagogues surviving in Spain, including in the cities of Toledo and Cordoba.

The Utrera synagogue was converted into a church in the 16th century, de Dios adds, when all traces of its Jewish past were erased. His team now hopes to identify the pulpit and a bath used for rituals.

In 1492, Spain’s Catholic monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, decreed that Spain’s 200,000-strong Jewish population convert to Christianity or be expelled.

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