Set in a privileged environment on the banks of the River Ambroz amongst orchards,
fig groves and chestnut trees, the Hervás Jewish quarter has for some time now been one of the distinguishing features of this place which
has been able to preserve it best medieval mark almost intact. The typicality of its
houses is definitely the main attraction of this Estremadura Jewish quarter which
was declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1969 and whose urban setting maintains all
the taste and aroma of that time of cohabitation between different cultures and religions.
The good conservation of the Jewish Hervás village is the result of the very humility
of its settlers over the centuries, but also the firm will of the latter not to lose
the identity inherited from their forefathers. What's more, since 1989, the restoration
work on the workshops and trade houses has served as a great aid to their conservation
and there has also been the start-up of the Full Rehabilitation Area (ARI) in 1997,
pioneering in Extremadura.
The Jewish presence in Hervás did not last more than a century in all and can only
be historically vouched for as from 1454. The Jews settled in Hervás probably feeling
from the antisemitic climate prevalent in Castile in the 14th century and whose dramatic
consequences led to the slaughters of 1391. In the 15th century Enrique III intervened
to try and calm things down but on June 6th 1431 disturbances broke out again in the cities of Seville, Córdoba, Úbeda, Huete, Escalona and the
revolts spread to the Castilian plateau. Consequently, many Jews agreed to conversion to Christianity as the only way of saving their lives and properties, others emigrated to Portugal and others still stayed in Valle de Ambroz on the Spanish-Portuguese
border which began to be settled by the fleeing Sephardis who were located on the
Silver Route and the settlements on both sides of the border.
In 1186 Alfonso VIII reconquers Béjar and Plasencia from the Almohades aided by the military order of the Temple. In return for the services rendered, it is highly likely that the Templars receive
the castle of Segura de Toro and a stretch of land very near the place and the Roman
road which they called Santihervás. Less than a kilometre away from the Templar hermitage of Santihervás, a small castle
was erected in an area called Hervás inside which the parish church of St. Mary's was built. During the course of the 13th
and 14th centuries the first urban space was developed around the fortress, forming
a cluster of houses. Successive settlers stayed and repopulated the paths which joined
said dwellings, including the streets of Collado, Corredera (today, Relator González)
and the canton and bridge of Centeneda, the limit of the urban centre and of Centeneda
mountain. This territory was settled by people from Bejar, Galicia (who Queen Violante
donated the Mount of Castañar in 1277) and the residents of El Barco de Ávila.
The village of Hervás did not remain for long in the power of the Templar monks. In
1227 the village was already owned by the house of Almaraz. Sometime later the settlement
was once again answerable to the crown as in 1246 Fernando III donated to Violante
de Aragón, the daughter of Jaime I the Conqueror, the feudal estate of Béjar and Hervás
as a wedding present for her marriage to Alfonso X the Wise. It may have been Queen
Violante who added Hervás to the Bejar estate, as in 1254 the village was under the
governance of the Lord of Béjar, confirmed by the sovereign Sancho IV in the delimitation
of the community of town and land of 1291.
The land of Béjar was subject to the whims of the monarchy and it was constantly transferred
from kings to princes until on June 8th 1396 Diego López de Estúñiga received from Enrique III the community of town and land of Béjar with its royal
privileges in exchange for the town of Frías, investing in lord of Béjar until the early 19th century. On June 29th 1397 the Lord of Béjar founded the Council
of Zúñiga. The Zúñiga owned vast numbers of cattle and needed pastures to feed them.
This cattle and farming activity was the sole source of work in the economy of Hervás
until the arrival of the Jews in the 15th century.
A Jewish community was set up in Hervás in the 15th century and the first details
come to light in 1454. Prior to this date, Juan Muñoz García informs us that in 1391
the Jew from Bejar Rabichuda or Rabbi Judá took part in Hervás as a witness in legal proceedings. However, this evidence should
be taken with a pinch of salt. The text mentions «Gomez Fernandez Labichuda, the son-in-law
of Marina Gil», but nothing confirms or denies whether he was a Jew. In actual fact,
there are no reliable references to the life led by the Jews until the year of their
expulsion. In this year we know that in 1492 around 45 families lived in Hervás and
Rabbi Samuel owned the synagogue which tradition states was at Rabilero street number 19.
The Jews of Hervás performed the trades of weaver, doctor, landlord and merchant.
They owned several public buildings as well as vineyards spread around the best areas:
Collado, Quiñones (behind Corredera square), Mediano, as well as flax fields and chestnut
groves. We know nothing about the location of their butcher's, cemetery, baker's,
public baths or other community buildings. Neither do we have any evidence of the
existence of a Jewish quarter.
During the second half of the 15th century the house of Zúñiga began to flourish.
The accounting books of the Zúñiga family reveal the taxation profile of the Jews
settled in their territories in 1454. Of the 15 settlements going to make up the demarcation
of Béjar in 1454, Hervás was the most populated with the exception of the town of
Béjar. In this year the house of Zúñiga collected by way of county thirds 12,173 maravedis in Béjar and 5,185 in Hervás. Whilst as regards the sales taxes, Hervás earned 42,000
maravedis and the 14 settlements of Bejar totalled 71,250. Hence, the village of Hervás
taxed the Lord of Béjar more than half of the sales tax from villages. Self-evidently, the increase experienced in levies
in Hervás could undoubtedly be put down to the settlement of a Jewish community there.
In other words, there were already Jews in Hervás in 1454. The contributory factors
to Jewish settlement in the Bejar district included, first and foremost, the resettlement
policy implemented by the house of Zúñiga to mitigate the semi-desertification of
their land, providing the settler with incentives in the form of tax exemptions and
the donation of land to construct homes and set them aside for cultivation. However,
a particularly important reasons was the absence of interreligious conflicts in the
The expulsion edict by the Catholic Monarchs guaranteed the Jews a series of legal
conditions intended to facilitate the exit from their kingdom. The crown allowed them
to liquidate all their assets and transfer their properties to third parties However,
the Duke of Béjar, Álvaro II (1488-1531), forade the Jews in his territory from selling assets, andreal estate and threatened vassals with seizing any assets acquired from expatriates.
The few Jews who did manage to negotiate their properties had set a price which was
considerably lower than its actual than their real market value. Other Jews got rid
of their houses in exchange for a modest surety or by way of barter which was completely
to their detriment. This set of aspects allows us to underline that the commercial
operations carried out by the expatriates of Hervás were not in their interest. For
- Moshé Escapa transferred his property valued at 8,000 maravedis for a surety of 2 doblas and 15 reales which was given to him by a woman from Granadilla.
- The sons of Jacob Hamiz exchanged their house valued at 7,000 maravedis for a male donkey and a female donkey which were worth 700 maravedis.
- Jacob de Ruego and other Jews handed over three houses to a Christian in return for
a loan he had made them to pay for taxes on Jewish wine in the aljama of Béjar.
- Ça Cohen sold his house at a loss for 2,300 maravedis, its real market value varying at between 12 and 14,000 maravedis.
We know that at least 13 of the 45 Jews who lived in Hervás in 1492 set off into exile
and their names correspond to that of the owners of the abandoned vineyards. Some
of the exiled Jews went back to Hervás in early February 1494, benefitting from the
law of return of November 10th 1492. From Barcelona the monarchs had issued a letter
of safe passage for any Jews from Castile settled in Portugal who wished to return
to the country and who had converted to Christianity. The Crown vouchsafed the Jewish return and the possibility of recovering all the assets sold subject to payment to their current owners of the amount set for the commercial transaction
plus the cost of any remodelling that the owner had carried out thereat.
We do not have any references to an approximate figure of Jews who returned to Hervás.
Neither were they well received in the Duchy of Bejar. Owing to circumstances not
mentioned in the documentation, the Crown had decreed against them:
Que les prendades los cuerpos e secretades los bienes ante notario [...] e les traygades
This poses the question why the Catholic Monarchs had acted in this way against the
change if the legislation in force was favourable to the Jewish return.
Along with Rabbi Samuel other Jews from Hervás were repatriated. We have a record of a Ferrando del
Cura, converted to Christianity in 1492, but we don't know his Jewish name. He was
related to Nehoray Salvadiel who had gone into exile, though we are unaware whether
he came back two years later. In the same way, the convert Juan Blasco died at the
stake in the auto de fe of 1506 incriminated in the religious slander of the consecrated host. Violante,
the wife of Toribio López, had been accused of the offence of Judaism in 1514 but she managed to escape the clutches of the Holy Office and took refuge,
probably in Portugal.
The converts lived in Corredera square and Cruz Street and had to suffer the ill will of the old
Christians who saw them as enemies of the Christian faith. Their harassment was reflected
in the blood libel of the consecrated host (1506) and the persecution they suffered from the court of the Inquisition of Extremadura which sent Judaizers to the stake who did not wish to forswear the
Law of Moses in 1514. The converted community decided to participate in the activities of the civil and religious institutions in the mid-16th century. In view of the rejection by the Christians, the Duke of Béjar laid down the Statutes of Cleanliness of the Blood at the Town
Hall in 1578. This rejection of the Jew has remained until today, crystallised in
the form of legends.
Puente de la Fuente Chiquita (Little Fountain Bridge
Fuente Chiquita bridge with Hervás in the background
Abajo Street gives out onto the bridge which crosses the Ambroz. At the buttress of the Fuente Chiquita bridge, formed by a funeral headstone from 1395, passing your hand over the polished cut
of the stone means taking part in the intra-history of thousands of market gardeners
who sharpened their sickles or knives here over the centuries. It also provides an
occasion to recall the verses of the poet and folklorist Emilio González de Hervás which goes:
¡Encanto de viejos siglos
con sabores sefarditas!
¡Graciosa Fuente Chiquita!
Y como piedra preciosa,
ese monolito rosa
llamado Machón del Puente.
Almost brushing the branches of the willow, which weeps over the river, perhaps recalling
the legendary misfortune of the Maruxa, the wandering Jew, the route takes us to the
other side of this body of water to arrive, on the right, at a space where there is
a magnificent panoramic view of the Jewish quarter with its set of houses distributed along the bank. And watching it all from the heights,
St. Mary's tower.
From this branch of the Ambroz it is easy to imagine the daily life of the Jews of
Hervás near the river. Although some sources date the arrival of the Jewish contingent
to the town in the 13th century, the first official documentation dates from 1464,
linking the Jews to the Zúñiga family, in other words, to the Duchy of Béjar to which
Hervás belonged from 1369 until the granting of the privilege of township in 1816.
It should be borne in mind that in the 15th century Hervás had slightly more than
two hundred residents, including forty five Jewish families who, with the aid of the
Duke, had taken refuge here fleeing the persecutions of 1391. The documents mention
families like the Cohen, the Çalama, the Haben Haxiz and the Molho and their relevance
in the community remained for many years following the saying en Hervás, In Hervás, Jews predominate.
After the edict of 1492, twenty five families left Hervás bound for Portugal and the
rest were subjected to forced conversion to Christianity; some of them returned such
as Rabbi Samuel two year later to join the brotherhood of St. Gervase which allowed the Jewish
collective to stick together for some time. The cases of crypto Judaism detected in
the years following the decree of expulsion and the incessant persecution of the Inquisition
meant that the phenomenon of converts in Hervás bore a relevance which is still recalled today with the annual celebration
of days dedicated to the Converts.
The Jewish district
La calle del moral (Moral street)
In Hervás there is no historic record of any segregation of Jews into districts separate
from the Christians. Neither have any references been made expressing neighbouring
interreligious conflicts in Hervás prior to 1492. The documents never mention the Jewish quarter in Hervás, but rather they refer to «the Jews of Hervás» who lived together in a climate of
relative tolerance without any conflicts to warrant segregation, in all likelihood
around Corredera and Plaza streets where the converts resided in the 16th century. However, there was a Jewish street close to Rabilero street where the synagogue was traditionally located.
Although some sources date the arrival of the Jewish contingent to the town in the
13th century, the first official documentation dates from 1464, linking the Jews to
the Zúñiga family, in other words, to the Duchy of Béjar to which Hervás belonged
from 1369 until the granting of the privilege of township in 1816.
It should be borne in mind that in the 15th century Hervás has slightly more than
two hundred residents, including forty five Jewish families who, with the aid of the Duke, had taken refuge here fleeing from persecutions of
1391. The documents mention families like the Cohen, the Çalama, the Haben Haxiz or the Molho and for many years their relevance in the community followed the saying:
En Hervás, judíos los más.
After the edict of 1492, twenty five families left Hervás bound for Portugal and the rest were subjected to forced conversion to Christianity;
some of them returned such as Rabbi Samuel two year later to join the brotherhood of St. Gervase which allowed the Jewish collective
to stick together for some time. The cases of crypto Judaism detected in the years following the decree of expulsion
and the incessant persecution of the Inquisition meant that the converts' phenomenon in Hervás bore a relevance which is still recalled today with the annual celebration
of days dedicated to the Converts.
The case of the consecrated host
The accusations of Eucharistic profanity imputed to the Spanish Jews never existed nor insult to the consecrated host by the converts of Hervás.
Thanks to a document kept at the General Archive of Simancas, we are informed that
the old Christian Juan Sastre, a resident of Zarza de Granadilla, had stolen the holy host and pyx of the church
of Aldeanueva del Camino in late April or early May 1506. On the occasion of the offence,
the rumour spread amongst the population that New Christians from Aldeanueva del Camino and Hervás had been involved. The vicar-general of the diocese of Plasencia had decreed the imprisonment
of the presumed guilty parties and the seizure of their assets.
People were also spreading the rumour that the converts had put the consecrated host into a cauldron of boiling water and, in the meantime,
whilst they subject it to torment, a crucifix painted on the altar of the church of
Hervás was miraculously sweating. The Inquisition Court de Extremadura intervened
whose headquarters was provisionally in Plasencia. Juan Ruiz de Tripiana, the vicar-general of the diocese, was one of the inquisitors at the trial.
Finally, the court imputed the profanation of the Eucharist to Juan Sastre and the
converts of Aldeanueva del Camino and Hervás who died at the stake.