One of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage priority sites, the medieval former synagogue in Hijar Spain, has been shortlisted by Europa Nostra as one of the 12 most endangered heritage sites in Europe.
The shortlist comprises of 12 at risk heritage sites across the continent identified by Europa Nostra through their ‘7 Most Endangered’ (7ME) programme, and the Foundation instigated the Hijar site’s nomination which was submitted by the European religious heritage network ‘Future for Religious Heritage’.
Launched in 2013, in conjunction with the European Investment Bank Institute and the Council of Europe Development Bank, the 7ME programme aims to identify endangered monuments and sites across Europe and subsequently mobilise public and private partners to work together on preservation. The seven sites ultimately selected from the shortlisted twelve will also be eligible for a €10,000 grant to be spent on the implementation of agreed activity to secure the future of each respective site.
The former synagogue of Hijar, Aragon, in north-eastern Spain is the only remaining medieval synagogue in the region and one of only five that have survived in the whole of the country.
Following the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492, the synagogue was converted for use as a church – the Church of San Anton de Hijar. In recent years, the Christian community of Hijar has used the building for services only once a year and therefore its maintenance has suffered.
However, recent increased interest in the Sephardi heritage of the region supported by the Aragon regional government has brought the building to wider attention. Remarkably, key features from the original synagogue remain, such as the bimah, and the presence of medieval wall paintings alone render the site one of great historical and cultural importance.
The building nevertheless remains in poor condition and requires further funding to stabilise it. The Municipality of Hijar has itself a wider vision and has been working with the Foundation on plans to develop the building into a major visitor destination that will convey the culture and traditions of the lost Sephardi Jewish communities of the region, while fostering inter-cultural understanding and dialogue. This shortlisting in the 7ME programme is a timely boost to these efforts.
Michael Mail, Chief Executive of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage stated: “This is a very significant development for the Hijar synagogue project. The importance of the site is being recognised; as a remnant of a remarkable forgotten culture, as a site at risk, and a place of opportunity in terms of plans for its future. The Foundation is delighted to be playing a part in this initiative to save and develop the site as a unique cultural, heritage and educational venue, and is very grateful to Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute for this decision, and to Future for Religious Heritage for its crucial involvement.”
The final list of 7 Most Endangered heritage sites in Europe for 2022 will be unveiled in the spring of 2022.