lunes, 15 de abril de 2013

Old Jewish District of Valencia: public (Hamman) and Ritual Batahs (Mikweh)

Old Valencia Jewish district
The old Jewry of Valencia, called El Call, after the conquest of Jaime I (1236), spread along the northern side of the present Calle de la Paz (Peace Street) to the south. Among the most remarkable buildings from jews past we can highlight the bathrooms and the Butcher's, and near the present “Plaza de la reina” was located the Jewish Market or Suk

                                        Map of Islamic Valencia (Sanchis Guarner)
Following this map, entering the portal de la Figuera we have at the map the Jewish baths just below.
Jews baths were of two types, public and rituals (in Hebrew called miqweh) and they represent an institution both hygienic and religious.
We must then diferenciate between public and ritual bath (Miqweh) within Judaism. 
                              Valencia Medieval District at Medieval Time

Public baths in many parts of Spain were know as a Hamman , and the institution was shared betwen jews and muslims, and afterwards wiht christians too. The Jewish Quarter of Valencia were indeed very similar to the Arab baths and the late one also influenced the Christian Bath Institution still surviving in the city, with their warm rooms in the center and both hot and cold at both sides. In Valencia we had of this type the well knowb "Baños del Almirante ((Admiral Baths) of Christian period (1320). 

Similars and  olders in  Medieval Spain, known as Sefarad, are those of Saragoza, of jewish origins and arabic influences, with its columns much like those of our "Baños del Almirante". These baths of Zaragoza are cited in some documents from the thirteenth century, the earliest reference corresponding to 1266. They are located in the Jewish quarter opposite the fortress called "Castle of the Jews" (a complex with jail, synagogue, hospital, butchers). Today it remains only a part of the baths : a room, of substantially  rectangular section with vaulted ceiling, covered with 8 point-stars lighting windows. This large room could communicate with another room colder vaulted with a two arched section perhaps the caldarium and frigidarium. They are XIIIth century Mudejar (moors living under christian rule)  with formal elements of christian Cistercian style.
   Jews Baths of Saragosa                                 Small Room

The next step was the ritual Bath or Miqweh. To participate in the ritual bath, the Jewish oral tradition of the Talmud requires the cleaning of any physical dirt, before gaining admission to pass the second barrier of physical and spiritual purification. The ritual bath is attached to the synagogue. Oral Law speaks about natural waters of "sources and wells" (Leviticus 11:36). To participate in the liturgy of the Jewish Temple and Jewish piety ceremonies one had to be purify of such contamination as the menstrual period by means of the immersion of the whole body in a ritual bath. The Talmud describes how it should be built a “Mikweh” and its conditions. Therefore, the entrance to the public baths preceds the miqweh immersion. In biblical times John the Baptist reshape this purifying sense to penitential one and Jesus focused on the personal sanctification. Archaeologists have found in Qumran baths from I century b.C and in the Judeo-Christian period others have been discovered in Nazareth, with seven steps of descent and ascent that symbolizes the new creation of the person . 

 Ancient Miqweh at the Holy Land
The source of ritual bath water should be running canals or rain water when gathered in an underground cistern.
 The characteristics of the ritual bath or Miqweh can be observed which is in the town of Besalu, near Girona. It is the only of its kind discovered in the Iberian Peninsula and of the few known in Europe.
                                                                    Miqweh of Besalu
Now we are already able to answer about two questions: Was there a public jew bathhouse in Valencia? Yes and possibly it followed the pattern of Zaragoza Hammam and in Valencia were it was located near the Portal de la Figuera.
Did we have a Mikweh in Valencia? We do not have the security whether about this point nor about the site, but they would probably located between the public baths and the synagogue. In the village of Sagunto, 30 km north to Valencia, a supposed miqweh house has been discovered, dating from the fourteenth century, in the so called Casa dels Bereguer. The room is vaulted and retains the ancient seven steps symbol, and the tank that was used to collect rainwater.
Supposed Miqweh of Sagunto


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