Medieval Synagogue in Hijar Spain

Introduction

In the medieval period, there was a significant Jewish community in Hijar in Aragon which pioneered the early Hebrew printing press.

With the expulsion of the Jewish community in 1492, the main synagogue in the former Jewish quarter of Hijar was taken over by the Church becoming the Church of San Anton de Hijar.  In recent years, there has been growing interest in the Sephardic heritage in Aragon and the Government of Aragon has been developing a Strategic Plan "Aragon Sefarad: legado y memoria", which aims at recovering the material and immaterial heritage of around 30 former Jewish quarters in the region.

As a result, attention is once again being paid to the former synagogue building in Hijar which represents the only example of a synagogue archaeologically remaining anywhere in Aragon.

The Challenge

The building is owned by the Archbishopry of the Zaragoza Church.  However, because it is not the main Church in Hijar, it is only used for services once a year and as a result has been poorly maintained.  There was a recent partial collapse of the roof which has accelerated its deterioration.  

Subsequent works were carried out to prevent further damage and the building was recently recognised formally as a Site of Cultural Importance (Bien de Interés Cultural) so the efforts of stabilisation are being monitored.   However, there are no moves towards undertaking a full restoration of the monument, nor any strategy for its future use.

The Plan

In 2017, an archaeological excavation was carried out in the Church of San Anton. As a result, various elements belonging to the ancient synagogue from the fifteenth century have been documented, including the remains of the bimah.  These findings constitute extraordinary material testimony of the Spanish synagogues that existed in the medieval period. 

The plan is to conduct further documentary study and archaeological research to fully establish what remains from the original synagogue.
Given the Aragon Government initiative to recover the lost heritage of its once Jewish community, the longer term plan is that the building be taken over by the town of Hijar and used as an educational and tourist hub for the developing programme on the Sephardic heritage of the region.