We drove up to Lucena a few months ago after I had read that at one time it was a very Jewish town. First port of call was the Tourist Office, where I couldn’t find one piece of paper relating to when the majority of the population was Jewish. I spoke to the Tourist Officer who told me they had nothing available but if I called back he would run me something off from the computer…which yes he very kindly did but he had run me off a translation from the Spanish sites and to tell the truth it was awful!!! So what you read below is my ‘version’ of that translation, which I hope you find interesting.
During the 9th and 11th centuries. Lucena was recognised as a City of Jews, and was known to the Hebrews as ‘Eliossana’. It was reputed to have a large population at that time as was quoted ‘to be without any heathens’!! In correspondence at that time between the city and the spiritual directors of Jewish Academies in (what is now known as the Middle East), intellectual prestige was granted, resulting in an authority covering questions of moral, theological and human relationships.
In the year 912 Abd al-Rahman ascended to the throne and Hasdai ibs Shaprat took over religious jurisdiction, between them exercising the Caliph’s power on all the Jewish communities of Al-Andalus, increasing the importance and influence of Jewish Lucena.
This state of contentment for the Jewish community lasted until 1013 when a pogrom was unleashed on the inhabitants of Cordoba and many of that city’s intellectuals left and took up residence in Lucena. Around this time there seemed to exist a state of confusion, the Caliphate disappeared and Al-Andalus began to slowly disintegrate, with Lucena falling into the orbit of the Kingdom of Granada.
Twenty years later, in 1033, the last spiritual director of the Sudra Academy in Cordoba, Rabbi Hair, died and most of the remaining Codobian Jews abandoned the city and again headed for Lucena. Eventually the Caliphate totally crumbled amid fights for political power.
The end of the 11th Century (i.e. 1099ish) saw the beginning of a rebellion within the Lucena Jewish community against huge increases in taxes, imposed on their successful trading practices which had made them second in the fundamental pillars of the Lucena economy and, by fighting their own corner, having strong trading links with other large Spanish cities and developing ties with the Middle Eastern countries (in particular Egypt), the next two centuries could be considered as the Centuries of Gold for Spanish Judaism. during which time Lucena bloomed as a centre for Hebrew intellectuals. Many poets and teachers were born in the town, amongst them being Ishaq ibn Gayyat (the first of many Sefardic Teachers who conserved the Hebrew intellectual tradition), Ishaq ibn Levi Sea Saul (poet) and Ishaq ibn Chicatella (philoligist).
In the second half of the 11th Century, Granada began to exert pressure on Lucena and it was due to the influence of these Jewish intellectuals that Lucena was able to hold on to self-government. However, this led to the imposition by rules and regulations being imposed by the Jews over the Muslims, who were forced to live outside the City walls and the maintenance of a Jewish military force. By these means, Lucenca theoretically became a Republic.
The 12th Century saw the beginnings of the forced conversion of non-Muslims e.g. you converted or were put to death. This terror covered the whole of the AL-Andulus region and concerned all the non-Muslims, including the Jews, who had inhabited the land for centuries. In 1148 the Academy of Lucena closed forever and the Jewish inhabitants of Lucena sought asylum in the rest of the world. This was a terrible time for Judaism in Spain and the Sefardic Jews (as the Hebrew of Spain became known) settled and flourished in Eastern Europe until pogroms began again and the Holocaust of the 20th Century took its horrendous toll on these people.
Lucena…..as we know it today ……..is quite a thriving area. It can be reached by car within a couple of hours from Torrox Pueblo. We know it as a centre for furniture making and lighting shops. On the main approach road to the town you pass numerous trading outlets, all stacked full of whatever type of sofa, table, chair or cupboard you could ever want (but where it is made? This is question we always ask ourselves because we have never seen any evidence of trees!) and the lighting shops look like Blackpool illuminations if you pass at night.
The town itself hasn’t retained any of it’s Jewish heritage, which is a shame, but it has a good Tourist Office situated in the Castle of the Moral, where there is an Archaeological and Ethnological Museum. However, as you can image, there are many Catholic sites of importance, with the main one being San Mateo’s Parish, situated very close to the Museum. This is considered nowadays as The Cathedral of sub-Andalucia and it’s altarpiece and the Sacrarium stand out as importance.
Lucena is also renowned for its production of oil and wine, being part of the official Route of Oil and Wine.
Since writing the above, I have discovered that only twenty years ago, Lucena was also famous for its hand-made pottery. However, within the past decade almost all of the businesses have disappeared in the face of massive commecial competition. It is all the more remarkable that one of the oldest of these concerns still survives and thrives in the heart of Lucena.
This is the the Alfareria Sarten, founded in 1727, and still in the hands of the same family. Today, Paco Sarten continues the tradition inherited from his father, Pascual. Everything is made by hand, thrown directly on the wheel and then embellished with spouts and handles. Some of the more utilitarian shapes are left biscuit-fired i.e. ewers, vases and massive flower pots. The majority of the pieces however are glazed and painted in pale yellow, soft shades of olive green, amber and a rich dark green.
The traditional decoration is a single spray of olive leaves within circles, loops and other simple geometric motifs. The forms themselves, such as the trefoil spouted jugs, are timeless and are constructed in exactly the same way as they were for thousand of years all over the Mediterranean and the Near East. Although many of the popular items are made in quantity, it is difficult to find a single piece which is an exact duplicate of its neighbour.