The chance discovery solved an enigma that had baffled historians for years, said Elvira Mea, a lecturer who specialises in Jewish history at the University of Porto. Immanuel Aboab, a 16th-century Jewish scholar, had written that, as a child, he had visited a synagogue in the third house along the street counting from the 14th-century Our Lady of Victory church.
But he didn't specify which side of the street, and archaeological digs had turned up nothing. Then came confirmation of the accuracy of Aboab's text: the house Fr Moreira bought [in which the synagogue was discovered -- MS] was the third house down on the street the Jewish scholar had described.
Historians had been thrown off by the fact that Aboab never described the synagogue as clandestine. His childhood experiences took place five decades after the forced conversion - at a time when secret Jewish worshippers would be tortured and burnt at the stake if caught - so there was no chance a synagogue could function in the open.
"Everyone assumed Aboab had got his dates mixed up," said Professor Mea. "But it had been preying on my mind and, as soon as I saw the ark, all the pieces fell into place."
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Must-read piece in the Independent about the discovery of a secret synagogue from the 16th century behind a false wall in a Portugese house:
Posted by Miriam at 10:10 PM