Headstone, Jewish cemetery of Trani, 12th century

The Jewish section of the Museum of the Diocesi in Trani
In 2009, the Museum of the Diocese in Trani opened a Jewish section in the Church of St. Anna, located in the former Scola Grande synagogue. The section consists in a collection of Jewish artifacts owned by the Archdiocese, dated between the 13th and 15th century. The exhibition, curated by historian Cesare Colafemmina, highlights moments of the Jewish history in Southern Italy. It features burial headstones, fragments of a Hebrew Bible, a mezuzah, and original, as well as facsimile documents that reconstruct the cultural and intellectual achievements of what once was a prominent Mediterranean community.

The building, in via La Giudea, was originally the main synagogue of Trani.
A stone inscription dates its inauguration to 1274. In spite of several additions and demolitions, the building maintains its original walls, the octagonal dome and a tympanum cusp placed right above the secondary door. This was likely a section of the original stone Aron Haqodesh, placed there after the synagogue was turned into a church.

Burial headstones

The headstones and their inscriptions conjure just a handful of the local Jewish community members through the centuries, a roll call of memory. The tombstone of Rabbi Adonyah, son of Baruch, from 1290, came from the older cemetery of Trani. The other headstones are from the 15th century cemetery. They are Rabbi Tanhum ben Mosè from Beaucaire (1450), a renowned translator; “signora” Bonafiglia, spouse of Giuda de Bonomo (1491); the “young, suave, all beautiful and perfect” Ricca, daughter of Hayym (1450), and the young Astruga, daughter of Mastro Astruc (1491).

Hebrew Bible
The museum’s parchment fragments of the Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) and Daniel appear to be from a 14th century Ashkenazi Bible. They were discovered in the binding of a Christian Bible, with commentary by Nicola Lira, printed in Venice in 1588 and sold by the Trani book dealer Federico Marotta in the 19th century.

It is possible that Marotta, like many others, bound the volumes reusing fragments of parchments from the medieval community of Trani. After this discovery by Prof. Cesare Colafemmina, other manuscripts by Apulia scribes of the Byzantine and late Medieval era have been identified. This was part of the so-called Italian Genizah, a project initiated by Prof. Giuseppe Sermoneta in Jerusalem and directed today by Prof. Mauro Perani in Bologna. The reusing of ancient and medieval parchments in modern bindings has in fact been an unexpected source of conservation, especially in areas in which documents are scarce, such as the history of Southern Italian Jewry.

The mezuzah in the museum was found during the demolition of the so-called “Rabbi’s house”, across form the Church of St. Anna. The parchment with the “Shema Israel” and the container carved in a reed, are both from the 12th century.