Archaeologists in Venezuela have unearthed a old mikveh dating back to the 18th century. The colonial-era Jewish ritual bath was discovered under the foundations of an art museum during renovation work.
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A Venezuelan press agency released an announcement by the Ministry of Culture, stating that archaeologists in Falcon State found “a structure in which adherents of the Jewish faith ceremoniously used to immerse themselves."
The mikveh was found in the city of Santa Ana de Coro on the country's Caribbean coast. Founded in 1527, Coro is one of the country’s oldest cities. Anthropologist Carlos Alberto Martin said that “excavations were started recently in a house which was built in 1772 and later purchased by a Jewish family named Senor.”
Records from the period show that David Abraham Senor was a Jewish merchant of Spanish origins, who settled in Coro after arriving there from the island of Curacao. Some believe he was a descendant of the convert Abraham Senor, treasurer to the Catholic Queen Isabella of Spain who expelled all Jews from the country in 1492. Some members of his families were conversos or marranos, who secretly continued practising Judaism.
“We checked with people in the Jewish community in Caracas," Martin said, “and from what we understand this is the only old mikveh of its kind to be discovered in South America.” He added that there were 3 constructed layers, with a 5-centimeter gap between them, making up a conduit system that brought in rain from the roof without help of people and without any seepage through the ground. The mikveh was dug into the ground of the building’s cellar, with narrow steps leading to it. Over the years it became covered soil. The staircase got blocked and the mikveh was eventually forgotten.
The house originally belonging to the Senor family is a today an art museum. When an old structure was discovered during recent renovation work, archaeologists were summoned. The city’s old synagogue from the 19th century, known as one of the oldest on the continent, stands next to the museum. The Venezuelan government renovated the synagogue 15 years ago, turning it into a cultural heritage site with the label “Hebrew prayer house.” Now the Venezuelan Culture Ministry is planning to preserve the mikveh as well and open it to visitors.