The first documentary evidence of the Hebrew presence in Ávila dates back to 1144: Alfonso VII assigned the tithe pertaining to the Jews' annual income to the Cathedral. This is the first specific reference but there are many preceding versions further steeped in mythology until the actual foundation of the city. Some say that there were Jews in Ávila well before in Hispano-Roman times. Further evidence backing up this theory is the very legend of how the original Basilica of San Vicente was founded in the 4th century when on the same site as it is in today a Jew built the first martyrial church dedicated to the Vincentian saints Sabina and Cristeta.

The legend of the Jew

Although documents have told us about the arrival of a first contingent of Jews in the late 11th century as participants in the venture to resettle the city by Count Raymond of Burgundy, after a long period as no man´s land on the border between Christians and Moslems, theories abound satting that there were Jews in Ávila well before this historic time, undoubtedly back in Roman times. This possibility is further backed up by the very legend of the foundation of Ávila as a Christian city in the 4th century in which at the same place where the first martyrial church dedicated to the saints Vincent, Sabina and Cristeta, a Jew builds, after having miraculously saved after a deadly snake bite which surprised him whilst laughing about the martyrdom of the brothers at the hands of Roman soldiers. This is recounted in every gory detail on the expressive vignettes surrounding the magnificent tomb of the martyrs at the Basilica of San Vicente, one of the great gems of the Castilian Romanesque.

The brothers Vincent, Sabina and Cristeta were captured and martyrized in Ávila in 306. In the times of Diocletian, the governor of Hispania, they had refused to sign a document acknowledging they had offered sacrifices to the Roman gods. A Jew was collaboration in the martyrdom when a snake curled round his neck. He promised God that if he got free, he would convert to Christianity and provide the martyr brothers with a tomb; at this same place the first church would be erected where, according to tradition, he was buried.

circa 1090

The cathedral from the city wall

Looking over San Segundo street there emerges the imposing defensive «Cimorro» (large tower) of Ávila cathedral. A symbol of the city represented on its coat-of-arms materialises two of the main characteristics of Ávila, bringing together religiosity, very prevalent in its streets with its sound stone defences.

Started in the 11th century in late Romanesque style, it was completed in the 16th century with the features of the first Gothic cathedral in Spain. In its exterior architecture the details of a fortress prevail over religious aspects, revealing the medieval marrying of the cross and the sword. Inside worthy of note are the Plateresque retrochoir by Lucas Giraldo and Juan Rodríguez, the spectacular ambulatory built from the bleeding stone of La Colilla, the sculpture of the sepulchre of El Tostado, a work by Vasco de la Zarza. Also outstanding is the series of altarpieces of the main altar by Pedro Berruguete, Santa Cruz and Juan de Borgoña set in a sumptuous frame by Vasco de la Zarza, and which form one of the richest sets of Spanish painting of the 15th and 16th centuries. The Museo Catedralicio (Cathedral Museum) has been remodelled and has pieces of great artistic worth such as a Custodia de Juan de Arfe (custody of Juan de Arfe).

Ávila Cathedral was declared a National Artistic Monument in 1914.

circa 1125
San Pedro Church

Western Façade of St. Peter's Church

St. Peter's Church is undoubtedly one of the most significant temples of Castile and León. Since its Romanesque origins both the building and its decoration have evolved, the upshot of the prolongation of its construction over time. It was probably started in the second quarter of the 12th century but, for unknown reasons, the works were halted until the end of said century.

On the exterior, the triple header, an apse on each of the naves, brings together an amazing sculptoric repertoire with vegetal, fauna and geometric motifs but also including religious scenes like the history of Cain and Abel or the Temptation of Adam. Altogether this would be the first construction stage.

At the second of these stages the transept walls were built and at the third the lateral naves. As early as the 13th century the pillars of the main nave were raised and the roof would gradually be covered with barrel and ribbed vaults. The passage of time meant that the artistic criteria gradually changed and the arches started to become evident as the preface to the Gothic tendencies which would end up prevailing. Finally, upon completing this Romanesque stage, the dome was raised. The temple has a «Latin cross» ground plan with a central nave whose dimensions are larger than the lateral ones, separated by spacious stone arches.

St. Peter's Church was declared a National Monument in 1914.

An esplanade extends throughout almost the whole perimeter of the temple. This is St. Peter's Atrium. It was here that the Castilian monarchs swore to respect the regional charters of Castile and the Inquisition raised a platform to stage the trials of heretics. This all goes to illustrate the great importance of this church in the period of the greatest political importance in the city of Ávila.

It was at St. Peter's Atrium that the notorious trial took place of those Jews accused in the case of the Holy Child of La Guardia, an event which grabbed the attention of the kingdom at that time and which serves as a perfect illustration of the worsening of relations between Jews and Christians in the late 15th century.

circa 1130
San Vicente Basilica

The Basilica of San Vicente from the city wall

The Basilica of San Vicente dates back to the 12th century but it was built on another prior place of worship which it is hard to define. Although it is a compendium of Romanesque architecture as their construction lasted until the 13th century it also bears traces of late Romanesque, directly preceding Gothic art.

On the exterior the use of cali stone (orange) lends it an amazing array of colours which contrasts with the sober grey granite of its portico.

Inside, it has a «Latin cross» ground plan with three naves which culminate in their attendant apse. Its narrowness lifts our gaze up to the ceilings which are vaulted.

The inclusion of this monument on the Ávila list of cultural heritage related with the Jews can be put down to the extraordinary reliefs which decorate the cenotaph (13th century) or urn where the remains of the martyrs are kept. These saints were the siblings Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta and they suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Diocletian (around 360) by refusing to admit they had carried out pagan rites. Tradition would have it that their bodies were laid out on a rock and the first basilica was built at this site. Its construction was paid for by a Jew who had boasted of his martyrdom: when he was gloating over the torture they were being subject to, a snake wrapped around his body and he felt that if he didn't renounce his faith, it would put paid to him.

Now converted to Christianity the Jew went ahead with the erection of this place of worship where he himself would later be buried. All these events are portrayed in the aforementioned cenotaph reliefs.

At present the martyrs' remains are located in urns arranged at the Main Altar and the cenotaph is admired for its excellent carvings as well as for the canopy which covers it and was added later in 1469.

The Basilica of San Vicente was declared a National Monument in 1882.

circa 1230 - 1305
The Talmudic school of Ávila

Ávila was the location of one of the most important Talmudic academies of the 13th to the 14th centuries, the focus for tendencies to Messianism as the observance of the Law was stricter. Ávila took in Moses bem Sem Tob de León (Moses de León), a Rabbi and wandering wise man who, after living in Guadalajara, wrote and put the finishing touches here to his Sefer ha-Zohar or Book of Splendour which, along with the Talmud and the Bible, form the trilogy of Kabbalistic mysticism. It was Ávila that the first manuscript of the Zohar was disseminated from the house of Yuçaf de Ávila where he lived, the influential, wealthy tax farmer of the King.

A contemporary of Moses ben Sem Tob of León was another illustrious Jew, Nissim ben Abraham, better known as The Prophet of Ávila, the author of the Libro de las maravillas de la sabiduría (Book of the miracles of wisdom) and the man who caused a wave of conversions to Christianity when, in compliance with a prophecy he announced about an apparition of the Messiah, what finally appeared to the Jews of Àvila was the cross of Christ... The most recent texts present Ávila as a certain hub of intellectual and spiritual life where a major Talmudic school flourished and which, for example, in 1236 the illustrious Jewish philosopher David Quimhí visited.

circa 1240 - 1305
Moses of León

Moses ben Sem Tob de León was born in 1240 and died in 1305. He was a rabbi and philosopher and the author of the Book of Splendour, a central work of the Kabbalah.

Since his youth he was interested in philosophy and at the tender age of 24, whilst still following his religious studies, he received a copy of the Guide of the perplexed by Maimonides. From that time he started to get interested in the Kabbalah and devoted several years of his life to getting in touch with Kabbalists from all over the Crown of Castile, even striking up a friendship with a now very old Nahmanides, and spreading the Kabbalist doctrine in view of the increase in the rationalist influence of Judaism.

In Guadalajara, he carries out around twenty four documents about the Kabbalah and in 1286 he had already completed the majority of the Zohar, including a different version of the Midrash. Although to write the Zohar he said he had been guided by old manuscripts by the mystic Simeón Ben Yojai (2nd century), this could never be demonstrated as at that time it was very common between Jewish writers to attribute their books to classical authors.

circa 1430 - 1492
Former Don Samuel Synagogue

Sinagoga de Don Samuel or del Pocillo (Don Samuel or Pocillo Synagogue)

On Pocillo street, a broken road, packed with flavour which zig zags between low houses, a house emerges with a surprising brick arch throughout its façade and which some academics have related with the synagoguemade by don Simuel. This place of worship is mentioned in documents between 1430 and 1460 and it was one of the centres of the Jewish faith located in the Jewish quarter of Santo Domingo and dating from the 15th century.

The property was turned into a private home but it still stands out for its huge arch which dominates its façade and it does not follow the model of a habitual dwelling.

Mosén Rubí Chapel: Main Synagogue or Moçon Synagogue?

The Capilla de Mosén Rubí (Mosén Rubí Chapel) from Bracamonte street

The historian on Sephardic themes D. A. Halperin put forward the hypothesis that the current Mosén Rubí chapel was «originally built in 1462 as a major Synagogue» and that later, when it had already been converted into a church, it was annexed to the hospital constructed following the will of María Herrera on October 2nd 1512. María was the daughter of Diego Martínez de Herrera, a converted Jew.

The construction date of a synagogue in 1462 is highly plausible in view of the fact that the ban on building synagogues was implemented with the law enacted on January 16th 1465 during Henry IV's reign, one year after the temple's construction had been completed. This being the case, it may well be the last built in Spain prior to the Expulsion.

To back up his theory, D. A. Halperin states that the executor of María's will, her nephew Diego de Bracamonte, built a wooden hospital and the chaplains' chambers adjoining an already existing temple. The chapel designed would accommodate around 25 people and the one we are examining has a much greater capacity. Furthermore, he transcribes an enigmatic inscription inside the temple citing the construction date according to the Jewish calendar and notes the existence of a Star of David on the NW face of the building. Finally, the fact there is no large synagogue like those to be found in Toledo or Segovia makes no sense in one of the cities with the largest Jewish populations in the peninsula.

Incarnation Monastery

Incarnation Monastery

The Incarnation Monastery was founded as a Place of Worship in 1478 at some dwellings near the Gate of St. Vincent owned by its founder Elvira González de Medina. In 1510, with Beatriz de Guiera as the prior, the community is transferred to the current site, previously taken up by a Jewish cemetery and nuns. In the 18th century the interior of the church was transformed, renovating the altars and altarpieces within Baroque aesthetics.

This Monastery is one of the essential places in the life of Teresa of Ávila where she stayed almost uninterruptedly from 1535 to 1574. When Teresa de Cepeda, without her parents' permission, joined the Order of Carmen, the monastery was one of those with the most members in the city. At Incarnation she recovered the advice of Francisco de Borja, John of the Cross and Pedro de Alcántara and then prepared the Carmel Reform.

The Convent houses a Teresian museum. One of the most outstanding works is a drawing undertaken by John of the Cross which portrays Christ on the Cross.

The Incarnation Monastery was declared a National Monument on October 23rd 1983.

Its inclusion on this list of places related with the Jews of Àvila is related with the existence of some documentary references which attest to the fact that this was the location of one of the burial sites of this community.

1480 - 1492
Telares District

Houses today in the Telares District. This is where the synagogue was located where the last tears were shed of those embarking into banishment to the vicinity of the Gate of Bad Luck

Since the late 11th century the Jews inhabited different areas of the city, both within the city walls and in the immediately outlying suburbs. However, in the last quarter of the 15th century they were forced to be segregated in a small sector around the Gate of Bad Luck and Telares street. The Jewish community thus lost some of their basic rights which they had been previously been ensured by the monarchy and the nobles. For example, in 1442 prior to the formalisation of the ghetto, Álvaro de Luna had convinced the king Juan II to allow a people as loyal to the Crown as the Jews to be exempt from the stipulations of the papal bull of Eugene IV and in 1454 Enrique IV had even improved upon the economic and social conditions of the Jews, authorising unrestricted trade between Jews and Christians.

Nowadays, the Telares street area is an urban space with low dwellings (called Molineras) where there is a garden with aromatic plants whose name, Moses de León Garden, in homage to this distinguished Jew who lived in the city.

Avila's Jews are restricted to the district of Los Telares

Since the late 11th century the Jews inhabited different areas of the city, both within the city walls and in the immediately outlying suburbs. However, in the last quarter of the 15th century they were forced to be segregated in a small sector around the Gate of Bad Luck and Telares street. The Jewish community thus lost some of their basic rights which they had been previously been ensured by the monarchy and the nobles. For example, in 1442 prior to the formalisation of the ghetto, Álvaro de Luna had convinced the king Juan II to allow a people as loyal to the Crown as the Jews to be exempt from the stipulations of the papal bull of Eugene IV and in 1454 Enrique IV had even improved upon the economic and social conditions of the Jews, authorising unrestricted trade between Jews and Christians.

Expropriation of the Lomo synagogue

A Royal Decree issued in Madrid on December 6th 1495 by the Catholic Monarchs states that in 1482 doctor Pedro Sánchez Frías, the Chief Magistrate of the city, took possession after the segregation of the Jewish community to the Telares District in compliance with a decree by the Courts of Toledo in 1480, of certain synagogues which the Jews had in Ávila. And as the Lomo synagogue situated alongside the monastery of Saint Mary of the Incarnation was in ruins was used as a farmyard, they donated the temple to this convent at the behest of its Prioress, Catalina del Águila.

December 17th, 1490 - November 16th, 1491
The case of the Holy Child of La Guardia

The case of the Holy Child of La Guardia is a prime example of the anti-Semitism prevailing in the late 15th century to achieve religious unification and which, according to some historians, serves as the spark leading to the signing of the decree of expulsion promulgated by the Catholic Monarchs.

Benito García, a convert, who was suspected of stealing consecrated hosts, is arrested. He confesses that he is still practising the Jewish religion along with another convert, Juan de Ocaña, and a Jew Franco de Tembleque. Benito García is set to the Inquisition prison of Ávila where he meets Yucé Franco, a Jewish cobbler. In prison the latter confesses to Antonio de Ávila, a Jewish doctor pretending to be a Rabbi, that a few years previously he had taken part in a ritual crime in La Guardia (Toledo). One Easter Friday he had crucified a boy and then he had mixed his blood and heart with a consecrated host in an act of witchcraft aimed at bringing about a rabies epidemic throughout the land.

Denounced by the Rabbi, an Inquisition spy, Yucé Franco recants saying the story was told to him by a convert, a certain Alonso Franco. Subjected to torture, he again confesses his participation in the crime. The Inquisition decides to arrest them all and takes them to the prison of Ávila.

The proceedings commenced on December 17th 1490 and ended one year later. Despite the fact that there was no corpse and the continuous contradictions appearing in the process, on November 16th 1491, at an auto de fe held in Ávila, the two Jews and there converts are sentenced to death by the Inquisition. Two of them confessed their guilt and their error in at the last moment and they were garrotted before being burned. The rest were burned alive slightly later.

The Monastry of la Encarnacion is transferred to the old Jewish cemetery

Tradition has it that the Ávila Jewish cemetery was situated on the sites where the Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación was built. This foundation occurred in August 1511 when Beatriz Guiera (or Yera) acquired the houses of Pilón de la Mimbre to move to them the original convent to be found at that time alongside the Gate of St. Vincent, alongside the Lomo synagogue. Beatriz Guiera literally bought a Jewish Graveyard which was outside the city walls and this was where the convent was built.

1629 - 1636
St. Teresa Convent

Saint Teresa Convent. Built in the 17th century on the plot occupied by the house where Teresa of Jesus was born

Via de la Dama street where the remains of the former Santa Escolástica hospital still survive and Intendente Aizpuru street, the Santa square is entered (the inhabitants of Ávila know it in capital letters) where the Santa convent is situated. This monastic foundation was erected on what used to be the house where Teresa of Jesús was born, a top writer on Spanish Golden Century literature and Christian mysticism. And despite her convert origins as she was closely related to a family of new Christians in Toledo.

Built between 1629 and 1636, the convent combines the beauty of its church, a magnificent example of the Carmelite style, a fascinating Santa Teresa Museum located on the underground crypts and which contains pieces which are still relatively unknown to the general public and are extremely valuable.

On the other side of the Santa gate, the Mysticism Interpretation Centre is organised into four rooms which correspond to the three universal elements established by Saint Catherine of Siena (one space where you can be by yourself, another to be with God and a third for being with the world) as well as a fourth identified with tradition.

The Hebrew origin of Saint Teresa of Jesus or of Saint John of the Cross, meant they both suffered some problems when they started to practice their faith and shows how conversion was actually an option accepted by part of the Jewish community.

The Medieval Tanneries are discovered

Archaeological remains of the medieval tanneries. Amongst the earthenware jars you can see the paving of what could be a street

Discovered in 2004 between the bridge over the River Adaja and the hermitage of Saint Secundus in a space currently part of the city's nature interpretation centre, the medieval tanneries remind us of the industrial past of the city and, to be specific, of the Jewish community.

The Former Tanneries of the St. Secondus Suburbs constitute a unique, relevant example of the craft complex dedicated to tanning hides which operated between the 14th century and the end of the 17th century. As regards the remains, there is a considerable number of earthenware jars still in one piece as well as the oaks (troughs where the fabrics and hides were immersed) and even the flooring of the rooms.

The tanneries dealt with the tanning of hides and until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the 15th century they were run by the latter. They kept in business for three centuries until the mod-late 17th century, coinciding with a time of economic crisis in Spain which particularly affected industrial production.

At present, these tanneries (the most spectacular of those conserved in the Peninsula) remain concealed, protected until a designed musealization is implemented and their corresponding development.