14th Century Synagogue Discovered Within Local Spanish Bar

Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

Gretchen Clayson Contributor
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Archaeologists uncovered on Tuesday a 14th century synagogue hidden within a building in the Spanish town of Utrera that until recently served as a local bar.

“The fundamental elements of the synagogue, such as the entrance hall or the perimeter benches that have emerged in this survey, now confirm that we are indeed in the prayer hall,” archaeologist Miguel Ángel de Dios told The Associated Press (AP) after years of analyzing the building’s walls and floor.

The building, situated along a narrow alley in the town, has served various purposes throughout the years, which is why archaeologist de Dios says it has survived through the centuries, according to The Guardian. In one of its renderings the site was home to Hospital de la Misericordia, founded in 1492 – which is what alerted archaeologists to the site as a possible location to the “lost” synagogue. (RELATED: Archaeologists Uncover 5,000-Year-Old Tavern In Iraq)

Rodrigo Caro, a local priest and historian mentioned the presence of a synagogue in Utrera in his history of the town in 1604 stating of the town center, “In that place, there were only foreign and Jewish people … who had their synagogue where the Hospital de la Misericordia now stands,” The Guardian reported.

In the same year the hospital was founded, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II decreed that Spain’s Jewish population, boasting 200,000 people, convert to Christianity or be expelled, The AP reported. Recently, Spain has attempted to redress the “historic mistake” by highlighting the traces of Spain’s Jewish past in towns throughout the country as well as offering citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews who were exiled, The AP reported.

After their expulsion, many Jewish sites, including their synagogues, were transformed or destroyed making this find truly unique, The Guardian reported.

“We now have the scientific certainty that we are standing in a medieval synagogue,” Utrera mayor José María Villalobos told The AP. “The state of conservation of the synagogue, being partial, is nevertheless exceptional,” he added.

For Isaac Benzaquén, president of Spain’s Federation of Jewish communities, the discovery reveals “the social and cultural richness of Spain’s past while also showing the Jewish community the deep roots of our culture in [the] country.”