The synagogue of Besalú
C/ de Pont Vell
T: +34 972 59 1240
Jewish weddings; who hasn’t attended one yet? The ritual is one of the most solemn and poetic ceremonies in Judaism; however, when such an event takes place in an exceptional setting, like the banks of the river Fluvia, to the backdrop of Besalú’s romanesque fortified bridge, even the most indifferent passer-by becomes emotionally overwhelmed.
In the midst of the year 1340, two of Besalú’s most prestigious families – the Bonastruc’s and the Castlar’s, congregated at the synagogue’s courtyard (formerly known as ‘Placa dels Jeus’ (the square of the Jews); a place of which, today, little remains) to celebrate the union of two of their members in holy matrimony.
Today, 700 years later, standing before the wall that once marked the entrance to the synagogue, a new couple takes their place under a Chuppah made of olive and poplar branches. To their backs, a scenic view of Besalú’s fortified bridge stands symbolic, as the act joining two lands in matrimony.
Placed above a remarkable Mikveh, it is said that Besalú’s synagogue, was built as a panoramic balcony in the town’s farthermost corner. It is rumoured that this location was purposefully chosen in order to prevent the usage of the synagogue’s courtyard as a shortcut passage; reason for which, according to jewish tradition, a holy site should have a single entrance.
These, of course, are suppositions. However, what we do know for certain is that the synagogue’s location was approved by the Catalan king himself, Jaume ‘The Conqueror’, consenting its construction on the 4th of october, 1264.
Despite the centuries past, a secret path which connected the synagogue’s courtyard to the Jewry gate (Portal dels Jeus) has been perfectly preserved. At the paths end, an ancient improvised opening leads straight from the ‘Call’ (the Jewry) and out the town’s fortified walls, to the spectacular ‘Cami de ronda’, the peripheral promenade on the river banks lined with ancient oaks and beeches watered by the Fluvia river. On this serene promenade, today, our newlyweds walk in their white linen garments, to the cheers of the crowd. They pass by the old Romanesque hospital, and in front of the old majestic palace of the long gone Astruc Family.
According to tradition, most synagogues have one of their lights permanently lit, a light referred to as Ner Tamid (Eternal light) in front of the Hechal of the Torah. In this synagogue, hardly anything is left of the wall which held the scrolls and faced Jerusalem. However, for some, the glint of the sunlight on the synagogue’s limestone ruins is like a permanent light, exposing a gentle silhouette of an unforgotten synagogue which, beyond any doubt, must be visited.
[tab title=”TERMINOLOGY” icon=”entypo-book”]1. A chuppah (חוּפָּה, pl. חוּפּוֹת, chuppot), is a type of canopy under wich a jewish couple stands during its wedding ceremony. It consists of a textile, normally a Talit, held by 4 supports. It symbolizes the home the couple wishes to form together.
2. Ner tamid (נֵר תָּמִיד) or eternal light is a torch commonly located inside synagogues. It’s always kept lit as was the west lamp in Jerusalem’s ancient temple, symbolizing G-d’s eternity in Jewish faith. This tradition is shared by both ashquenazis and sefardís. The eternal lamp is usually hanged on the synagogue wall closest to Jerusalem over the aron hakodesh – אָרוֹן קׄדֶשׁ (according to asquenazís) or over the hejal – הֵיכָל (according to sefaradís).[/tab]