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Funerary stele

Paris, 1281

Limestone, 113 x 55.5 x 10 cm

On permanent loan from the Musée de Cluny ‒ Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris

Oeuvre clé : Stèle funéraire, 1281

Stèle funéraire, Paris, 1281

In 1849, excavations in the cellars of the Hachette bookshop in rue Pierre-Sarrazin in Paris unearthed more than seventy fragments of funerary steles with Hebrew inscriptions dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. Those dating from 1139 and 1140 are the most ancient found in France apart from those found at Auch (5th-7th century) and Narbonne (688-689).

These steles, entrusted to the Musée de Cluny in 1854, come from one of the two known Jewish cemeteries on Paris’s Left Bank in the Middle Ages. The cemetery was closed in 1306 after the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of France and the land was given to the Dominicans of Poissy by Philip the Fair. Some of the gravestones were reused in the surrounding buildings but, exceptional in France, many fragments remained in situ.

This tombstone is the only stele to have survived completely intact. As was customary at the time, it is completely undecorated with a Hebrew inscription in very regular calligraphy.

“This is the funerary stele of

Our master rabbi

Solomon, son of our master

Rabbi Juda

Who went to the Garden of Eden

On the day of the sabbath of the pericope Qorah

Year 5 thousand 41

Of the computus, may his memory [endure] in the world to come

May his soul be bound in the bundle of the living”

Although the identity of this man who died in 1281 is not otherwise known, his title indicates that he was one of the spiritual leaders of the Jewish community in Paris in the second half of the 13th century, a period affected by the Disputation of Paris (also known as the Trial of the Talmud) in 1240 and the increasing severity of canonical and royal legislation against the Jews.

The stele is dated according to the Hebraic calendar from the presumed date of the creation of the world, the day of death being indicated by the weekly section of the Torah read in the synagogue (Numbers 16, 18). It ends, like most epitaphs have until today, with a verse evoking the resurrection of the deceased’s soul (Samuel 1, 25, 29), almost always mentioned in an abbreviated form.

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