A highly illuminated medieval Spanish Hagadah.
What is the Hagadah?
The Hagadah (plural Hagadot), which literally means ‘telling’, is the Hebrew service book used in Jewish homes on Passover eve to commemorate the Israelites’ miraculous liberation from Egyptian bondage. Its text is a mosaic of biblical passages, blessings, legends and rituals arranged into an orderly fourteen-step sequence. The centrality of the Hagadah is teaching the young about the continuity of the Jewish people and its unflinching faith in God, as summed up in one of its verses:
And thou shall tell thy son in that day, saying: it is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. (Exodus 13. 8)
The Hagadah has long inspired artists and remains one of the most frequently illustrated texts in the Jewish liturgy.
The manuscript and its importance
Produced in Barcelona, Catalonia, northeast Spain, the text was written in a neat square vocalised (with added vowels) Sephardi script. Besides the Hagadah text, the manuscript contains the Laws of Passover, liturgical poems and Torah readings for the Passover festival according to the Sephardi custom, and also poems and other readings according to the Provencal rite.
Unlike other Spanish medieval Passover Hagadot, the Barcelona Hagadah lacks the characteristic cycle of full-page biblical miniatures that normally precedes the main text. In contrast, many of its folios abound in glorious illustrations depicting Passover rituals, biblical and midrashic episodes and symbolic foods. As a matter of interest, no fewer than sixty-four of its 161 folios are ornamented. Particularly stunning are the tooled Gothic word panels and the marginal lush foliage scrolls interwoven with human figures, birds, hybrids, grotesque and fabulous animals. Occasionally animals are portrayed performing human activities, a humorous element probably borrowed from Latin codices.
The absence of a colophon means that nothing is known about the makers of this splendid codex. Nonetheless, several inscriptions found in the manuscript, help identify some of its past owners. We know that it was sold by Shalom Latif of Jerusalem to Rabbi Moses ben Abraham of Bologna in 1459 for fifty gold ducats, showing that it had left Spain prior to the Jews’ expulsion in 1492. Likewise, there is evidence that in the 17th century it was owned by Jehiel Nahman Foà, a collector of manuscripts and early printed books, and later by Mordecai and Raphael Hayyim, two members of a prominent Jewish Italian family, the Ottolenghi family. The British Museum bought the Barcelona Hagadah in 1844.
Browse through the entire manuscript on our Digitised Manuscripts website.