It’s the Time of Flowers here in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. This is the most important festival in this “City of Festivals.” Every year for nine days in May, tens of thousands of people descend on the town to walk through the medieval Old Town and admire elaborate floral displays, gardens, art installations, concerts, and, in general, enjoy our beautiful city.
This year Elyn has an exhibit in Casa Cúndaro, one of the most important houses in the “Call” (medieval Jewish neighborhood) in the heart of the Old Town. Her work is entitled “In memoriam.” She has created 27 hand-felted vessels to commemorate each of the people whose tombstones are exhibited in Girona’s Museum of the History of the Jewish People.
Girona was home to one of the most significant Jewish communities in Spain. Important Kabbalists such as Nachmanides lived and worked here. All the Jews and Muslims in Spain were expelled in 1492, in an attempt to “purify” Spain as a Christian land. Jews were given the choice of either converting to Catholicism or leaving the country. They fled to other European countries, such as Turkey and Portugal, or converted and became “Conversos,” a status that allowed for a precarious coexistence with the Christians around them. The Inquisition was constantly on the lookout for evidence of continuing Jewish customs and practices, and offenders were harshly punished, tortured, and burned at the stake.
When the Jews were kicked out of Spain, they were forced to leave their houses, property, synagogues, and cemeteries behind. These fell into ruin or were converted for other purposes. Some of the tombstones in the cemeteries were used in other constructions or turned into drinking troughs for cattle. In the 1980s, urban renewal came to Girona. The Call was opened up and the Museum of the History of the Jews was established. It contains a room filled with many tombstones that were recovered when the modern rail line was put through, crossing the ancient Jewish cemetery. It was this exhibit that brought Elyn here five years ago. She felt called to say Kaddish (prayers for the dead) for these forgotten people, and we moved into an apartment just across from the Jewish Museum.
When that year was over, we moved across the river to our current lovely apartment. We began our extensive travels and writing our book series, “Powerful Places in . . .” Elyn took up felting and has created many vessels and masks that adorn our apartment. Last year she suddenly felt the need to commemorate the medieval Jewish dead in another way, so she created the 27 hand-felted vessels that are now being exhibited in the Temps de Flors.
I will later put up a video and other information about “In Memoriam,” but this serves as an introduction to the project.