Library > News > Newsletter > 2014 > July-August 2014 > History Revealed in the National Library Collections: 16th Century Catalonia

History Revealed in the National Library Collections: 16th Century Catalonia

An act of boyish curiosity in 1970's Spain led to the discovery of a revelatory Catalonian manuscript dating from 1526, which eventually made safe passage to the collections of the National Library of Israel.

The saga began with the sale of a country house outside of Barcelona, belonging to the grandfather of a Jewish family. In between bicycles from the 19th century and a bunch of old clothes, two of his grandsons came upon a book with a strange binding. They opened the book and began to read: a collection of documents in Catalan, concerned with matters to do with inheritance and notarial documents from the start of the 18th century. 

Unaware of the historical significance of their find, the mischievous boys decided to divide the book – one took the inside and the other the binding.

After many years the by then older heirs had the reunited documented translated. It turned out to be an order signed by a notary on behalf of the government authority in Catalonia, commanding the district governor to put up the abandoned lands and estates in his domain for public auction.

On the heels of the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492, many properties that had belonged to Jews remained unclaimed and in the hands of local nobleman. Carlos V, the reigning King of Spain, frequently needed cash to help finance the numerous wars in which he was engaged. The Jews’ abandoned properties were a readily available source of money.

The order of sale from 1526, which was directed towards the domain of Count Termens and remained in the territory of his properties, had belonged to a Jewish family from Catalonia, one of whose names was Termens, the family of the two brothers. Ultimately, the document was saved by one of the brothers, Xavier Termens, who immigrated to Israel.

This historical document came to the attention of Timna Alper, the Director of Conservation  and Restoration at the National Library. She persuaded Mr. Termens to deposit this important document with the Library, to make it available for researchers and readers across the globe. This historical treasure, which made its way from Catalonia to Israel, will be preserved for generations to come in the National Library, a moving testimony reflecting the fate of many Jewish families in the Iberian Peninsula.