The haggadah is the service book used in Jewish households on Passover Eve to celebrate the Israelites' deliverance from Egyptian enslavement as described in the Book of Exodus. The reading of the haggadah, which literally means ‘narration’ or ‘telling’, conforms with the biblical commandment ‘And you shall tell your 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).

Traditionally, Jewish families gather together for a special ritual meal called seder meaning ‘order’. During the seder, the haggadah is read, providing the structure for the celebration which is divided into 15 steps. For example, the eighth step involves the eating of bitter herbs, a reminder of the bitter life the Hebrew slaves endured in Egypt.  

One of the most cherished texts in Judaism, the haggadah was originally part of the Hebrew daily prayer book, becoming an independent unit around the 13th century CE. Its educational character and the fact that it was specifically intended for use in the home, made it particularly suitable for decoration. Since ancient times the haggadah has thus been one of the most frequently decorated texts in Jewish practice. 

The Barcelona Haggadah lacks the typical prefatory cycle of biblical scenes that usually adorns 14th-century Haggadot (service books for Passover Eve) from Spain. Instead, all of its pages are decorated with illustrations of Passover rituals, biblical narratives, symbolic foods and historiated panels (panels featuring designs representing scenes from the text). The illustration of the biblical and Passover events are integrated into the Hebrew text itself. This may be because it was executed for a client from southern France who was accustomed to a different style of Haggadah. 

Particularly striking are the word panels and lush marginal foliage scrolls interwoven with animals, birds, grotesques, and hybrids. Animals sometimes perform human activities, as seen, for example, in the upper sections of folios 20v and 26v. 

The manuscript owes its name to the use of the arms of Barcelona on folio 61r. At the beginning and end of the manuscript, supplementary sections have been appended that contain liturgical poems which are peculiar to the rite of the Jews of Provence.

Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
The Barcelona Haggadah: Haggadah, liturgical poems and biblical readings for Passover, Sephardic rite
14th Century, Catalonia, Spain
Manuscript / Illuminated manuscript / Illumination
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 14761

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