Archeologists this month discovered the site of a 15th century mikveh, or ritual bath, in the historic Jewish quarter of Girona, Catalonia (Spain).
The Patronat Call de Girona and the Museum of Jewish History announced the discovery Monday at a ceremony attended by the Israeli ambassador to Spain, Alon Bar, Catalonia’s culture minister, Ferran Mascarell, and Girona Mayor Carles Puigdemont.
“I commend the discovery of more evidence of a Jewish presence and want to encourage this cultural treasure in order to maintain links between our peoples,” Bar said, as quoted by JTA.
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. Based on documentary evidence, “a team of archaeologists from the University of Girona led by Jordi Sagrera, which has already been involved in previous excavations in the Jewish Quarter, carried out a new archaeological dig between the 10 and 21 February, 2014. The results of this have provided relevant data on both the original structure and chronological context of the mikveh. “
The statement provides this background:
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.
The contents of these documents tell us that this place was the location of “the schools (synagogue) of the Jewish Aljama and Jewish women, where Jewish rites are performed, and the hospital and baths of the Jewish Quarter”, all in different rooms, but joined together and with very clear boundaries, which leave no doubt as to the exact spot in which the complex was located. Here, the layout of the space known as the well has traditionally been subject to different interpretations, including that of the mikveh or ritual baths of the synagogue founded in 1435.
We can now be certain that the surrounding walls to the south and west are from the seventeenth century, with later unrelated alterations. However, both of these sit directly on top of older medieval walls. Therefore, in the fifteenth century, together with the front wall in Sant Llorenç Street to the north, and the boundary of the neighbouring property to the east, formed a closed rectangular pool, rather than a well, with a depth of 1.5 metres. This was reached via a long, low lintel with a chamfered corner in the south-west corner and a flat area of stone slabs providing access to the water.
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.