The careful monitoring of the tracks of the Jews in Jaén, having settled this place for almost twelve centuries, allows today´s traveller the time to get into the very secret heart of the city where legends are born which are far more revealing of their deep spirit. Outside the strict limits of the traditional Jewish quarter, the Gothic frieze of the cathedral, the Arab baths of Villardompardo or the former Dominican convent where the Inquisition had its headquarters allow the panorama to be completed of a Jewish Jaén which lasted virtually until the 18th century, well after the expulsion of the Jews from Al-Andalus in 1483.

Although the first conserved documents date back almost to Visigothic times in 612 when King Sise but forbade the Jews of Jaén by law from having Christian slaves, this presence of Jews in the city would seem to suggest that the Jewish collective arrived much earlier. Undoubtedly, the first Jewish communities set up in Jaén in Roman times and hence the Jewish community which inhabited Jaén was already important in the 7th century.

The defeat of the Visigoths and the arrival of the Moslem entailed freedom for the Jews of the city. It is more than likely that they helped the new rulers and the Jewish community prospered during the initial age of Islamic domination in the 8th century. It is known that in the 9th century Jaén had a synagogue and next to it a Yeshiva or centre where studies were provided about the la Torah and the Talmud. The geographer Abd al-Nūr Al-Himyari states that in the late 9th century there were four hammam or Moslem baths in Jaén powered by water from the Raudal de la Magdalena, one of which was the Hammam Ibn Ishaq, the Bath of Ben Isaac, a clearly Jewish association. This bath may have been owned by Isaac Ben Saprut, the father of the famed doctor and diplomat Hasday Ben Saprut. As from 2002 archaeological excavations have been carried out inside the urban fabric of the Jewish quarter and there, at the plot between Martínez Molina al Sur, Santa Clara in the North, San Andrés in the West and Los Caños and Murcia in the East streets, a structure has been revealed which could be identified with a bath which may have been that of Ibn Isaac. The study is still ongoing.

Around 910 or 915 Hasday Ben Saprut was born in Jaén, the right-hand man of the Caliphs Abderramán III and Al-Hakem II. Ben Shaprut introduced in Al-Ándalus the Jewish schools of Syria and Babylon and maintained a close relationship with the Jewish kingdom of Khazars. As a doctor, he rediscovered the formula for preparing the theriac, an antidote to poison and he managed to cure King Sancho el the Crass of Navarre of his obesity. He translated from Latin into Arab the important treatise on medicinal plants of Dioscorides. He created a magnificent library and became the patron of poets and philosophers. Hasday Ben Saprut took Jewish-Hispanic culture to new heights.

In the 11th centiry after the breaking up of the Caliphate of Córdoba and the subsequent breaking up of Al-Ándalus into Kingdoms of Taifas, Jaén became part of the zirid kingdom of Granada. From this time onwards it is known that in 1066 the governor of Jaén Musakhan allowed Maksan, the son of the king of Granada to keep the riches of the Jews of the city after a revolt. At this time the Community was governed by Rabbi Isaac, a friend of Isaac Alfasi, who saw how the Moslem tolerance ended suddenly with the arrival of the Almoravides. The Almoravides, called to the aid of Al Ándalus by the King of the Taifa of Seville, Al Mutamid, after the conquest of Toledo, were a people from the North of Africa who preached Orthodox compliance with the Islam doctrine. Under the command of Yusuf ibn Tasufin, they gradually took control of the Taifa kingdoms as from 1090, imposing the continuous sacking of the cities. The Almoravide conquest obliged the Jews to be exiled to the Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain. Although a major part of the Jewish population endeavoured to remain in Al-Ándalus, the new wave of intolerance, the Almohad, proved to be the hammer blow to their presence in Moslem territory. The Almohad invasion devastated the Jewish quarter. Yacub ben Yusuf promulgated the death penalti for anyone not practising Islam and this made the emigration and total abandonment of the Jewish quarterinevitable. And so it came to pass in the Jewish quarter of Jaén which was only re-established in Christian times after the conquest of the city by King Fernando III in 1246.

To date there is no precise information about the exact location of the Jewish quarter of Jaén in Moslem times. During the Almohad intolerance, which required the Jews to leave Al-Ándalus and take refuges in the Christian territories in the north of Spain, the aljamas remained empty. When the Jews came back to Jaén with Fernando III, a King who was tolerant with the Jews, it is possible that they set up in the old Jewish quarter which they left when leaving for good to create a new quarter somewhere else as had occurred in other Spanish cities. At present, researches are inclined to think that they did actually occupy the same space as that inhabited previously.

During the Christian Middle Ages between the conquest of Jaén in 1246 and the mid-14th century when the large-scale conversions of Jews commenced, the district they inhabited seemed to fall between the current buildings of the St. Clare´s Convent and St. Andrew´s Church. The exact limits of the old Jewish quarter are still debated today. What does seem for certain is that the current Santa Cruz street was its main thoroughfare. It was here, behind the Saint Clare´s Monastery, that the synagogue was located. The district was made up of a maze of narrow streets which had two or three exits to the mains trees of the city and which would remain closed at night to avoid any attacks.

After the reconquest the Jewish presence became a fixture very quickly as is borne out by the number of papal documents relating to the Jews´ obligation to pay the tithe. In the late 13th century the new Jewish quarter of Jaén paid 25,000 maravedis by way of tithes to the church, practically the same as the Jewish quarter of Córdoba paid, making clear the importance of the one in Jaén. Also at this time the Jews of Jaén were asked to send a representative to negotiate with the Crown the amount to be paid by the Jewish quarter at a time when the community had nearly 1,500 inhabitants.

Until the mid-13th century with Alfonso X the Wise the Jews of Jaén experienced a new flourishing stage in their jobs as craftsmen, doctors, exchangers and royal income collectors. This latter task was undertaken, for instance, by Abraham Secuto, Yuçaf de Castro, Abraham ibn Aladep, Çaq de Castro and Samuel ibn Aladep. Las siete partidas (The seven-part code) of Alfonso X indicates specific aspects of cohabitation between Jews and Christians. The Jewish quarter of Jaén benefitted from this cohabitation and according to the legal standards, a space was defined and autonomy granted which were similar to that previously given in Castile to the Jewish quarters where their own court settled any disputes and disagreements amongst Jews and even taxes were collected for the King.

However, in the second half of the 14th century a time of persecutions began against the Jews which would culminate in their final expulsion by the Catholic Monarchs. In 1368, during the war between Enrique II, to whom the city of Jaén was loyal, and his brother Pedro I, known as a Jewish protector, the Nasrid troops of Granada, loyal to Pedro I, entered the city of Jaén and took prisoners as many as 300 heads of families from the Jewish community to Granada as written by Samuel Zarza in his book Fuente de Vida (Fountain of Life):

Jaén fue tomada por la fuerza y mataron a un número de hombres. Mas en los judíos ordenó el rey don Pedro que no pusieran la mano porque no tenían culpa. Pero que si querían cautivarlos, los cautivasen. Entonces llevaron prisioneros al reino de Granada hasta trescientos padres de familia que vivían en Jaén.

This figure of 300 heads of families is equivalent to around 1,500 people, a very high number which would make Jaén one of the most important in Spain in the Late Middle Ages.

During the second half of the 14th century, partly because of the sermons of the Archdeacon of Écija, Ferrand Martínez, saw the majority of the forced conversions of Jews and the latter had to transform their synagogue into the parish of Santa Cruz in 1391, thereby forming with time the new congregation or district of Santa Cruz. From that time onwards the convert population lived not only in the space of the old aljama but also spread around the districts of St. Peter´s, St. Andrew´s, St. John´s or San Ildefonso.

In 1473 the Constable Miguel Lucas de Iranzo, governor of the city of Jaén and the protector of Jews and converts, was murdered whilst praying in the Cathedral. Once the constable had been murdered, the angry mob went in search of Juan López de Marruecos, the converted Mayor of Torredelcampo fortress, to slaughter him along with his family. The enraged people then turned against the converts convinced they were still Jews. As Juan de Mariana says in his Historia General de España (General History of Spain):

Esto fue a causa de que el odio y la envidia de la muchedumbre se revolviese contra él de tal guisa, que con cierta conjuración que hicieron un día le mataron en una iglesia en que oía misa. La rabia y furia fue tan arrebatada y tal el sobresalto, que apenas dieron lugar para que Doña Teresa de Torres, su mujer, y sus hijos, se recogiesen en el Alcázar. Como el Condestable pusiese las rodillas para facer oración, uno del pueblo, que más cera dél se falló, le dio tan grande golpe con una ballesta de acero en la cabeza, que dio en él en el suelo, e todos los que cerca dél estaban lo firieron con lanzas e espadas de tal manera que no quedó en él señal de persona humana, e luego todos juntos fueron a robar e matar los conversos.

In 1483 the Catholic Monarchs set up the third Inquisition Court in Jaén, after those of Seville and Córdoba. This demonstrates the high number of convertsthere were in Jaén at this time, many more than in other cities. The first inquisitors were put up at a house which Constable Iranzo owned in said Jewish quarter. Later, the Inquisition Court was located at St. Catherine the Martyr Convent (the Dominican Convent, now the Provincial History Archive) where it remained until 1526. During the Middle Ages the Diocese of Jaén ha two major bishops holding the title of Grand Inquisitors. The first was Diego Deza, a man in the confidence of the Catholic Monarchs and the tutor of their son, Prince Juan. Great Defender of Colombus´ adventure in America, he bore much influence on the Queen Isabel to support the voyage. This bishop ran the diocese of Jaén from 1497 to 1500 at which time it was transferred to Seville where he died and is buried. The other grand Inquisitor was his successor, Alonso Suárez de la Fuente del Sauz who, during his episcopate, managed to prevent the Jaén Court from being moved to Granada. He occupied the cathedral of Jaén from 1500 until 1520. This bishop is buried at the Capilla Mayor or Santo Rostro (Main or Holy Face Chapel) of the Catedral.

Finally, the Expulsion Edict signed by Catholic Monarchs in 1492 entail the mass exiling of the Sephardis who settled in Morocco, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the Balkans.

Arab baths of Villardompardo palace

Villardompardo Palace

Also known as plaza del Pato (Duck square) because of the swan adorning the fountain situated here, here is the splendid Villardompardo palace whose inners conserve one of the greatest treasures of Jaén: its wonderful Arab baths from the 11th century.

The palace, which belonged to Fernando Torres de Portugal, the viceroy of Peru, and count of Villardompardo, is a huge Renaissance building which symbolises Jaén´s position as regards the conquest of America and, at present, it is a spacious cultural complex includes not only the baths and outbuildings of the palace itself but also the Museum of Popular Arts and Customs and the Naïf International Art Museum.

The recovery of the Arab baths, which won the award Europa Nostra for restoration in 1984, allowed the discovery of the outbuildings of the old baths of Alí which, along with the aforementioned Naranjo and Ibn Ishaq, formed part of a group of four mentioned in the chronicles of Al-Himyari, all dependent on the flow from the Magdalena fountain. The Alí baths, bearing the name of the Moslem King who had them built in the 11th century, served this purpose until 1246 when Fernando III the Saint conquered the city for the Christians. From this point on, its rooms were used to tan and dyehides until the late 16th century when the viceroy don Fernando had them filled with earth and debris to erect his palace on them.

The baths were rediscovered partly by Enrique Romero de Torres who in 1913 was committed to drawing up the monumental catalogue of Jaén.

Whilst visiting the baths you can pass through its various constituent spaces: the hallway, formed by a large 14 metre wide room covered by a vault with 18 lucernas in star shape, the square-shaped warm room and the hot room which is almost 16 metres long situated alongside the boilers and also covered by stars, allowing the sunlight to form an environment rife with magic inside the baths which were used both by Moslems as well as by Jews and Christians, by men and by women in alternate timetables. All going to make up a display of wisdom and good living.

Baeza Gate

Huérfanos square. In the foreground there are traces of the Baeza Gate

The persecutions the Jews were subject to as from the 14th century led to bring their houses closer to the wall, alongside the Baeza Gate as can be gleaned from the confiscations of converts´ houses by the Inquisition in 1485.

The gate known as the Baeza Gate provided direct access to the Jewish quarter district and during the Middle Ages was its main entrance. This can be surmised from the archaeological intervention which brought it to light as its orientation is direct to Los Huérfanos street and it must undoubtedly have been the main gate to the Jewish quarter.

In the internal area of the walls it was managed to locate the old street which the inhabitants of the Jewish quarter passed by on or which is known as the «camino de ronda», which was around 4 metres wide and was paved. The evacuation of water was carried out via an opening in the walls alongside the gate, being directed outside the wall to the place known by written sources as the ravine of the Jews or muladar of the Jews, a ravine where the bridge of the Jews was located, an expression which is quoted in various documents and which menti0n a cemetery.

At present, a wooden bridge invites you to cross the old Baeza Gate whose archaeological remains are located underneath, just as the Jews from Jaén did to enter or leave the city.


Main façade of the cathedral

For centuries Santa María square has been the centre of public life in Jaén, as well as a place characterised by the extraordinary presence of the Renaissance catedral in the city, one of the most outstanding examples of this architectonic style in Spain, born out of the creative genius of the architect Andrés de Vandelvira. Here, where the Episcopal Palace was erected too and where there were many autos de fe staged by the Holy Office - featuring inquisitors like Diego de Deza and Alonso Suárez – the tour starts on the Jewish route through Jaén, running at the foot of the hill where the castle of Santa Catalina is located, one of the historic landmarks of the city.

In addition to the spectacular main façade, with its twin towers, worthy of note inside are the width of the naves, the slim cupola of the trancept and the central balcony where the relics of Santa Faz appear (to whom the whole temple is dedicated), the choir, the chapel of St. Peter of Osma or the high galleries which allow the whole cathedral to be toured via the second floor, as well as the treasures kept in the museum.

Jaén Cathedral, although it administrators included many converts, wad famous in the 16th century as it was at its Chapterhouse that the first draft of the Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre Statutes of the Cleanliness of Blood appeared.

The convert problem

Cohabitation between Christians and Jews had already suffered since the mid-14th century and the hostility of the Old Christians to the converts had led to violent persecutions, some on the eve of Isabel´s coming to the Castilian throne.

The problem of the converted Jews was both social and religious. The chance the New Christians had of accessing positions of command in the urban oligarchies´ led to the suspicion amongst the masses of the cities. Furthermore, the idea was widespread that the converts were still largely faithful to the Jewish tradition: Any unpleasant actions occurring at the time (including ritual murders) could be laid at the door of the Judaizers in the popular mind.

Against this backdrop, the Catholic Monarchs thought about the possibility of arbitrating a procedure for pursuing false converts. This procedure was called the Inquisition, a court which had already existed in Europe in the Middle Ages. Maybe some converts were involved in the decision, violently hostile to their former fellow worshippers like Tomás de Torquemada, the first grand inquisitor of Castile. What´s for sure is that the Catholic Monarchs ended the traditional tolerance practised in the Hispanic kingdoms until their reign.

Constable Iranzo Palace

Constable Iranzo palace on Maestra street

At number 18 Maestra street there lies a noble 15th century building which is currently used as the Municipal Palace of Culture, right opposite the tourist information office. It is the Miguel Luca de Iranzo palace, a constable of Castile at the time of Enrique IV whom quite a few scholars have labelled as having convert origins, amongst other reasons owing to his habit of not doing any work on Saturdays and the fact he was murdered by a group of old Christians at the cathedral in March 1473. The splendid coffered ceiling of the Mudejar room of the Constable´s palace bears testimony to the numerous meetings that Don Miguel would hold with the most distinguished people in the court, some of them recognised converts, sacked and even murdered by his enemies after his death.

Cristo del Amparo (Protecting Christ)

Vaulted niche of Cristo del Amparo on Maestra street

Santa María square is where Maestra street starts, one of the most central in the capital in whose first few metres you´ll find the vaulted niche harbouring Cristo del Amparo whose image appeared, according to legend, when a group of Jews was trying to profane a procession from here to the catedral.

Popular tradition aside, what is for sure is that on this street - for centuries the main commercial thoroughfare of Jaén – many Jews had their businesses in the Middle Ages. In the close vicinity, also on the right-hand side, is Arco del Consuelo street where they some of the oldest bars in Jaén still serve wines and good food.

El Cristo del Amparo (Christ of the protection)

It is recounted that on one occasion Constable Iranzo was opening a procession which was going from Maestra street to the Cathedral when a convert approached him to profane the large cross that don Miguel Lucas was carrying in his hands. The constable reacted by hitting out and may other Jews then fell upon him. The Constable then invoked the Lord and a blinding flash was projected onto the wall where the vaulted niche is located today, revealing an image of Christ. The Jews immediately kneeled before it and converted to Christianity for good.

Former synagogue. St. Andrew´s Chapel

Former synagogue. St. Andrew´s Chapel

Everything in the St. Andrew´s Holy Chapel recalls the former synagogue which was here before being converted into a Christian church: from the triumphant Star of David to the very structure of the temple with its magnificent arches which bring to mind the Moslem mosques and its access courtyard, with an entrance via Rostro street. The precious screen which closes the Holy Chapel, the work of the master Bartholomew, is one of the most relevant elements of this Little gem which is situated in the centre of the Jewish district, half way up the slop stretching from the low part to the high part of the city, following the orography of the land.

Notwithstanding, the Jewish affiliation of the chapel is still under discussion. Luis Coronas and Vicente Salvatierra argue against the origin of the chapel being an original synagogue. Their evidence is that St. Andrew´s Church was already there in 1311, a time when the Christian monarchs were still tolerant to the Jews and it is thus unlikely that they would knock down their synagogue to build a new Christian temple, as well as the entry position of the church, outside the limits of the Jewish quarter.

Arguments in favour of the theory of the original synagogue include, inter alia:

  1. The main entrance is much simpler than the other historic churches of the city (synagogues have very simple accesses)
  2. The entry door is not in front of the main altar (synagogues would never have the entry door opposite the temple orientation so that upon leaving it you never turn your back on the Torah)
  3. The temple orientation eastwards; the inner flooring of the temple at a level lower than that of the street (synagogues were usually located below the other Christian temples)
  4. The artistic similarity of the temple layout with the churches of Santa María la Blanca in Toledo and the Corpus Christi Church of Segovia, both original synagogues
  5. The presence of a courtyard which would recall the access courtyards of synagogues.

Gutierre González Doncel

The bust of the venerable Gutierre González Doncel presides over the courtyard which joins the oratory with the rest of the outbuildings of St. Andrew´s Holy Chapel, today used by the Brotherhood of Clean Conception of Our Lady, popularly known as the Holy Chapel.

Born in Jaén in around 1469, don Gutierre was prothonotary apostolic and treasurer of Pope León X and died at the hands of the soldiers of Charles V during the imperial attack on Rome in 1527. Previously in 1515 he left all his assets to the diocese of Jaen to erect St. Andrew´s Chapel and the foundation which is still maintained today according to the same three foundational principles: charity, clothing the poor and provide dowries to maidens for their wedding; teaching, maintaining free schools and pious, continuing worship.

Gato Alley

Gato alley

Through Gato Alley we reach a set of streets which only have three exits to the exterior as usually occurs in the Jewish quarters of Hispano-Moslem cities. This area is undergoing study and recovery owing to its structure as an independent block and segregated from the rest of the urban complex.

This urbanistic configuration was that used by Spanish Jews as a protective measure from any possible attaches from their enemies.

Hammam ibn Isaac, Isaac Baths

View of the archaeological excavation where it is believed the baths of Isaac were located

The Arab bath or Moslem hammam was public and had a series of «shifts» for men and women, but also for the different religious beliefs living in the Hispano-Moslem cities. The Jewish population used them on Fridays, the day of worship for Islam and prior to the Hebrew Shabbat.

There are records of another Arab bath in Jaén from the same era as that of Villardompardo whose owner was Jewish. This Bath was called Hammam ibn Isaac, in other words, Bath of the Son of Isaac. It has not been ruled out that his may have been owned by the family of the famous courtier Hasday ibn Shaprut, the son of Isaac ibn Shaprut, a powerful local Jew. The latest research would suggest that this hammam was located inside the Jewish quarter on the plot excavated to the south of Martínez Molina street and near the present-day St. Andrew´s Church.

House of Ibn Shaprut

Star of Solomon at the former house of Hasday ibn Shaprut

The route to find the tracks of the Jews in Jaén ends at Magdalena square, one of oldest, most representative spaces of the spiti of the ancient city where the church is erected which lends it its name, conserving the remains of the former abolutions courtyard of the mosque which it used to be and where the Raudal de la Magdalena is located, a very old large fountain where legend has it that the legendary Lagarto (lizard) lived, an enormous serpent which terrorized the people of Jaén until a brave shepherd used a trick to blow it into a thousand pieces by getting it to swallow an explosive substance, giving rise to the popular saying in Jaén: you´ll blow up like the Lagarto de la Magdalena (Magdalena Lizard).

This seems to be the same house that another tradition associates with the Casa de las Almenas or del Rincón (House of the Wall-walks or of the Corner), called this as its owner gained the privilege of having water and wall-walks as he gave shelter to King Pedro I there for a night, an enemy of the city Jaén during the war with his brother Enrique II and a protector of the Jews.

A surprising Star of David serves to locate the property at number 6 on the square - opposite the colonnades indicating the former house of Hasday ibn Shaprut or house of Cadí – where the right-hand man of Caliph Abderramán III lived and one of the main driving forces behind blacksmith of the golden age of Jewish culture in Al-Andalus in the 10th century.

The house belonged to Isaac, the father of Hasday Abú Yusuf ben Yitzhak ben Ezrá ibn Shaprut, the name of the great Al-Andalus Jewish diplomat who was born in Jaén in around 910 and who pursued his career which reached international projection in Córdoba.

Hasday ibn Shaprut

Hasday ibn Shaprut was one of the most unique figures in the court of Abderramán III, a doctor and right-hand man of the Caliph, born in Jaén in 910 and appointed by him the nasir or chief of Jewish communities of Al-Ándalus, a post he held with others such as the minister or head of protocol. A diplomat, writer, a wealthy man and true patron of poets, philosophers, grammaticians and scientists, Ibn Shaprut acted as a true minister of foreign affairs of the Caliphate and was one of the major driving forces in the golden age of Al-Ándalus Jewish culture. He died in Córdoba in around 975.

Jewish cemetery

Arrabalejo Fountain alongside Puerta del Sol Street where the Jewish cemetery was located

According to tradition, the Jewish cemetery is situated at the site which in the late 15th century was called Barranco de los judíos (Ravine of the Jews) or Muladar of the Jews, a ravine where the Bridge of the Jews was located, an expression which is quoted in various documents and which currently is situated at the streets Rey Alhamar, Matadero and Puerta del Sol, outside the Baeza Gate and near the Jewish district and one of the city exits.

Until now no kind of burial has been identified in this area as it is currently occupied by buildings which were carried out many years ago without any prior archaeological interventions, merely in small strips to introduce infrastructures carried out recently; some remains of human bones have been identified though the findings have not been significant.

The cemetery

The cemetery was located outside the walls at a certain distance from the Jewish district. The chosen site:

  • Must be on virgin soil
  • Must be on a slope
  • Be oriented towards Jerusalem

The Jewish quarter had to have a direct access to the cemetery to prevent the burials from having to pass through the interior of the city.

After 1492 the monarchs authorised (in Barcelona in 1391) the reuse of stones from Jewish cemeteriesas construction material. It is thus not unusual to find fragments of Hebrew inscriptions in several subsequent constructions.

Despite the pillaging they suffered from the late 14th century, the memory of these cemeteries has remained in the name in certain places, for instance, Montjuïc in Barcelona or Girona. We are aware of the existence of more than twenty medieval Jewish cemeteries. Others are only known of thanks to the documentation or the headstones conserved. The one in Barcelona at Montjuïc was excavated in 1945 and 2000, the one in Seville in 2004, the one in Toledo in 2009 and the one in Ávila in 2012.

Jews in the choir stalls of the cathedral

Choir stalls of the cathedral

In line with the same anti-Jewish diatribe, inside the cathedral it is possible to discover, amongst the figures of the choir stalls, several Jews according to the traditional stereotype which represented them as unpleasant-looking individuals with crooked noses and a pronounced chin, identified by the characteristic circles which the Jews were forced to wear. The circles were small, circular strips of fabric which were red or yellow and which were placed on the shoulder on the clothing or on top of the cloak as a distinguishing sign or feature of their status as Jews.

The choir stalls of the cathedral were carried out during the 16th century with some elements being added in the 18th century. Owing to their similarity with that of the cathedral of Burgos, the features make the sculptor Felipe Bigarny spring to mind. At the start it was worked on by Gutierre Gierero, Juan López de Velasco and Jerónimo Quijano and later, in the Baroque era, by Julio Fernández and Miguel Arias.

Magdalena's Spring

El raudal de la Magdalena (Magdalena's Spring)

Legendary drinking water fountain which has historically supplied the majority of the city. Inside was where the «Lizard of Jaén» had its den.

According to legend, a huge serpent or dragon kept the population living in fear for a long time until a brave shepherd managed to kill it by making it swallow an explosive substance. Hence the Jaén saying: así revientes como el Lagarto de la Magdalena (Magdalena Lizard) when you don´t like someone.

Juan Eslava Galán attributes the cultural influence of the Orient in Jaén as having been brought to the city by Jews who settled there in times gone by, the origin of the most famous legend in the city.

Menorah of the Diaspora

Menorah of the Diaspora

The widening of Doctor Blanco Nájera square, also known as Huérfanos square, has a surprise in store after passing through the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter. It is a giant menorahserving in homage to the Jews of the Sephardidiaspora and recalling their permanent bond with the city:

Las trasas de ken anduvieron endjuntos nunca podrán ser abaldadas.

In other words:

The footprints of those who walked together never be erased.

Alongside the monument, a further evocation of water at the bridge crossing the fountain and showing the way followed by Jews to enter and leave the city via the Baeza gate whose foundations are still conserved.

Old synagogue of Santa Cruz

Rear façade of the Royal Monastery of Santa Clara. In the foreground if the wall of the old synagogue of Santa Cruz

At the St. Clare´s Royal Monastery of Jaén, the rear façade giving out onto Santa Cruz street has small segment of wall jutting out and bearing a very irregular cut. This wall has been identified as the only present trace of the old Parish Church of Santa Cruz and the old synagogue in medieval times.

The existence of this synagogue has been demonstrated thanks to a document from 1413 issued by the Cardinal of Montearagón referring to a dispute by the nuns of St. Clare´s with the new Santa Cruz church which is referred to as the old synagogue and which is said to have been located on the other side of the convent refectory.

After the attack of 1391, which in Andalusia was of a particularly violent nature, there is evidence of the transformation of this synagogue into the new parish church of Santa Cruz at which there was only worship every three months, an indication of the distancing of the new converts from the general pace of Christian society.

The synagogue

The synagogue (place of congregation, in Greek) is a Jewish temple. It faces Jerusalem, the Holy City, and it is a place for religious ceremonies, communal prayer, studying and meeting.

The Torahis read at the ceremonies. This task is conducted by the Rabbis aided by the cohen or singing child. The synagogue is not only a house of prayer but also an instruction centre as it is there where the Talmudic schools are usually run.

Men and women sit in separate sections.

The synagogue interior contains:

  1. The Hejal closet located in the east wall, facing Jerusalem, stored inside the Sefer Torah, the scrolls of the Torah, the Jewish sacred law.
  2. The Ner Tamid, the everlasting flame always lit before the Ark.
  3. The menorah, a seven-armed candelabrum, a habitual symbol in worship.
  4. The Bimah, place from where the Torah is read.

Rostro Square

Rostro square

Rostro square is to be found on the left of Rostro Street where the rear of St. Andrew´s Chapel is situated which must have been the main entrance to the synagogue located in this place before the chapel

Back in Rostro square, Gato alley, one of the roads emitting the most atmosphere of the district, leads to San Andrés street, another of the main thoroughfares of the Jewish quarter.

San Lorenzo Arch

Saint Lawrence´s Arch

At Madre de Dios street you can find St. Lawrence´s Arch, owned by the former parish and famous for the existence of the altarpiece portraying Cristo de las Injurias (Christ of the insults) or of the Tarima. A national monument, St. Lawrence´s Arch retains inside a beautiful chapel adorned by morisco plasterwork and tiles; it was here that vigil was kept over the corpse of King Fernando IV the Summoned in 1312 and in 1555 Maximilian of Austria was christened here, the cousin of Emperor Charles V.

The Cristo de la Tarima (Christ of the Dais) or de las Injurias (Christ of the Insults)

The legend of Christ of the Dais recounts how a man was a taking a hen home and when he passed down Maestra street, the hen escaped and got under wood at the entrance to a small business. The man begged the owner of the establishment to raise the dais so he could get the animal back but the shopkeeper categorically refused. All of a sudden a huge crowd gathered in the street to convince the shop owner to let the man get his hen back.

When the dais was lifted, they saw that underneath the shopkeeper had painted a crucifix so that everyone coming in would tread on it and profane it. Although the legend never specifies whether the shop owner was a convert or not, tradition has identified him as such.

Another version of the same legend narrates that two boys playing in the street heard great wailing from under the dais and they then alerted the rest of the neighbourhood.

It is said that this Christ was worshipped for a long time at the disappeared Parish Church of San Lorenzo and that when the latter closed to worship in the 19th century, the painting was moved to the neighbouring Parish Church of La Merced. Today all that remains of the image is the memory of the legend.

Santa Cruz street

Santa Cruz street

Santa Cruz street, departing from Huérfanos square, goes right into the heart of the Jewish district, on its left the stoney line of the walls of the convent of St. Clare. By crossing Santa Cruz we are led to a small tangle of narrow alleys which go to make up the most private core of the Jewish quarter in a space which is currently degraded undergoing recovery. This Street must have been the site of one of the synagogues of Jaén which some authors are also related with St. Clare´s convent.

St. Dominic´s Convent

St. Dominic´s Convent

Calle de Santo Domingo (St. Dominic´s street) takes up the main route started at Maestra Street and followed via Martínez Molina street. On its right-hand side there lies the old St. Dominic´s Convent, a building steeped in history whose first precursor was an old Moslem palace which the Castilian King Juan I granted to the Dominicans in 1382. It served as the headquarters of Santa Catalina University, a hospice and outbuildings of the court of the Holy Inquisition of Jaén, the third to be formed in Spain after those of Córdoba and Seville. Worthy of special note in the building are the magnificent proportions of the cloister which also has Andrés de Vandelvira home.

Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition

Created by the Catholic Monarchs in 1478 and directly answerable to the Crown, the Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition saw to the upholding of Catholic orthodoxy in its kingdoms and operated in Spain until its final abolition in 1834 during the reign of Isabel II.

The Inquisition, as an ecclesiastical court, only had jurisdiction over baptized Christians. For the majority of its history though, as where was no freedom of worship in Spain and its dependent territories, its jurisdiction extended to virtually all the subjects of the King of Spain.

The Inquisition was created by means of the papal bullAd abolendam, issued in 1184 by Pope Lucius III after the synod of Verona as a tool for combatting the Albigensian heresy in the south of France. As well as in France and Spain, there were pontifical Inquisition courts in several European Christian kingdoms during the Middle Ages.In the Crown of Aragon a pontifical Inquisition Court operated according to a ruling Excommunicamus by Pope Gregory IX in 1232 during the time of Albigensian heresy; its main representative was Raimundo de Peñafort. Over time its importance gradually became diluted and in the mid-15th century it was an almost forgotten institution, even though it was legally in force.

No consensus has been reached about the reasons why the Catholic Monarchs decided to implement the inquisitorial machinery in Spain. Researchers have come up with various hypotheses:

  • To establish religious unity. In view of the fact that aim of the Catholic Monarchs was to create efficient State machinery, one of its priorities was to achieve religious unity. Furthermore, the Inquisition allowed the monarchy to play an active part in religious matters without the intermediation of the Pope.
  • To weaken the local political opposition to the Catholic Monarchs. Undoubtedly, many of those in the Crown of Aragon who were against the setting up of the Inquisition did so invoking their own jurisdiction.
  • To put paid to the powerful Judeoconvert minority. In the kingdom of Aragón members of influential families were brought to trial including Santa Fe, Santángel, Caballería and Sánchez. However, this contradicts the fact that Fernando himself still relied on many converts in his administration.

Star of David on Rostro street

Star of David on Rostro street

At number 12 Rostro Street a modern Star of David indicates the house, with Jewish overtones, of a local artist committed to the protection and dissemination of the Jewish quarter of Jaén.

The Jewish quarter

The Jewish quarter of Jaén. Caños street

After passing through Audiencia square, Maestra street becomes Martínez Molina Street whose final stretch, as from St. John´s church, becomes one of the limits of the traditional Jewish quarter. The widening of the main street gives rise, from this point onwards, to a tangle of narrow alleys which mainly retain the layout of the medieval Jewish district. Caños street, which appears on the right, commences the route round the Jewish quarter, descending gently as far as Caños square where the Naranjo baths were located in days gone by which some researchers have related with Hammam ibn Ishaq, in other words, the baths of the son of Isaac. The elegant 16th century fountain conserved in this square bears testimony to the abundance of springs there had always been in this area. Opposite the fountain is the old Butcher´s building which was a national school in the not too distant past.

Taking Arroyo de San Pedro street, you reach Santa Clara street, a narrow, L-shaped alley and at its bend there lies the entrance to St. Clare´s convent, a 13th century monastery, the oldest in Jaén, located at one end of the Jewish quarter. The verticality of the cypress and the pillar supporting the patron saint of the convent lend a spiritual tone in a peaceful spot which holds another famous Christ of Jaén, the Misericordias (mercies) or Bamboo Christ which, in Easter Week, is one of the most common festivity. Some authors have related the convent with an old synagogue. Zigzagging round the streets, the route follows a stretch of Huérfanos street, one of the main streets in the Jewish quarter, the descending Real street as far as Huertas street whose route marks the eastern limit of the Jewish district.

The yad or ritual pointer

The yad or ritual pointer

During the excavation of the plot between Santa Cruz and Rostro streets, the site traditionally regarded as the centre of the Jewish quarter, in 2004 a marble object was documented and located inside the winery of a house which had a façade on Rostro street. A yad or ritual Jewish pointer has been identified but this attribution has not been totally established.

The recovered object is 10 cm long and around 8 mm thick and its upper part is uniquely shaped with decoration and a split on one of its ends which tell us that it must have been secured to another by a cord, thread or chain. This is why at the beginning the piece was inventoried as a bobbin: a turned object which tenses the thread with which lace and braid are weaved. Notwithstanding, some researchers have suggested it could be a reading pointer for the Torah. To date, there have been various interpretations of this object, though no unanimous consensus has been reached in favour or against the purpose it served in the 14th century. The only thing that has been established is its archaeological context and its stratigraphic dating which confirms that it is an object used by a Jew in the 14th century.

The ‘Mona´ (Monkey)

The Mona in Gothic frieze at the cathedral

At the head of the cathedral, facing Valparaíso Street or Mona alley, there runs throughout its length a flowery Gothic-style frame dated at around the end of the 15th century/early 16th century and attributed to the stonemason Enrique Egas. This Gothic frieze is very famous amongst the people of Jaén as it contains a whole iconographic repertoire intended to portray the Jews as a cursed people, subject to all the torments of Hell, in a sculptural display presided over by the popular Mona which represents a character dressed with an old Jewish habit.

The popular mona of the cathedral would seem to portray the seated Jew, a figure which sets in motion an antisemitic diatribe warning the medieval Christian not to fall into the temptation of judaizing and even inviting the Jews themselves to conversion as a way of rejecting evil and achieving salvation.

In this way the different decorative elements running through the border are interpreted as Jewish symbols (figures of pigs which would seem to allude to the marranos, in other words, the Jewish converts as they were called at that time), Christians (pomegranates symbolising the Church; a gargoyle possibly with the form of a pelican and ears of wheat supposed to portray the Eucharist; shells which would signify christening, conversion etc.) and inquisitorial (human and animal figures tied to wheels in flames which may represent the converts in penance, condemned to the stake by the Inquisition).