Portuguese plumbers discover ancient mikvahs

(JTA) –Plumbers fixing a water leak in central Portugal discovered what appears to be a cluster of 600-year-old Jewish ritual baths.

The discovery was made earlier this year in the city of Coimbra as the plumbers were replacing the piping of an old building in what used to be the Jewish part of the Old City, according to a report Thursday by the Publico daily.

Jorge Alarcao, an archeologist who was called upon to study the structures, told the paper: “This could be the only discovery of its kind made in Portugal.”

The structures appear to be mikvahs, or ritual baths, predating the 14th century which were designed for Jewish women, according to Alarcao.

“It could be the most important archeological discovery made in Coimbra over the past 70 years,” Coimbra Mayor Manuel Machado told the paper.

The Jewish presence in Coimbra dates back to at least 1370, and the mikvahs may have been in operation even before that date, Alarcao said. If additional researchers confirm the find, the mikvahs of Coimbra may be considered among the oldest mikvahs ever discovered in Europe, he said.

The mikvahs were enclosed in a room whose ceiling featured an ancient fresco of flowers, Publico reported. The fresco was likely painted in the 16th century, before the Portuguese Inquisition sent hundreds of thousands of Spanish Jewish refugees and local Jews into exile or forced them to convert to Christianity.

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