A Most Precious Book for Children
The Barcelona Haggadah is recognised as one of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts in the collections of London’s British Library. It dates from the middle of the fourteenth century, and is named after the heraldic shield it bears, which resembles the arms of Barcelona. When the manuscript was created, the Jews of Aragon and Catalonia formed one of the largest communities in Europe, and Barcelona was home to a flourishing centre of manuscript illumination, linked to the court and influenced by Italian and French styles. Of all categories of Jewish prayer book, the Passover Haggadah tends to be the most extensively and richly decorated. The narrative, the rabbinic elaboration, the family meal, the symbolic foods and the fact that the story is told to children all provide added incentives for colourful illustration.
A Glimpse in the world of Spanish Jews
The size of the manuscript indicates that it was intended to be used and enjoyed at the Passover table on the eve of the festival, for the family gathering known as the Seder. The Barcelona Haggadah is outstanding for the rich decorative and representational illuminations scattered throughout the text: no fewer than 128 of its 322 pages are beautifully ornamented. Its fanciful figures and pictorial scenes provide fascinating insights into Jewish life in mediaeval Spain. For instance, music and the arts flourished in Barcelona and its environs, and the Jewish community was proud to be fully involved.
Indeed, until the forced conversion of the Jewish population of Barcelona in 1401, Jewish musicians played a vital role in drawing the Jews and Christians closer together. It is therefore not surprising that a lively interest in music is evident throughout the manuscript: in all, twenty-eight different instruments appear in the illustrations. More intimate details, such as depictions of the meal, take us straight into a Jewish home of the period, while the synagogue scene reflects fourteenth-century conditions and traditions. The large, clear script, probably designed to be read more easily by children, was written on eight lines per page. The text of the Haggadah occupies 180 pages; the remaining leaves contain liturgical poems and prayers for the other days of the Passover festival.
The Fortunate Owners of the Masterpiece
A manuscript as splendid as this must always have been treasured by its owners, some of whom we are fortunate in being able to trace through inscriptions on its pages. We find that it was sold by Shalom Latif of Jerusalem to Rabbi Moses ben Abraham of Bologna in 1459 for fifty gold ducats, and that it therefore left Spain before the expulsion of the Jews. The manuscript also bears the signature of an ecclesiastical censor: ‘Visto per me Fra. Luigi del Ordine de San Dominico 1599’ (Seen by me, Brother Luigi of the Order Saint Dominic 1599.) Similarly, we have evidence that it was owned by Jehiel Nahman Foà in the seventeenth century and later by Mordecai and Raphael Hayyim, two members of the Ottolenghi family. The British Museum bought it in 1844.
The composition of the Book
The Barcelona Haggadah contains the Haggadah, Laws for Passover, piyyutim and Torah readings for the festival of Passover according to the Spanish rite (Folios 9-151) and poems, Aramaic Targumim and Aramaic piyyutim according to the Provençal custom.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Barcelona Haggadah": The Barcelona Haggadah facsimile edition, published by Facsimile Editions Ltd., 1992