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The Sephardic Route Oviedo - Spain

King Alfonso II chose Oviedo as the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias in the year 808 AD. The city, which stands on the site of an ancient monastic settlement on the Oveto hill, has continued to grow ever since, until it has become the political and administrative centre of the Principality of Asturias, and one of the most charming cities in Spain. It is a city full of historical features that housed a Jewish quarter that was part of its social and economic life for centuries.

King Alfonso II chose Oviedo as the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias in the year 808 AD. The city, which stands on the site of an ancient monastic settlement on the Oveto hill, has continued to grow ever since, until it has become the political and administrative centre of the Principality of Asturias, and one of the most charming cities in Spain. It is a city full of historical features that housed a Jewish quarter that was part of its social and economic life for centuries.

Although documents such as the Charter of Alfonso VII, of 1145, or, before that, the Letter of Donation of Didago Osoriz, in 1046 - in which there are several references to a conversa, or converted Jewess - would seem show that there was a Jewish presence in Oviedo sometime before the 11th century, there is actually no reliable documentary evidence of the community until the following century. The 12th-century growth of the Oviedo aljama increased in the 13th century, thanks to the climate of tolerance fostered by the unification of the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon, under Fernando II. It was also helped by the rise in popularity of the Way of St. James, because one of the compulsory stops on the Road to Santiago was a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo. Also, new families arrived from the south of Sephardic , forced out by Almohad persecution. It is hardly surprising then that the Jew Mari Xabe was appointed Merino of Oviedo, an administrative position of great fiscal and legal responsibility.

Things started to change for the Hebrew community in the last quarter of the 13th century. If, until then, it had been common to find Jewish households all over the city, alongside their Christian neighbours, the Orders of the Council of Oviedo of 1274 clearly set out what the location of the Jewry should be, stating that Jews “spread to live in the town, which was harmful to the town in many ways that we do not wish to declare”. The limits of the aljama were, from this time on, “from the Castillo Gateway to the Puerta Nueva de Socastiello, and from the Gateway outwards, if they so desire”. This meant it was a narrow piece of land with around 50 houses for no more than 500 people. In the Plaza de Trascorrales, where there is a monument to a Milkmaid, there were Jewish fishmongers and, close by, Jewish butchers. In Plaza Porlier the Royal Castle once stood, and this was one of the limits of the aljama, as can be seen from the tourist map shown here. As you can see on the plaque at the other end of the Jewish quarter, in Plaza Juan XXIII, King Sancho IV decreed in 1286 that “que los judíos non ayan alcaldes apartados como agora avíen”, (Jews no longer have their own mayors as they once had) once again restricting their rights. In the 15th century, there came the confiscation of the synagogues in the diocese of Oviedo, and Bishop Don Gutierre’s threat of excommunication for all those who had anything to do with the Jews. This was a direct attack on the peaceful coexistence of citizens of the town who had different beliefs.

In the Campoamor theatre, where, today, the Prince of Asturias Award ceremony is held every year, presided by Crown Prince Philip, a plaque commemorates the Jewish cemetery that once stood on the same site, quoting the deed of sale, “on behalf of and as heir to my father, Don Yuça, physician, … a plot of land … close to the Campo de los omes bonos, [Field of Good Men] and known as the Jewish orchard…”. This is one more reminder of those citizens of Oviedo who, in documents that go back centuries, added to their name and particulars, the words “Hombre bueno Judío”, or “Good Jewish Man”.

 


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