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In search of the Hijar’s medieval printer

Filming for a new documentary on the life of a pioneering Hebrew printer, Eliezer Alantansi, in late 15th century Spain is underway with its director Jose Angel Guimera visiting Oxford recently in his quest to find the few surviving texts.

The documentary covers what would have been the last few years of the Jewish community in Spain, and Alantansi's time in Hijar. He would no doubt have been a member of the city's medieval synagogue, one of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage's major preservation projects.

Alantansi was noted for producing Hebrew bibles and commentaries, and he was the first Hebrew printer to use a printer’s mark, in his case a lion rampant.

Just as the Jews dispersed across Europe following their expulsion by Spain in 1492, so Alantansi’s books were also dispersed. Today, 58 of his publications survive and they are in leading libraries across the globe.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford has a number of his works, and the team behind the documentary, including the Foundation’s Spanish colleague Lucia Conte Aguilar, recently visited the city. There they met with experts in Hebrew manuscripts to learn more about the significance of Eliezer Alantansi and to examine the books held in its collection – all of which was recorded and will ultimately feature in the film.

The Foundation’s Chief Executive Michael Mail was himself able to meet the team in Oxford, observe the filming and, most excitingly, hold the books!

It is hoped that, as part of the restoration of the synagogue in Hijar, the remarkable story of Eliezer Alantansi and his 15th century printing press will be presented.


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