The first documented reference to the Jewish presence in Galicia takes us to Celanova, in the year 1044. From here, the Jews spread discreetly throughout Galicia until 1492, the year of their expulsion or conversion. It seems that they lived mixed in harmony with the Christians, nothing to be separated in ghettos; but there were streets more frequented by them, which they came to call Jewish quarters. In them was the center of the community: the synagogue. And, although the topic always shows us as merchants or artisans, which is true, since there were many shoemakers, silversmiths, etc… they also had positions in the administration, or as doctors, or even at court.
We know that there were Jewish quarters in Ourense, Allariz, Monterrei, Pontevedra… But the most important nuclei, which today form part of the Red de Juderías – Camino de Sefarad (Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters – Way of Sefarad), are: Monforte de Lemos, Ribadavia and Tui. How about we take a tour of its Jewish neighborhoods?
Monforte de Lemos (Lugo). At first, the Jewish presence was scarce, but from 1147 it became a destination for refugees fleeing the Almohad invasion. The Jewish community settled down and, in the 14th century, there were even Jews at court. After the massacres of 1391 in Castilla y León, Monforte gave shelter to many fleeing who integrated into society. And, even after the expulsion, many returned converts.
The route of the Jewish quarter of Monforte begins in Monte de San Vicente, where the monumental complex of San Vicente del Pino is, the Torre da Homenaxe (Tower of tribute), with stars of Solomon engraved on the ashlars, and the Palace of the Counts of Lemos. Going down the mountain we reach the Porta Nova, from the 15th century, which gave way to several houses inhabited by Jews. Nearby are the remains of a synagogue.
The main street of the Jewish quarter was the Falagueira, which connects Porta Nova with the Pescadería. In this area there were many Jewish houses, which today are orchards. In one of those that are preserved there are remains of a “trabuleiro”, a large window sill that was used to dispatch from inside. At the end of the street is the house of the Gaibor, an important family of Jewish converts. Other outstanding streets are Pescadería, Abelardo Baanante, Zapatería and Spain Square. Even in the Nosa Señora da Antiga College, there are testimonies of the Jewish world, such as the representation of the circumcision of Jesus in the main altarpiece.
Ribadavia (Ourense). We must remember that Ribadavia had a great moment of splendor in the 11th century, when it was the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia, under the mandate of García I. Its strategic geographical location and economic flourishing were a claim for the Jewish community.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there was already an important Jewish quarter, with businesses around the world of wine, and its export abroad. The nucleus extended from the Main Square to the medieval wall. It seems that there was harmony between Christians and Jews, and even after the expulsion, many remained as converts, or pretended to be.
The most important area was the old street of Jewish quarter, today Merelles Caula, which goes to Magdalena Square, where it is said that there was a synagogue. Here we find the Buxán Square and continue to the Porta Nova de Abaixo. Until recently, the legendary Tafona de Herminia, specializing in Hebrew sweets, operated on Porta Nova Crossing.
This city is very aware of its Jewish heritage. Proof of this is that, in the Pazo of the Counts of Ribadavia, there is the Jewish Information Center of Galicia, also known as the Sephardic Museum of Galicia, which reviews all the Jewish heritage in this land. On the other hand, in the Festa da Istoria every year, the celebration of a medieval Jewish wedding is commemorated, with a great parade from the old Jewish quarter, down Fornos Street.
Tui (Pontevedra). Here, the Jewish presence has been very important since the 11th century, when Ferdinand II granted municipal privileges to the city, which makes it an attractive destination. By the way, as soon as we visit the cathedral, we see a menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum, engraved in the Gothic cloister, which tells us about the Jewish footprint. The main streets of the Jewish quarter start from the cathedral, towards the butcher shop; the capitular jail, where the converted Jewish canon Francisco Coronel was imprisoned; the cemetery and the synagogue.
The nuclei of the Jewish quarter seem to have been on Oliveira Street, today Nuns Street; on Canicouva Street, where the house of Salomón, from the 15th century, is preserved, and on what is now Tide Street, where the Torre do Xudeu (Jew’s Tower) is located. In addition, the most important gate of the city, the Porta Pía (Font Gate), is named after the baptismal font of the Jewish ritual bath.
In the Diocesan Museum of the cathedral there is a unique testimony of the Jewish footprint in Tui. It is a set of five sambenitos of the Inquisition, painted cloths that were hung in churches as a penance for public shame. They are unique original copies in Europe, showing the name and affiliation of fourteen “Judaizing heretics”.