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Segovia Jewish Quarter

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Basic Information

Location Segovia, Spain
Country Spain
City Segovia

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility yes
Geographical Coordinates 40.9429,-4.10881


Closed by seven gates as from 1481, the Jewish quarter of Segovia comprises a space which is totally delimited on the southern side of the walled city, a district now made up of the remains of synagogues, palaces, museums and buildings which evoke its Jewish past, distributed amongst a set of streets rife with medieval mystery. A walk through the Jewish quarter – revealing a city quite distinct from that of the conventional routes through Segovia of the Aqueduct and the Citadel – is further complemented by a visit to the Jewish cemetery of Pinarillo on the other side of Clamores stream where there are some remains of burials which are of great value.


The first indications of the presence of Jews in the city of Segovia date back to 1215 when Giraldo, the bishop of the city, placed a ban on gambling between Jews and Christians in the parish of San Miguel right in the centre of the city. This reveals a context of daily cohabitation between the two groups and the settlement of the Jews in the centre of Segovia since at least slightly before this time. Forty years later in 1252, the presence of the Jews in the city is a wholly consolidated fait accompli as can be gathered from the mandate set by Pope Innocent IV to the Segovian bishop Raimundo de Losana in which he requires Jews to wear a distinctive sign on their attire:

"Con el fin de evitar que los judíos puedan unirse, con grave daño, con las mujeres de los cristianos y éstos con las de los judíos."

Except for this and one or other item of information, during the 13th century the evidence conserved affords very few references to the Jewish community of Segovia. However we do know that prominent Kabbalists lived in the city such as the native of Soria Jacob ha-Cohen who, according to tradition, died in Segovia or Yosef ben Abraham Chiquitilla (1248-1325), indicating unequivocal evidence of the vitality of the aljama of Segovia.

History and time period

ring the 14th century the Jewish community of Segovia was made up of around fifty or a hundred families who had two synagogues, the Mayor (Main) and the Vieja (Old). After a visit in 1326 the Archbishop of Toledo, Juan de Aragón, spoke out against the fastof bread and water observed by Jewish and Christian women on the eve of the celebration of Easter. This denouncement clearly suggests a climate of cohabitation which had overcome the barriers in place between the members of both religious communities which is not accepted by the authorities. At the start of the reign of Enrique II as from 1369, there were altercations in Segovia and Ávila against the Jews by dint of the general moratorium that the King had imposed on debts taken out with Jews. The Christians attacked their Jewish neighbours to take back the documentary evidence of their debts.

At this time, with the exception of some brief altercations, the Jewish community maintained a fluid relationship with the main civil and ecclesiastical institutions. The episcopal seat did not intervene in Jewish matters except to apply the rules governing the separation of the communities which the Church ordered. In actual fact, the Jewish community maintained close relationship with the Chapterhouse of the cathedral in view of the fact that it became the main renter of the Jews´ houses and employed many of them in the works carried out at the cathedral. Only one dispute is known of in which Çag de Cuellar brought proceedings in 1370 against the Chapterhouse owing to the rental of a house situated in the parish of San Esteban, finally reaching an agreement before two arbitrators, the Segovian bishop Martín de Cande and the Jew Çag Abudacham. The Chapterhouse was the main proprietor of real estate in Segovia in the 14th century and it obtained major profits from renting out these properties. The proportion of this income deriving from Jews was considerable as is borne out by the fact that in 1373 almost a third of tenants of tenants of capitulary houses were members of the Jewish community.

After the death of Juan II in 1390, the political instability instigated in Castile affected the Jews in the kingdom putting an end to cohabitation once and for all. The power vacuum brought about by the death of Juan I and the absence of firm authority were exploited by the Archdeacon of Écija, Ferrand Martínez, to stir up and instigate the attack on the Jewish quarter of Seville. At the end of 1390 the Archdeacon had managed to instigate attacks and massacres on the Jewish quarters of Écija and Alcalá de Guadaira and on June 6th 1391, inspired by him, that of Seville. For two months this wave of popular violence against the Jews affected other Jewish communities such as those of Córdoba, Cuenca, Toledo, Madrid, Burgos and Logroño in Castile.

The chronicle of Enrique III recounts the arrival at the court of news of what was happening, but it fails to say whether the city was affected by the violence too:

Partieron de Madrid e vino el rey a la cibdad de Segovia. E estando allí ovo nuevas cómo el pueblo de la cibdad de Sevilla avía robado la Jewish quarter e que eran tornados cristianos los más judíos que y eran, e muchos de ellos muertos. E que luego que estas nuevas sopieron, en Cordoba e en Toledo ficieron eso mesmo e así en otros muchos logares del regno.

In 1412 the guardians of King Juan II promulgated provisions known as the laws of Ayllón which were very restrictive for the Castilian Jewish community. Generally speaking, this legislation limited the legal and administrative independence of the aljamas, forbade Jews from performing certain professional activities and established the social segregation of the Jewish community.

Specific measures set out in the Laws of 1412 included the obligation of Jews and Moslems to live in separate districts. It was thus stipulated:

Que de aquí adelante todos los judíos e moros e moras de los mis regnos e señoríos sean e vivan apartados de los cristianos en un logar aparte de la çibdad, villa o logar donde fueren vecinos. E que sean çercados de una çerca de derredor e tanga una puerta sola por donde se manden en tal çírculo. En que en el dicho çírculo, e lo que ay fueren asignados, moren los tales judíos e judías e moros e moras e non en otro logar nin casa fuera de él.

On October 1412 the council of Segovia had already grouped together the Jews of the city on certain plots and land belonging to the Mercedarian convent of St. Mary of Mercy. This Jewish quarter, the first to exist in the city, was located between the Almuzara, in other words, the current Merced square, and puerta de San Andrés (St. Andrew´s Gate). The segregation was strictly adhered to for years. However, with the passage of time some exceptions began to emerge such Rabbi Yucef, the main book-keeper of Prince Enrique, who had his residence at the central St. Michael´s square in 1453. Other known cases of Jews who lived outside the Jewish quarter show how the pressure on the Jewish community had relaxed somewhat and how they had gradually began to regain the social space they had lost in Segovia.

Friar Vincent Ferrer visited Segovia between the end of 1411 and 1412 to exhort Jews and Moslems to conversion and stirred up a great sense of expectancy in the city, but no further information has been conserved about his activity in Segovia. We only know that at its session held on October 24th 1411 the Chapterhouse of the cathedral stipulated that:

Por quanto fray Veçente venía, e con él, mucha gente de pobres, que del día que él entrare en la dicha çibdat fasta el día que partiere, que den de comer de la mayordomía del común a quarenta pobres cada día pan e vino e carne. E el día de ayuno, pan e vino e pescado, conveniblemente lo que les fisiere menester. E que ge lo den en el palaçio cada día a la mañana e a la noche. E que los repartan a dormir cada noche en las casas de los sennores beneficiados.

This would all lead us to believe that the Dominican managed to achieve some conversions amongst the Segovian Jewish community at that time, though it is not possible to speculate on a figure nor on their relevance.

Likewise, during the regency of Catherine of Lancaster (1406-1419) the events of Corpus Christi occurred in which a group of Jews were accused, including Meir Alguadex, the doctor to Enrique III, of having profaned a consecrated host at the Main synagogue. The reporting of this event along with the punishment of the alleged guilty parties led to the expropriation of the synagogue which became a church dedicated to Corpus Christi. All these episodes of violence and anti-Semitism in Segovia in the late 14th century and the early 15th century led to a considerable increase in conversions to Christianity.

Despite this gloomy backdrop, the aljama of Segovia was one of the most prosperous and populated in Castile in the late 14th century. Under the reign de Juan II, Segovia entered another cycle of prosperity which was extended with the reign of Enrique IV into the 15th century. The strengthening of the aljama in the middle of the century had an urbanistic, economic and social impact and Jews gradually began to settle outside the narrow space of the Jewish quarter, registering a growing participation in the payment of royal taxes and their institutional presence in the city. Between 1464 and 1482 the aljama of Segovia was the main contributor to the tax on service and half service. This is a clear reflection of the strong demographic growth experienced by the aljama as well as of its economic prosperity.

On December 13th 1474 princess Isabel was proclaimed Queen of Castile and León in the city of Segovia where she happened to be upon the death of Enrique IV. Although the aljama did not take part in the organised public acts, we do know that Abraham Seneor played a major role in the Quenn´s accession to the throne and her subsequent consolidation on it.

The Catholic Monarchs continued to protect the Jews but adopting certain restrictive measures against Jewish community. At the Courts of Madrigal in 1476 the aljamas´ capacity to judge criminal cases was withdrawn and at the Courts of Toledo of 1480 Jews were again required to live in a segregated district, thereby confirming the Laws of Ayllón of 1412. The segregation decreed by the Courts of Toledo of 1480 was put into effect in Segovia on October 29th 1481 under the supervision of Rodrigo Álvarez Maldonado who was obliged to temper the excessive zeal of the city authorities when placing the eight gates which were to close the sites one of them was too narrow for carts to get through and thus made it difficult to supply the Jewish quarter. Furthermore, the Catholic Monarchs maintained their protection of the Jews and their interests with great firmness during their reign until the time of their expulsion.

In around 1486 the Inquisition Court was set up in Segovia, bringing about a complete convulsion which led to the breaking out of the social, economic and political tensions which had been latent since the start of the century. The growing conflicts between the Christian and Jewish communities now ran so deep that it proved very hard for any understanding to be reached.

During this period the municipal aldermen of the city of Segovia maintained an aggressive attitude towards the Jews of Segovia. For instance, in 1485 bakers were forbidden from baking matzoth in their ovens as was their wont. This decision, which does not seem to have any objective justification, was a serious insult to the Jewish community as Easter was very close.

The religious and social opposition to the Jews focused on Segovia at the Dominican monastery of Santa Cruz whose prior, Friar Tomás de Torquemada, was appointed by the Monarchs as the Grand inquisitor in 1483. At around the same time one of the friars of the Santa Cruz monastery, friar Francisco de la Peña, was holding public sermons around the city in which he turned the population against the Jews with statements like «sy non ponen fuego al monte, que non podría echar los lobos fuera». In March 1485 the Monarchs ordered Alvar Fernández to prevent Friar Francisco from continuing with his incendiary sermons. However, it seems he was unable to stop him as one month later the Chief Magistrate Ruy González was asked to act in this regard.

Concurrently, the aljama was in a state of serious tension because of the different interests of their leaders and the rest of their members. In 1490 the monarchs look at a complaint lodged by Abraham Alboer and they ordered the Chief Magistrate in the city to do whatever was necessary to ensure that all the members of the aljama made a fair contribution to the payment of taxes. In this same year the Segovian Jew Jacob Cachopo, a proxy for the aljamas of the kingdom, asked the monarchs for a letter of safe passage to protect him from Abraham Seneor and other members of the Jewish community of Segovia.

This was the situation when the edict of expulsion of the Jews was delivered. In Segovia this decree was proclaimed in public one month after it had been written in Granada. As we are told by an anonymous witness of the events:

Martes, primero día del mes de mayo, día de los bienaventurados apóstolos San Philipe e Santiago, anno de Nuestro Señor y Salvador Ihesu Christo de mill e quatrocientos e noventa y dos annos, reinantes en Castilla los muy serenísimos don Fernando e donna Isabel, reyes de Castilla e de Granada, fue publicado en Segovia e en toda Castilla de mandado de sus altesas cómo vacassen de sus reynos todos los judíos que estavan en suys reynos. Dioles seguro con que saliesen dentro de tres messes de sus reynos e que no llevassen consigo oro ni plata ni moneda amoneda[da] ni armas ni otras cosas vedadas, salvo mercadorías etc. Publicose el día susodicho en el monasterio de Sancta Cruz desta çibdad estando ay todo el pueblo desta dicha çibdad, que fueron y concurrieron allí con muy devota e notable processión. Demos a Dios Nuestro Señor infinytas graçias, que permitió ser echados los infieles de nuestros reynos.

Faced by the dilemma of getting christened or liquidating their assets some, like Abraham Seneor, open for christening. On June 15th 1492 the old financier was christened as Fernán Pérez Coronel at the Cáceres monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe at a ceremony in which the Catholic Monarchs themselves served as the godparents.

The aljama was forced to liquidate the communal assets. At the time of the expulsion these properties consisted of two synagogues, the new Main synagogue and the Campo synagogue with its annexed hospital, the cemetery, a butcher´s, an oven and some baths.

The fact there no news was coming out of Segovia about the Jews, prevents us from knowing, even approximately, the number of Jews who left the city and of those who decided to convert to Christianity. The only reliable data is provided by a census of converts in 1510 eighteen years after the expulsion which affirmed that there were 788 converts in Segovia spread around 209 families. In any case, bearing in mind this data, we should bear in mind that the figure does not solely refer to those christened in 1492, but also to all the converts residing in the city.

The converts, having converted to become New Christians, kept living in the same streets as their forefathers. The old Jewish quarter thus became the Barrio Nuevo (New District) whose urban layout whose essential lines have remained unchanged until today.

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