Rural Jewish Communities in Portugal

Rural Jewish Communities in Portugal - Real Embrace Portugal - Tours & Jewish Heritage

The rural Jewish communities in Portugal were significant for Portuguese Jewish history. Some of these Jewish communities reaches back over the XIV Century. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, some of them came to these lands in the Beira Interior. As a result, rural Jewish communities in Portugal became necessary to position themselves as Jewish and preserve their Jewish identity.

We must not forget that most of these Jews were not only escaping from Spain after violent episodes, such as massacres, prohibitions, and forced conversions. They carried faith and beliefs on the quest for a better world to live in and, most of all, to be Jews. But unfortunately, Sepharad was punished again, forced to escape and suffer another Diaspora.

A secret Hebrew culture

In Portugal, some of our kings provided the Jews, with social and economic prosperity, in return for services to the Portuguese Crown. After being expelled in 1496, many left the country to the North of Europe, America, Brazil, and Turkey. 

Meanwhile, in the Beira region, our Jewish rural communities hid as Conversos or New Christians used to practice their religion secretly. From this emerges a uniquely Jewish culture by the name of, Crypto-Judaism. The B’nei Anussim preserved their rites and culture in secrecy, avoiding marriages out of the Jewish community. They were Catholics outside but faithful to Judaism in their hearts and homes.

Jewish life in rural Portugal and its legacy left in this region are undeniably part of Portugal’s history. From typical Jewish products, buildings, and old traditions, Jewish historical heritage is a testimony of Portugal’s Jewish history. Moreover, this Jewish identity is still visible in Portugal today. 

Jewish Presence

Discover the Jewish Portugal by the presence of Jews and New Christians in some ancient medieval towns is attested by the large number of entries cruciforms and other brands registering their “Christianization.”

Here we have determined from remote times by the records auctioning of rights in rem in the first half of the fifteenth century by the Jewish Solomon Navarro. Geographical situation and the abundance of water led to the establishment of activities related to the work of wool and its transformation, which lasts until today.

It is worth noting some examples of architecture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These examples show us cruciform architecture and typical houses attributed to Jews and New Christians to the ground floor where was the trade/workshop and their residence on the first floor.

Jews and New Christians

Jewish presence in this area of Portugal and the New Christians is visible by the high number of cruciform inscriptions in this ancient region. As a result, it is a testimony of their “Christianization” in Portugal and Jewish identity.

Different houses stand out from the main churches, dating from the 15th-16th century. Inside the one closest to the Catholic temple, we can find a Hekhal or Aron-ah-Kodesh (Law Cabinet) adapted by the Jews in Portugal.

Some types of cruciforms are, for example, a fact of Jewish presence in different urban groups. However, the Latin Cross has a double interpretation of Jewish and Catholic decoration. In addition, the Star of David in the manor and decorated houses, bridges, and fountains of medieval architecture.

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Paulo Moreira

28 Comments

  1. Thank you very much for an interesting and pleasant tour of Jewish and general Lisbon . We enjoyed meeting Paulo and hope to return to Portugal another time.

    1. Thank you Nicole Strassman for your words regarding our work showing the unique Jewish Portuguese Culture.
      Travel regards

  2. Paola of Real Embrace Portugal was my guide for Jewish Portugal in Lisbon and took our group to all the important Jewish places as he described the history and Jewish experience of Lisbon and Portugal. His knowledge of the Jews and his passion for our history makes him a wonderful and relevant guide for anyone who wants an in depth tour of Jewish Lisbon!!! I would never have known all the locations and important stories without his guidance!

    1. Thank you Ariel for your comment on our Jewish Heritage tours. It’s great to know that you enjoyed our unique Jewish experience.
      Looking forward to meet you again.
      Travel regards

  3. I highly recommend Real Embrace Portugal for Jewish tours in Portugal. During our full day Jewish tour of Lisbon, Paulo took us to – and explained – literally every major area and sight there is to see in Lisbon (including the Belem and Alfama districts) as well as to the important points of interest relating to Jewish history (including the Lisbon synagogue, the Lisbon Jewish Memorial in Rossio Square, and the Jewish quarters in the different areas we visited). Paulo made the city and its sights come alive with his exceptional knowledge of Portuguese history. Paolo is very passionate about his country and is an excellent host and tour guide. We can’t wait to return to Portugal, and when we do, we will definitely call Paolo for his Jewish heritage tours in other cities. Obrigada, Paolo!!!!

    1. Thank you Iris and Eric for your comment.
      It was very interesting to meet you both and a fantastic time showing you the Jewish Lisbon Heritage as well Portuguese History and Culture.
      Thank you again!
      Travel regards

  4. Paulo is the BEST! We loved every minute of our tour with him. We highly recommend using him for a Jewish Heritage Tour. He is so knowledgeable and we saw saw so many places! Loved it and will call him when we return!

    1. Thank you Diane Burman for your words and for your always interested and avid mind regarding the portuguese Jewish Culture and history.

  5. My family and I were very lucky to have Paulo as our guide as he was very insightful and passionate about Jewish heritage in Portugal. Everywhere we went Paulo was able to point out every little detail that came from Jewish origin such as Star of David patterns in floor tiles created by Jewish masons. We were especially lucky when Paulo took us to an Ashkenazi Crypto-Jewish synagogue. We experienced the pride that they held in their heritage and strong faith in their religion at the synagogue. Coming to Portugal, my family and I knew very little about the Jewish heritage and after touring with Paulo we will think of Portugal in a new light. Paulo really made our experience with Portugal like no other and we greatly appreciate that. He will definitely be a recommendation for other friends and family looking to travel to Portugal and we hope to tour with him when we come again. Thank you for a wonderful time, Paulo!!

    1. Thank you for your words Zachary Yasinov.
      It was a great time to be with all of you. Thank for sharing your experience with us. This is in fact our passion, showing you the unique Portuguese Jewish culture.
      Thanks again for everything.

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