Un nou element epigràfic hebraic descobert a Castelló d'Empúries


  • Jordi Casanovas i Miró


This new fragment of Hebrew tombstone was found in December 2006. It
had been reused along with other materials and was discovered during the demolition of a house in the Plaça de la Llana. It is exceedingly rare to come across an epigraphic element in situ, and we only know of a handful of such occurrences. On the basis of research carried out by M. Pujol, we are now aware of the existence and location of an ancient Jewish cemetery and of a newer one in Castelló. The first reference to the latter is dated 30 August 1306. The two necropolises are very close to each other, positioned on either side of the Rec del Molí irrigation
channel, and it should be noted that one is an extension of the other, a situation that commonly arose due to the need for more space to bury the dead.

The new fragment of tombstone has been added to the series of 12 others discovered previously. We thus have a reasonable number of inscriptions at our disposal, running chronologically from the early 14th century to the early 15th century, a period that roughly coincides with the era of greatest prosperity of the Jews of Castelló d'Empúries, when they took up residence in the Puig del Mercadal area and remained there until 1417.

Despite the fact that we have currently only a limited number of tombstones to work with, it seems plausible to accept that the traditional cippus was gradually replaced by the smaller stela towards the end of the 14th century, a process similar to the switch from large blocks to smaller tombstones in the Girona necropolis. The main way to distinguish between a cippus and a stela is on the basis of their form. The former is vertical, higher and thicker, while the latter is horizontal, wider and less thick. In some circumstances, however, it is not easy
to make this distinction when working with fragments. In such cases, our only guide is the thickness of each fragment, as a cippus is thicker (between 14 and 22 cm) than a stela (between 10 and 13 cm).

In terms of the external features of the new fragment, it is worth noting that the block has been somewhat shoddily cut. Hardly polished at all, the inscribed surface bears a text spread over four or five lines. The preserved part of the new fragment constitutes approximately the upper half of the tombstone, although the first line has been lost. It is just about possible to make out the remains of some of the letters corresponding to the line in question.

I have not come across any reference to Sara, daughter of Joseph de Tena, whose name appears in the epitaph. The fact that the name Tena is preceded by the preposition de (meaning 'of' ) suggests that it is a toponym similar to that on the tombstone of David de Cotlliure.

With certain reservations, our reading of the verb structure in the inscription is fou arrabassada (meaning 'was taken away'; arrabassada is the feminine singular form of the participle), with the feminine ending being virtually illegible. The term used for 'youngster' on the tombstone refers, in sufficiently explicit cases, to young people of up to 20 or 22 years of age, as can be seen in certain examples from León and Girona. It seems that the name of the month of death, which could be Adar, appears at the beginning of the last preserved line.

Based on its shape and the text of the epitaph, we are inclined to think that the tombstone is from the last quarter of the 14th century.