Provincial Historic Archive of Girona

Plaça Sant Josep
Girona 17004
T: +34 972 225 500

Open weekdays:
November-May: 10am-6pm
June-October: 10am-8pm
Sundays-holidays: 10am-3pm

December 25th-26th
January 1st and 6th

Girona, early morning. In Sant Josep Square, near the old town center, stands an immaculate white room. The glimmer of morning light enters through the windows, filtered by the curtains, and fills the room. Dolors Velasco is dressed in a white robe, latex gloves and a cap covering her hair. Next to her, a basin is arrayed with a set of precision scalpels and forceps. In another basin, buckets of oxygen peroxide and syringes of different diameters lay at hand. With a surgeon’s own precision, Dolores Velasco leans over the operating table, removes the covers from this morning’s subject and examines it. With the help of a special set of scissors, she slices through the nerves that hold the skin, separating them from the body, and proceeds to cover the epidermis with several sheets of blotting paper, moistening it just enough to loosen the layers. Finally, a sharp, carefully maneuvered scalpel is induced by Velasco’s steady hand to separate the first layer of skin. She holds her breath. This is the moment to discover what lies beneath the membrane.

Dolors Velasco is not a surgeon, she is a professional restorer; the patient is not a human being, but a medieval notarial book which forms part of the Provincial Historic Archive of Girona. Here, age-old notarial book covers secretly hide dozens of documents in Hebrew, dated between 1330 and 1492, firmly bonded with ancient glue made from animal bones.

Separating the first layers of skin from the cover, Velasco reveals a piece of a hidden script smirched with dirt and traces of old, battered glue. Slowly, clear words in cursive Hebrew begin to emerge: stones (אבנים) wall (קיר), small beams (קורות קטנים). Some words, though written in Hebrew script, are clearly in Catalan: guix (גיש) Vidal de Vellcaire (בילקיירי וידאל) Estruc de Petita (שתרוק פטיטה). Then, words become phrases describing what appears to be a builder’s insight regarding the work in progress: the distance that must exist between two walls, the roof which is to be built for Mr. Belshom Benet, the number of water tanks to be provided and the prices of the materials needed for this work.

One imagines these hidden Jewish writings from medieval Catalunya would reveal great truths about Kabbalah and Talmudic studies, or perhaps tell of prodigious deeds of great men of that time. However, it turns out that the only legacy the Jews of the fourteenth century left behind were accounting books, writing exercises and a couple of shopping lists.

Among the scripts and scrolls restored today we find, for example, seven elongated fragments of paper which form part of an extensive inventory of textiles: mattresses (טלאף), blankets (לסדה) and bedspreads (נובה) are listed under each buyer’s name with its respective price. There is also a list of objects which appears to be an inheritance: three books are listed, some sort of species or perfumes, fifteen bed sheets and two quilts: one ‘blava’ blue (בלה) and another ‘groga’ yellow (גרוגה).

The Provincial Historic Archive of Girona retains a large number of documents from the Jewish communities of medieval Girona, most of which are still hidden within the covers of notarial books. To this day, over 2,000 books dating back before the year 1500 have been reviewed, from which more than 180 books contain hidden writings. Each and every document can be examined in person at the Provincial Historic Archive of Girona or digitally through the web.

Although these may not be the manuscripts of propitious arguments, how exciting it is to imagine and to learn first-hand about the lives of the Jews of Girona before their expulsion.

[accordion title=”Notes”] Girona’s Provincial Historical Archive (Archivo Histórico Provincial de Girona) conserves a great number of hebrew documents from the Jewish community of Girona; written fragments which were used in medieval times to harden the covers of the notarial records of Girona.  Persecutions and displacements of the Jewish community, these documents were kept undiscovered until recent times.[/accordion]