Tag Archives: Spain

Finding My Heritage In The Iberian Peninsular

15 Oct

Our trip to Spain and Portugal had a special purpose for besides wanting to see places I had not seen. I also wanted to see the bits and pieces left of the Sephardic Jewish imprint on Spain. I have written about my maternal grandfather and his family’s Spanish roots in an earlier blog (see below). Now I wanted to see what I could see.

I was on a mission that started in Barcelona. I had been to this lovely city before and heard the story about the Jewish cemetery destroyed and replaced with a Christian cemetery. Now the only Jewish aspect was the name of the hill: Montjuic.

However, in Barcelona you can visit the site of the Major Synagogue. A small space that you must walk down to see, this tiny space reflects the rule that no religious site would be bigger than the smallest church. So it is small. But I was glad to see that it has been found and reclaimed. There is a guide on site who gives a 10 minute presentation about it. So I am glad we went. Most places do not even have that!

Our next stop with a bit of Jewish history was surprising to me. We went to the small city of Sagunt or Sagunto near Valencia. I was not expecting what I found. First they were having a festival to celebrate their Middle Ages history, and as we entered I saw a menorah symbol on banners. The town had its Jewish quarter still designated including one of the original arches, called the Blood Arch. The tour guide did not know why. I have my own ideas. You actually walked through the Jewish Quarter in order to get up to the Roman theater.

The narrow, hilly streets are picturesque, and walking through the quarter you come to the top where a private house stands on the site of the original synagogue, with an iron Menorah window. We were also able to see the archeology site of where they think the mikveh was located.

I have since researched and learned that in ancient days this town was called Morviedro. Here the Jews were protected from massacres in 1391 and Jews from other areas took refuge there. When the 1492 decree was made, the Jewish residents arranged safe passage out for about 500 people.

Next was Malaga. We were there to see the Picasso Museum. Imagine my surprise when walking from it we found a building in the name Ben Gabriel. Actually Solomon Ben Gabriel was born in Malaga and is thought to help reintroduce Jewish Literature. This building was right across the way from the Jewish area and the sign for the Street of the Jews.

Our journey continued in Gibraltar where I knew there was a strong Jewish community. While there we saw several men and boys wearing kipot. We walked to the old Flemish Synagogue where I took a photo of the door.

In Cadiz an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the old quarters in 1750. I asked the guide about a Jewish presence, which I was sure must have existed since it was a trading route and the Moors were there. But she did not know. So of course I check for more information and found that at one time 8,000 Jewish inhabitants lived in Cadiz. They left after the 1492 decree. So when the old section was destroyed so was evidence of their once thriving community.

Before our planned tour of the Jewish areas of Lisbon, we went to Sintra for a day to see the Pena Palace and visit the lovely town. It’s winding shopping street is so like a shuk and of course is in the old Moorish area.

This was the place where I actually purchased gifts. I found a shop with cork purses and purchased one. I noticed on the card an interesting address: Beco Da Judiaria. I was actually shopping on the street of the Jews in Sintra’s Jewish section. I was meant to find it.

Part of our final day was exploring the old city of Lisbon and learning more about the Jewish experience in historic terms and now.

We saw so much. The House of the Inquisition and the plaza, Rossio Square, where heretics and crypto-Jews were tortured. Right next to it is the Church of Sao Domingos where the April 1506 massacre of Jews took place.

We walked through the Jewish section and saw where they think the synagogue once stood. We heard stories about King Manuel and his somewhat positive relationship with the Jewish residence. I knew how many of the Jews from Spain came to Portugal after the decree forcing them to flee, as my ancestors joined that exodus.

But I also enjoyed going to the synagogue built in the early 1900s and learning that there is a small Jewish presence in Spain. That about 2000 Jewish residents now live in Portugal and 300 belong to the congregation.

I learned of the Portuguese diplomat, Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches, who wrote visas and saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust as Portugal was neutral during WW2. He was punished by the Portuguese dictator Salazar for continuing to write visas even when ordered to stop. He is honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad VeShem.

I learned that Jewish living in Portugal is good at this time. Our guide at the shul told is that this Yom Kippur over 500 people attended services with members and tourists mixing together for the holiest of days.

My experience in Iberia was wonderful. I know I still must see the Spanish towns of Seville and Cordoba as well as Port o, Portugal. And our guide told us the best place to learn more about Judaism’s history here is to go to villages along the border of the two countries. I look forward to learning more.


Https://dis.bh.org.il murviedro-sagunto

Jose Sala Sala and the Sanctuary of Mary Magdalena in Novelda, Spain

10 Oct

The Santuario de Santa Maria Magdalena is stunning! This modernist church built in the 1900s was designed by Jose Sala Sala, a local boy who moved to Barcelona to study architecture, and ended up learning with Gaudi. The Gaudi influence is strong in this stone and ceramic building.

Standing on a hill above Novelda and sharing the mountain with the ruins of the castle Mola , the church can be seen for miles. The winding road takes you to the parking lot, so when you first approach the church, you see the back first.

Back of the church.

No worries. It is also beautiful. Our guide, David, said as he heard the group oohing and aahing, “If you think this is lovely, wait until you see the front of the church.”

He was so correct. Each side of the church is just delightful. The stone, ceramic and brink intertwined in wonderful patterns lifting your eyes to the sky and to the torrents that grace the front.

The interior is classic and simple. No gold leaf and overdone interior here. Just simple elegance and paintings and tapestries. The church was built in stages from 1918 to 1946.

But the best is not yet complete.

Where the organ will be. A special cement base was poured to hold the weight

At the back of the church, by the entrance is a giant marble base made of Alicante red marble that will hold the marble organ that has been worked on for 26 years. Large white marble ovals represent the tears of Mary Magdalena. Each hollow pipe is made of red marble. 54 are complete. There are hundreds of pipes still to be carved. But then we know that in Spain it seems great things are worth waiting for!

But you can hear the lovely sounds that it will eventually make through a short concert of the completed pipes . We heard several minutes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and it was astonishing. I can only image that when the full organ is completed, it’s music will not only fill the church but for miles around!

I kept thinking, what a lovely place for a wedding. When our guide told us that our bus driver and his wife were married there 12 years ago. We all congratulated him on the good choice.

The vista from the front of the church includes the town of Novelda, the vineyards and some of the marble factories that brought wealth into the area.

Bicyclists and their picture.

While we were visiting a group of bicyclist came to the top to see the church. They asked our guide to take a group photo of them in front of the church. I too needed a photo of my husband and I there. It was so beautiful.

But then even the sides of this church are so intricate. I loved every angle of it!

Gaudi is one of my favorite architects. I do not know what else Jose Sala Sala designed, but the influence of Gaudi runs strong in his work. I would love to see more. And for those traveling to Spain, go see this church!