Erected on the former Celtiberian and Roman citadel which forms an irregular circle at one of the two hills on which Calagurris was raised, historic Calahorra, the Calahorra Jewish quarter stands out for its disturbing curved streets, many of them culs-de-sac, its low houses with a back yard and its sudden exits to vast vantage points onto the valleys of the Ebro and Cidacos, breaking by surprise the closure of an almost cryptic location. In this humble district, a true city within a city, the Jews of Calahorra resided for at least five centuries, though it seems to have been proven that they settled here well before that time.

circa 50
El Sequeral Tower

Base of the powerful tower which closed off the former Calagurris Iulia to the southeast. It was a large angular tower with thick ashlar blocks, located at the vertex formed by the wall when turning its trajectory sharply to the west

The El Sequeral tower closed off the Late Imperial Roman wall to the southeast (1st century AD). It's well worth going down a few metres to the same tower base and taking a closer look at the complex series of walls and defences which existed in this part of the city where the tower must have made a major visual impact on those arriving at the former Calagurris Iulia on the Roman road from Gracchurris (Alfaro) or from Caesaraugusta (Saragossa). A milestone where the mark of the Jews of Calahorra with that of their Roman forefathers converge, some of them as illustrious as Marcus Fabius Quintilianus or the poet Aurelius Prudentius.

circa 1089 - 1167
Abraham ibn Ezrá

Abraham Ibn Ezrá (c. 1089-1167) spent his youth in al-Andalus (in Córdoba, Seville and Lucena) where he trained in Jewish culture in Arab.

In around 1140 he decided to abandon Sefarad to travel around the North of Africa, probably in the company of Yehudá ha-Leví, and Europe. He thus became a wandering wise man, well received for the knowledge he transmitted to the communities he visited: those of Beziers and Narbonne in France, Rome, England etc.

We are unaware whether he returned to Sepharad or whether he died in a European country. Howver, his multifaceted figure has left a deep mark on the whole intellectual life of the Jews of Europe. His biblical comments are some of the most highly appreciated in the Jewish world; his grammars are a common summary of the philological knowledge of Al-Andalus 11th century which it had not been possible to access up to then without knowing Arab and he introduced into the West the mathematical concepts of fractions and decimals.

He died in around 1167 according to some historians in Calahorra. His fame was so extensive that one of the craters on the moon, 42 kilometres in diameter, currently bears his name: Abenezrah.

circa 1167
Abraham ibn Ezrá dies in Calahorra

The economic prosperity of the Jews of Calahorra shows that several historians locate in Qalʼat al Hajar, the Moslem Calahorra, the death of the traveller and scholar from Tudela Abraham ibn Ezrá in around 1167 after having travelled all around Europe.

1336 - 1492
The Calahorra Jewish quarter

Houses in the Jewish quarter

The Jews of Calahorra occupied the highest sector of the town which was situated in the vicinity of the castle and the Salvador church, today dedicated to San Francisco.

In the 14th century the Jews of Calahorra consolidated their location in this urban sector to such an extent that in 1336 they acquired form the chapterhouse by way of an exchange the space known as El Castellar or Villanueva, the Cantonera Tower and half of the Torre Mayor (Main Tower), all situated in the vicinity of the current Rasillo de San Francisco, extending as far as the Eras de Abajo wicket gate to the south of the town.

The Jewish quarter was totally surrounded by a wall in which at least one gate was opened as is stated in various documents from the 15th century in which reference is made to the so-called Jewish Quarter Gate which connected the Jewish quarter with the other of the city. Hence, in the exchange document dated 1336 the Jews were authorised to:

Alçar el adarve dentro de la iuderia quanto quisieren, porque sea más firme e fuerte la iuderia.

The Calahorra Jewish quarter thus constituted a true citadel within the city itself. It occupied the site of the former acropolis of Roman Calagurris and was located near the medieval castle. However, in the Lower Middle Ages this urban space had already lost its former strategic value for the defence of the city as narrated by Pero López de Ayala in the Chronic of Pedro I: in 1366 Enrique de Trastámara find it easy to gain access to Calahorra because this city:

Was not strong and those within did not dare defend it.

circa 1450
Sefer Torah of Calahorra

Sefer Torah of Calahorra. The parchment creases, which are easy to make out, are evidence of their subsequent use as the lining for Christian books

Amongst the scarce material remains of the Jewish past in Calahorra, pride of place must go to the fragments of a synagogueTorah which are kept in the Cathedral Archive and fragments of the book of Exodus, have been conserved, from Ex.IV, 18 to XI, 10.

The fragments of the Torahhave survived until today thanks to their use as the cover for two volumes of the Cathedral Chapterhouse Minutes, to be precise, for the volumes pertaining to the years 1451-1460 and 1470-1476.

These fragments belonged to a long scroll which contained the text of the Torahcomprising sections sewn to each other and going to make up horizontally very long strips which were rolled up at each of the ends on various wooden rods. To sew the sections together, tendons (orgiddim) were usually used, deriving from the rear hoof of a kosher animal or one which is fit for consumption by the Jews.

The written text is arranged into parallel columns and, as can be observed in the Calahorra fragments, great care is taken with the calligraphy and the ink is high quality. The length of the full manuscript would be around forty metres.

The fragments conserved from the Sefer Torah of Calahorra present a quadrangular shaped oblong and they constitute a piece of skin which is 1.49 metres long (one of the fragments is 81 centimetres and the other 68) by 63-64 centimetres wide. The text is distributed into nine columns of writing. The first five pages pertain to the worst conserved fragment (the one which bound the Minutes from 1470-1476) and the other four pertain to the part which is easier to read (and covered the minutes from 1451-1460). Each column of writing is formed by forty three lines as is the norm in the seforim and they are all equally spaced one centimetre between each other. The parchment which serves as the base is top quality, consisting of tanned skin, probably goat, written on 3 (in other words, by dint of its smooth cover), with very elegant square Hebrew writing which could be defined as a Sephardic Rabbinic scripture. The letters are slightly spaced between each other and the spaces are slightly bigger between words and between phrases. The ink used is very dark, carbon black.

The base parchment shows signs of having been reused and the remains of previous writing can still be observed, erased to reuse the material, which lends the manuscript even greater value.

1484
Cathedral

Main entrance of Calahorra cathedral

Contrary to what is a rooted tradition in many Spanish cities, in Calahorra the madinat al-Yahud, or city of the Jews, is situated in the acropolis of the city alongside the castle and the Salvador church, whilst the cathedral takes up the lowest territory thereof on the banks of the river, subverting the traditional geographic distribution of power.

The sole reason is the unbreakable link maintained by the Calahorra cathedral with the place where the martyrdom of the saints Emeterius and Celedonius occurred in the 4th century, an episode which had a major religious impact even defining the patron saint of a city as distant as Santander was where, according to Christian legend, the heads of the martyrs arrived which the Roman soldiers had thrown into the river, furious because the miraculously kept talking to each other even though they had been separated from their bodies... The magnificent cathedral of Santa María was founded on the banks of the River Cidacos between an Episcopal Palace and Paseo de las Bolas, whilst Santiago church, in the upper part of the city, played the traditional role of the great Christian churches.

The current cathedral started to be raised in the 15th century and at this time a long process started which would not end until 1904 when the retable of the main altar was placed, replacing the previous one which had disappeared because of a fire. Behind its façade with Neoclassical Baroque elements, the main gate opens out onto some steps which go down to the lower level where the former churches must have been on which the cathedral was erected. In the latter, in addition to the vast space dedicated to the martyrs, the retable of the Monarchs stands out in the retrochoir; the magnificent Gothic baptismal font, placed in the exact spot where, according to tradition, the martyrdom of Emeterius and Celedonius took place; the Virgen del Pilar chapel with its two retables and with the tomb of the famous bishop don Pedro de Lepe, the one who gave rise to the expression sabes más que Lepe (you know more than Lepe); the plateresque St. Peter's retable made of alabaster; the small Sacristy Mirrors Room or the numerous treasures displayed in the Diocesan Museum.

1492
The Catholic Kings give the stones from the Jewish cemetery to neighbours of Calahorra

The Jewish cemetery was probably situated in the area south of Calahorra, after the Cidacos

After the expulsion in 1492, the Catholic Monarchs granted several residents of Calahorra the headstones and stone of the Jewish cemetery of this place. Very shortly afterwards, and with a chorus of complaints from the council authorities, the Royal Council clarified that the concession made to some residents of Calahorra solely referred to the cemetery stone, but in no way to the plot which was to be used by the municipality. It was also absolutely forbidden for the beneficiaries of the stone to build on the plot or to fence it off.

August 7th, 1492
The Catholic Kings donate the Calahorra synagogue to the Cathedral

After the Jews left Calahorra, the Catholic Monarchs, in a charter granted in the town of Ágreda on August 7th 1492, made a donation to the Cathedral church of Calahorra of the building which had, up to that point, been the Jewish synagogueso as to recondition it as a Christian church. The chapterhouse transformed the building, situated in the vicinity of the church of San Salvador and the castle, in a hermitage dedicated to San Sebastián.

1579
The anciente synagogue of Calahorra is demolished

in 1579, the Cathedral chapterhouse granted the church of San Salvador to the Franciscan friars who reformed it and extended it with a cloister. Since that time, it changed its advocacy of San Salvador to that of San Francisco which is still retained. With a view to building the cloister, the chapterhouse also granted the San Sebastián hermitage to the Franciscans, in other words, the old synagogue building which was knocked down.

Glossary