Archaeologists in the Spanish town of Utrera have uncovered a 14th-century synagogue that was hidden within a building that was later converted into a church, hospital, and most recently a bar. Miguel Ángel de Dios, an archaeologist, confirmed the presence of the prayer room after years of analysis of the building’s walls and floor. He also noted the presence of the entrance hall and perimeter benches, which confirmed that it was indeed the prayer hall.
The only hint of the Jewish temple’s existence came from Rodrigo Caro, a priest and historian, who wrote in 1604 that a hospital now stood on a site where Jews used to pray. There are only a few surviving medieval synagogues in Spain, including in the cities of Toledo and Cordoba.
The Utrera synagogue was converted into a church in the 16th century, erasing all traces of its Jewish past. De Dios’s team is now hoping to identify the pulpit and a bath used for rituals. Utrera mayor José María Villalobos commented that the synagogue’s state of conservation, though partial, is exceptional.
Attracting tourists interested in Spain’s Jewish past has become a key focus for towns with historic traces in recent years. In 1492, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon decreed that Spain’s 200,000-strong Jewish population convert to Christianity or be expelled. To make amends for this “historic mistake,” the Spanish government allowed the descendants of exiled Sephardic Jews to apply for Spanish citizenship in 2015, with 132,226 people doing so.
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