Italy’s Jewish past is incredibly rich. Already in the time of the Roman Empire, Jewish communities can be shown to have thrived virtually everywhere. In Southern Italy, Jewish communities did particularly well. One such community could be found in Venosa, a town that was located on the Via Appia or main thoroughfare that linked the Roman Empire to the Eastern half of the Mediterranean through the nearby port of Brindisi.
What makes Venosa unique from the perspective of Jewish history, is that the history of the Jewish community there can be traced during one of the darkest periods in European and one of the most transformative periods in Jewish history. The early Middle Ages saw the rise of rabbinic Judaism, and the inscriptional evidence left behind by the Jewish community in Venosa is crucial in helping us to understand when and how this process took place. It is one of the paradoxes of history that the Jewish inscriptions from Venosa have survived at all: they did because they were reused by the builders of the church of the Holy Trinity. This building dates to the twelfth century and was never finished.
Having been exposed to the elements for almost a thousand years, the Jewish inscriptions at Venosa have suffered to the point that deciphering them is extremely difficult and often impossible. Through collaboration with Vienna University of Technology, we have succeeded in making many an inscription readable again through 3D imaging technology, as can be seen from one of the pictures included in the slider. If you want to read more about this project, go to the “in the media” section where you’ll find the text of an in-depth interview.