The archbishop of Toledo prefers to remain silent. The official response of his diocese at the insistence of EL PAÍS is: “The archbishop considers that, for the moment, he should not make any statement on the matter.” The “subject” is the property of the Santa María la Blanca synagogue in Toledo, which today belongs to the Catholic Church. Church law states that the ultimate decision about what to do with the synagogue depends on the diocese, headed by Archbishop Braulio Rodríguez Plaza.
The Jewish community of Toledo built Santa María la Blanca around 1300. A century later, in 1411, St. Vincent Ferrer removed it during a massacre of Jews. Toledo had other synagogues, but Santa Maria la Blanca was the Mayor. The Jewish community is now calling for its return. “In the 21st century, in a country like Spain, a symbolic return of that good plundered to the Jewish community would be nice,” says Isaac Querub, president of the Federation of Spanish Jewish Communities.
With silence, the archbishop has enough to keep things as they are. The Jewish community has little choice but to insist on a gesture of the Church or a multi-party negotiation with the state. The courts are not possible because the present Jewish community is not heiress of the historical community toledana.
The message of silence from the archbishopric was accompanied by this other excuse, which seems to take away symbolic weight from the Jewish petition: “Today, Santa Maria la Blanca is not a church or a synagogue. In it there is no official worship of any confession. It is a historic building that the archdiocese cares for, preserves and maintains. ” The temple is today a tourist monument and is desecrated, but sporadic acts are performed that do not involve mass.
The proof that the diocese of Toledo knows that it has something delicate in hand is a recent legal management. On July 18, 2012, Professor of Law at the Universidad Complutense Francisco García Fernández requested a copy of the inscription of the synagogue in the Registry of Toledo. Two days later, hardly by chance, the parish of Santo Tomé, owner of the property, donated it to the archbishopric. “He gave the synagogue to the archbishop because he who receives a donation becomes a ‘owner of good faith’, but it does not apply because the final owner remained the same: the diocese,” Garcia Fernández believes.
Gerardo Ortega, the parish priest of São Tomé who donated to the Registry in 2012, says he does not remember anything: “There has been no legal movement. Santo Tomé has never owned the synagogue. It is impossible for the minor to donate to the elderly. What is parish is always diocesan, “he says. Ortega knows that the request of the Jewish community is not new. There was at least one – more private – in 1992. “Occasionally a desire arises because it brings them a very special memory,” he admits. But it can not be done any more, according to his opinion: “It can not be of the Jewish world because of who it is. It is so. “
Ortega does not give much value to the request for return: “The Jewish community who is? That entity has to be addressed to someone, but not a newspaper buzz. I do not know if the archbishop has received anything. ” The archbishop has in fact received no one. Querub has requested an official meeting by letter. They have not yet answered him. In November 2016, Querub coincided with Rodríguez Plaza in one act. At the beginning of his speech, Querub referred to the archbishop: “An intelligent and influential man with whom we have so much to talk about.” Those things are still not spoken.
The Spanish Church is not unanimous. Cardinal Carlos Osoro, archbishop of Madrid and vice-president of the Episcopal Conference, sees a need for a gesture with the Jewish community: “All the efforts we make are few. The gestures that come to us and help us are good. Of course I see it well. Santa María la Blanca has to be a meeting place, “he says. The celebrated interreligious dialogue needs more than words, according to Mayte Rodríguez de Lara, director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Studies: “In all my years of work for dialogue I have never heard a voice of resentment towards any Jew about expulsion Or religious persecution. We can not turn the dialogue into pure formalisms without endowing it with meaning. “
A monument that collects
Santa María la Blanca is the third most visited monument of Toledo, after the cathedral and the church of Santo Tomé, where is El Buenco del Buen Orgaz, by El Greco. In 2016 the synagogue received 405,928 visitors, according to archbishop data. The entry costs 2.5 euros, and you have to subtract the 5,317 people who came for free and those who bought a bracelet for 9 euros that includes 7 monuments of the archbishopric, including the synagogue. In 2014, year with the latest data, 59,600 bracelets were sold. If we look at the growth in sales of the bracelet, perhaps have sold about 100,000 in 2016. The paid visitors in the synagogue could be around 300,000. If so, the exclusive income would be around 750,000 euros per year. The money is divided between convents, a diocesan fund to help other churches and the salary of the maids of the place. The money has not gone clearly to the maintenance of the building. The new lighting costs 125,000 euros and 80% has paid Iberdrola. The last great restoration of the synagogue was between 1983 and 1994 and was paid by the Ministry of Culture. The architect Francisco Jurado was in charge of the work: “There were humidities that went up the columns and deteriorated the capitals. When it rained you would put your hands on the pillars and the water would fall. It had a pavement, “he says. Interior of Santa María la Blanca before its restoration of the 80s Image courtesy of Francisco Jurado Interior of Santa María la Blanca before its restoration of the 80s / Image courtesy of Francisco Jurado The synagogue was renovated and saved, but its historical relevance remains without Put into value. Today there is hardly a poster with a little eloquent chronology. Visitors roam the ships without direction. “Diocesan museology is poor,” says Santiago Palomero, director of the Museo Sefardí de Toledo, which includes the other great synagogue of the city, Tránsito. “They’re not counting. It is a site with a historical relevance and they are not interested in anything. There is a lack of care, “he adds. At the entrance there are more posters about the peculiar Fraternity of Santa María de la Mañana than about the synagogue. A Japanese visitor mistakes the arrow for a lateral “exposition” with the entrance of the synagogue and wanders the courtyard looking for the door. The Fraternity is a mixed community of ten members founded in 1999 by the current archbishop, Rodríguez Plaza, when he was a bishop of Salamanca. Shortly thereafter, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, then Archbishop of Toledo, gave them “the spiritual responsibility of the synagogue,” according to his founder, Brother Abraham de la Cruz, and “made me make an exhibition throughout the synagogue on panels” . The synagogue was filled with pictures of a presumed mystical value, but not historical. “It does not seem to me that exposures of dubious quality help keep the synagogue materials intact,” says Paloma Acuña of the Royal Toledo Foundation. A few years ago, the exhibition left the temple to its current side room: “The archbishop renewed our contract but in the small place for reasons that only he can explain,” Brother Abraham says. The role of the Fraternity there is to speak of the Unity between the Church and Israel. Although rather its aim seems to attract the ethereal sympathy of Jews towards the Church: “We have often heard Jews say in our exposition that if this vocation exists it is because the Messiah was born. Many are crying, “explains Brother Abraham. The Fraternity does several prayers in the synagogue at Jewish festivals, but it has no relation with the Spanish Jewish community. Toledo today has no Jewish community of its own. The synagogue has historically been Church and State. After its time of synagogue, first it was oratorio and soon I convent for repentant prostitutes. In the nineteenth century passed into the hands of the state and was military arsenal and treasury store. The Monuments Commission restored it in the nineteenth century and tried to get the church to use it again. Finally, the regime of Franco was the one who returned the synagogue to the Church in 1939 with the excuse of “lacking the State of means for its maintenance”, according to a decree that quotes Palomero in his doctoral thesis. An extraordinary gesture in PalermoThe return of a Synagogue of the Church to a Jewish community is extraordinary because, in addition to the implications of the religious gesture, the medieval synagogues that remain in the hands of the Church and that some Jewish community claims are scarce. In Spain it only happens with Santa María la Blanca. There are other synagogues with value – the Transit, also in Toledo, and the one of Cordova, that are of the State – and one in Segovia, that underwent a fire in 1899 and is inside a convent. “The petition of the Jewish community of Santa María la Blanca is a great opportunity for the Spanish Church to rethink its attitude towards the Jewish people,” says Rodríguez de Lara.This January in Palermo (Italy) a remarkable gesture has taken place . The small community of a few dozen Palermitan Jews -expelled also in 1492-had been seeking a place of worship and study for eight years. The City Council had offered them an unfeasible place. In July 2016, the president of the community, Evelyne Aouate, went to see the new archbishop, Corrado Lorefice. “After 20 days he called to tell me that he was willing to offer us what he had asked for: an oratory in the synagogue area of the old Jewish quarter “Says Aouate. Above the destroyed synagogue of Palermo, the church of San Nicolò di Tolentino was built. Next to it there is an oratory that is now in disuse, which is the space that Lorefice has given freely to the Jewish community. “It is something extraordinary, very particular and not simple to obtain,” says Noemi di Segni, president of the Union of Jewish Communities of Italy. Apparently so far, Toledo will not revive a similar gesture. It is true that the repercussion would be different: the Toledo synagogue was the center of Spanish Jewish life. As in Palermo, the decision is in the hands of the archbishop. Higher in the Vatican, there seems to be little interest in interfering: “The Vatican does not get into those things,” says Cardinal Osoro. In Palermo, at least, it has not done so: “It is clear that the Vatican will have given its opinion,” says Pierpaolo Punhasllo, Rabbi of the Shivai Israel organization that helps communities in Italy. “But it has never come to me. My interlocutor is Archbishop Lorefice, “he adds. If there were any steps in Toledo, the formulas for ownership of the synagogue may not be a mere return to the Jewish community. Isaac Querub insists on clarifying three things: the initiative to propose is of the Church, the return does not imply economic restitution nor to keep the money of the entrances and the State should play a part.A ANNIVERSARY TOLEDANOToledo celebrates this year the 30th anniversary of Its declaration as a World Heritage City. There is no lack of convent stones, Jewish streets, cathedrals and mythical oils to remember. The City Council, in agreement with other organizations, has launched guided tours to the best known and most hidden heritage, with concerts of music and theater and exhibitions. The city of the Alcázar and of the marzipans, the Greco and the three cultures, will receive this year the visitors with an enriched program, where Santa María la Blanca will be obligatory stop. From the Real Foundation of Toledo, The two synagogues in the Sephardic Museum complex: “It is compatible to keep the synagogue open to the public, to perform Jewish liturgical acts and to join the cultural management of the Sephardic Museum to tell the history of the Jewish quarter,” says Paloma Acuña. Money, for Acuna, would not be a problem: “The revenues would still be there. If so much money went to each convent, the state can commit to continue to send it. “The proof that nothing is impossible is that there has already been a Jewish wedding in the synagogue. According to two sources, a Jewish couple rented the temple for a while, hid the cross in the central nave and sought a progressive rabbi – who put few hits – to take advantage of a place of so much symbolism.