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The history of Jews in Coimbra

The oldest document attesting to the presence of Jews on Portuguese territory is from Coimbra. This presence, having experienced peaceful times, also lived times of extreme intolerance and persecution.

It is in the “Pátio da Inquisição”, in a building with more than 470 years of history, that we find the long-term exhibition “The Jews from Coimbra | from tolerance to persecution | memories and materiality” which intends to tell the story of the Jewish communities of Coimbra.

In this space, the old very large refectory of the “Real Colégio das Artes”, the Court of the Inquisition was installed and turned into prisons and a house of torture until the extinction of this court in 1821.

Now, through 13 panels with images and text [in Portuguese and English], traces and memories of the persecutions, tortures and deaths practiced in the name of defending the catholic faith and the Church, during a dark period in the country’s history, are exposed. The exhibition aims to “identify, decode, preserve and make accessible the legacy of the Jews of Coimbra”.

The exhibition, of free-entry, can be visited from Tuesday to Saturday, from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Closed on Sundays, Mondays and holidays. Contacts: 239 840 754; museum.municipal@cm-coimbra.pt

In 2013 a Jewish ritual bath room (Mikveh) was found by the Municipality, which reinforces the heritage of Jewish communities in Coimbra. Located on Rua Visconde da Luz (numbers 19 and 21), this street was one of the limits of the designated old Jewish quarter. The oldest Jewish neighborhood (“Judiaria Velha”), organized since the 12th century, was located on Rua Corpo de Deus and its surroundings.

The Mikveh’s location can be justified by the presence of spring water at this location, a mandatory requirement in the purification baths. The Mikveh is an annex to the Synagogue so it’s also expected that the “Judiaria Velha de Coimbra” Synagogue may have been located in its vicinity.

The ritual purification baths were of great importance in Jewish life and are still important for contemporary practitioners of the Jewish faith. This is one of the oldest Jewish ritual baths discovered in Europe and was intended for female ritual baths: it dates back to 1370. Historically women use the Mikveh more often as they must cleanse their body every month after the menstrual cycle, sexual relations and giving birth.

Because of its rarity and its incredible state of conservation, this discovery is truly surprising. It’s expected that in the near future it will be possible to be visited by the public, similarly to the medieval fountain associated with the Jewish presence in Coimbra, the fountain of the Jews (“Fonte dos Judeus”), considered the oldest public water supply infrastructure in the city, which is 900 years old. and has been conserved and preserved by the Municipality, although greatly altered.

It’s important to mention that in 1537, when the University was transferred from Lisbon to Coimbra, important scientific studies were transmitted there by the Jewish teaching community, namely in Medicine, Exact Sciences and Botany. The university as a center of “free thought” quickly became a threat to the Christian faith. Many teachers suffered persecution, accused of tending towards Judaism and forced to abandon the profession.

Currently, one of the rarest books in the General Library of the University of Coimbra is the “Bíblia Hebraica de Abravanel”, from the 15th century. This holy book, handwritten in 1450 in Lisbon, was commissioned by a Portuguese Jew with family connections to Seville: Isaac Abravanel.
The “Hebrew Bible of Abravanel” is today a work much sought after by representatives of Israel in Portugal who visit the Hebrew Bible as if visiting a sanctuary.

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Hotel Oslo - Coimbra
Av. Fernão de Magalhães, 25
3000-175 Coimbra, Portugal
Tel. +351 239 829 071
Fax. +351 239 820 614
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