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Ic-Cimiterju Lhudi tal-Kalkara


The Jewish Cemetery of Kalkara, Malta.

A Brief History


The Jewish Cemetery at Kalkara

The first known Jewish burial grounds in the Maltese islands were probably the ancient Jewish tombs near Rabat (Malta) dating to Roman times. They testify to the existence of a flourishing Hellenized Jewish Community on the island of Malta. But unfortunately nothing else is really known of it.

The first known documented mention of a Jewish cemetery is in 1372, when King Fredrick III granted a piece of land at Tabia to the Universitate Judeorum, the Jewish Community, for use as a cemetery.
It is certain that the site of the medieval Jewish cemetery was correctly identified at "Ghariexem", near Mtarfa, and named "Qbur il-Lhud", the Tombs of the Jews.

A Hebrew Tombstone was found there, which is now at the Museum of Roman Antiquities at Rabat. A (plausible) free translation is :

"This is the (tomb of)
the lady Rach(el,) spouse of
Yeshu’a the …
… May her soul be bound up in the bundle of life!"


The Kalkara cemetery is the earliest surviving Jewish burial ground in Malta. Kalkara lies in the south-east side of the Grand Harbour area. As one leaves the harbour, it is the third of four promontories, separated by creeks, opposite Valletta.

During the Turkish Ottoman siege of 1565, Kalkara formed part of the front line of fighting and is believed to have been used afterwards for the burial of Moslem dead. It remained open ground till well into the 19th century.

The cemetery entrance is at the bottom of Rinella Street, where the street turns to run down to the modern church of St. Joseph and its square beside Kalkara Creek. The place is about 30 feet by 40 feet, bounded by houses, and at the front by a retaining wall.

Its elevation, some 8 feet above street level, suggests that the lie of the ground has been altered, probably in subsequent construction. The present entrance, a narrow wooden door, with steep, narrow steps at right angles to it, ill-suited in conducting funerals, would be contemporary with these alterations. The origins are recorded in a Latin inscription on a tablet over the door:


RECONDENDIS
GENTIS SUAE EXUVIIS
HEBRHAEORUM MANICIPIORUM
REDEMPTO LIBURNIENSIS
COEMETERIOM HOC AERE PROPRIO
COMPARAVIT ANNO MDCCLXXXIV

Free Translation: "This cemetery was established in 1784 by the Leghorn fund for ransoming Hebrew slaves, at its own expenses, for the burial of the dead of its race,"

The original size of this cemetery was larger but encroachment by unscrupulous neighbours reduced it to the size quoted above. In 1905, Profs. Gotthard Deutsch visited the cemetery during a short stay on the islands. He was unable to procure a key to the "rusty iron door", but climbed on a ladder to an adjoining roof from which he saw a "little place", about 40 feet by 60 feet (note that today it is 30ft x 40ft - which corresponds exactly to an adjacent yard/garden of an adjoining dwelling).

The cemetery he saw was "overgrown with weeds, without the slightest trace of a tombstone or an inscription on the walls surrounding it."
Twenty years later, Cecil Roth obtained the text, to be read over a "bricked-up doorway" in "the Strada Rinella", Calcara (Vittoriosa), from Sir Hannibal Scicluna. Neither apparently realised that there was a cemetery behind.

A copy of the Knights’ of Malta’s contemporary authorization for the cemetery is also preserved with an accompanying plan in the National Library of Malta:


The First Day of March 1784

His Highness the Grand Mater, on the application of Agostino Formosa de Fremeaux, Agent for the Jews’ Fund of Leghorn, has granted and grants to the aforesaid Agent the site and authority for construction of a cemetery for burying Jews who die in His Dominion, on the said shore of Salvatore or English Creek, to conform to the appended plan, 6 canes [41feet 3inches] in length and 5 canes 5 palms [37 feet 10 inches] in width, and as is marked on the said plan with the letters A:A:B:B; this being without prejudice to the said Fund’s rights in the larger site claimed and indicated on the said plan by the letters G.G = G.D.=D:A=A:E = E:F= should the aforesaid Fund prove the ownership has been acquired in the past.

Dr. Samuel Caruana,
Advocate Fiscal to the High Court of the Castellania.

The cemetery appears to have been built to the plan shown in Figure 2.

Wall to wall, it measures 40feet 6 inches from the east to west, compared with the 41feet 3 inches stipulated (with walls) for A : A. The base of the north wall and its corners are cut in rock and are probably original. The line of the south wall is that of the street and may have been redrawn at the time it was laid. This could explain the difference of some 7 feet between north - south dimensions of the present site (30 feet 6 inches wall to wall) and B : B (37 feet 10 inches). The incline shown in the plan’s cross section matches the basic rise of the ground towards the north, and the original entrance may well have been from the west, through what are now Nos. 118 and 119 Rinella street. If the pathway shown was laid, it has since been displaced by graves. Remains in the north-west corner may be the tahara -house (for laying-out and preparing corpses (for burial) shown in the design, or a double grave.


The cemetery today contains twelve identifiable graves (see Figure Nos. 3 and 6-16), four possible graves (Nos. 1-2 and 4-5), one loose gravestone (No. 17) and two stone fragments (Nos. 18-19). Seven gravestones and one fragment are inscribed, all in Hebrew. The best-preserved row of graves is Nos. 10-16 (see Plates 3 and ) and its three decipherable inscriptions are in date - order running northwards. Nos. 7 and 9 in the next row

Details of these graves are:-

Family Name

First Name

Died In

Age At Death

Grave No.

Remarks

    De Silva

    Hanna Sa`a

      1820

44

11

Died in childbirth. A Baalat Teshuvah (a returned convert or marrano)who could have originated among the 18th-century neophytes at Malta. She may however, be connected with the de Silva family who came to Malta from Lisbon in the first quarter of the 19th century, various known as Silva and de, or da, Silva, and generally later called Borges da Silva. Jacob Borges da Silva was president of the community around 1830.

    L (?)

Judah

between 1820 and1825

-

12

-

Benady

Menahem

1825

70

13

Was an active and prominent member of the community. Born in Gibratlatr in 1755

Abeases (Abiaziz)

Rika

1831

22

15

A young woman, married into the family of Moses Abeases.

    Lucena

    Jacob

1831

-

7

Probably from Ragusa

Abea(si)s

    Rebecca

      1831

-

17

A child. Probably from the same family of Rika (No.15)
Sarfati Rafael Elieser 1833 -- 9 Probably the husband of Rachel Sarfati nee` Cortissos. They were married at Bevis Marks synagogue, London in 1802. Rachel died in 1863.
Fano - 1834 - 18 -

To be continued ...

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