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The Sephardic Route Jaen - Spain

The Sephardic Route Jaen - Spain: Jaen’s strategic position on the upper Guadalquivir, standing at the entrance to Andalucía from the east coast and the Castilian plateau, has meant there has been a permanent cultural exchange between many different civilisations. This traditional spirit of tolerance explains the early presence of Jews in this Andalusian provincial capital. It was documented for the first time in the year 612, but probably dates from much earlier. Since early times, the Hebrews of Jaen presumably lived alongside Romans, Visigoths, (first the Arians, then the Christians), Muslims and then again with Christians, until they were expelled in the 15th century.

The importance of Jaén’s Jewish quarter is highlighted by the presence there of Hasday ibn Shaprut, counsellor to the Caliphs of Cordova, promoter of Hispano-Hebrew poetry, and a 10thcentury forerunner of the so-called “Golden Age of Spanish Jews”. His relationship to the Jewish kingdom of the Khazars, or his introduction of eastern-style Rabbinical schools into al-Andalus gave him a well-deserved reputation as a universal man. In the 11th century, as part of the Ziri kingdom of Granada, Jaen retained its status as a city of knowledge, and this same spirit of communication among different communities remained when the Christians arrived.


The persecutions of 1391, however, marked the beginning of the end of a period of cooperation between the three great medieval cultures, and the Aljama became a neighbourhood of Jewish converts, changing its name to the Santa Cruz quarter. The Jaen Jews’ love of their city -many of them became false conversos and continued their Hebrew rites in secret - along with their refusal to leave, led to the Court of the Holy Inquisition being set up there in 1483 (it was the third of them, after Seville and Cordova), which coincided with the decree of expulsion of Andalusian Jews. For a long time afterwards, many Jewish converts worked as administrators in the delightful Renaissance cathedral, despite the fact that it was here that the very spirit of the Statutes of Blood Cleansing was forged, and that, in the square overlooked by the cathedral, numerous Autos de Fe took place.

The old Jewish quarter of Jaen stood between the modern streets of San Andrés, Huérfanos, Los Caños-Arroyo de San Pedro and Martínez Molina, forming part of fortified walls of the old city. The neighbourhood is made up of a tightly huddled group of houses, with a typically Moorish street layout, communicating with the outside through just three entrances, one of them at the Baeza Gateway. The synagogue was built onto the convent of Santa Clara, and the house of Ibn-Shaprut stood opposite the Cadí house, in the Magdalena square. Jaén’s impressive Arab baths date from the 11th century and are the largest still standing in Spain. They can be reached through the courtyard of the Villardompardo palace and were used by the Jewish population on Fridays, the day before the Sabbath; near to the church of San Andrés there were other baths, known as the Hammam ibn Ishaq (Baths of the Son of Isaac), which date from the same time. The structure of the church itself seems to indicate that, before becoming Christian, it was once a synagogue.

The Plaza de los Huérfanos square today contains a large menorah with an inscription in Spanish and Sephardic ic, that reads: “Las trasas de ken anduvieron endjuntos nunca podrán ser albaldadas” (The footprints of those who walked together can never be erased”).


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