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The Jewish Kingdom of Rouen

The Jewish district of Rouen

During the Gallo-Roman period, the Jewish quarter was situated in the very heart of the castrum, within a quadrilateral space bounded on the east by the cardo (present-day rue des Carmes) and on the south by the decumanus (present-day rue du Gros-Horloge). Grid overlay imposed upon a map of Rouen of 1656.

During the Roman period, the Jewish district, terra judaeorum, spread over some three-odd hectares, approximately a twelfth of Rotomagus, which was then occupied by the Veliocasses, a Gallic tribe. Located in the northwestern part of the Roman town, it was a rectangle of three hundred meters in length and one hundred meters in width, delimited at its southern end by the decumanus (today’s Rue du Gros Horloge) and at its eastern end by the cardo (today’s Rue des Carmes) -the two main streets that divided the town from east to west and from north to south. The presence of walls surrounding the district does not imply that there were residential restrictions imposed on the Jews by Roman authorities. Quite on the contrary, the walls are indicative of the autonomy the community enjoyed.

The Street of the Jews (vicus judaeorum) traversed the Jewish quarter from east to west. On its northern side was the Rabbinic School, while on the south side of the street were the Monumental Synagogue and the mansion of Bonnevie.

The Rue aux Juifs, or vicus judaeorum, was the main street in the district. Running parallel to the decumanus, it was 210 meters long and in medieval times was lined, as were the adjoining streets, with three -to four-story-high domestic residences.

In the northern part of the street lay the Clos aux Juifs square and also the rabbinic school discovered in 1976. In the southern part lay the main synagogue located (until its destruction) at 55 Rue aux Juifs, the ritual slaughterhouse, and the Hôtel de Bonnevie (at no. 33).

Later on, during the early Middle Ages, additional Jewish inhabitants settled further west, beyond the Roman walls, on the site of the future New Market, and thereafter in the direction of today’s Place Cauchoise. This may explain why the main synagogue, which seems to have been located at the extreme west of the vicus judaeorum, was in fact, due to the westward demographic expansion, situated in the center of the medieval Jewish district. In the twelfth century, the Jewish district of Rouen numbered between five and six thousand souls, that is to say between 15-20% of the total population of the town.

The Monumental Synagogue of Rouen according to the plan of R. Vernisse prepared in 1738.

The synagogue, built in the romanesque style, was a large, almost square structure 8 meters long and 6.7 meters wide. Surmounted by two arched stories, it was 13 meters high, not including the tower that formed its apogee. In accordance with Jewish tradition, it was therefore the highest building in the district. The room on the ground-floor was 6.43 meters high and had two large windows, each measuring one meter wide on the outside and 1.5 meters on the inside, that let in much light, in accordance with traditional

Le cimetière juif se trouvait à l’extérieur de l’enceinte médiévale, à l’ouest de l’actuelle gare ferroviaire. La proximité de sépultures romaines permet d’en dater la construction de l’époque gallo-romaine.

Four hundred meters north of the castrum and west of today’s main train station, there lay the mons judaeorum (Mount of the Jews). This wide space (about 5 acres square), located between today’s Rue Verte and Rue St Maur (that is, about 250 meters long), had been used as a cemetery by the Jewish community since Roman times. It may be sur-mised that, during funerals, processions would end there, starting from Rue aux Juifs, and then going along Rue Cauchoise, Boulevard de la Marne, and Rue St-Maur.

As at Rouen, the Street of the Jews in Pont-Audemer is situated in the very heart of the town.
Fécamp possesses the longest Street of the Jews in Normandy (1.2 km.), extending from the seacoast to the medieval marketplace.

Let us stress the fact that the presence of Jews in medieval Rouen was not an isolated fact. Norman Golb has identified about eighty-five sites in Normandy testifying to other Jewish settlements. He has also shown that there were Rues aux Juifs in various town centers, for instance in Pont-Audemer and Fécamp, the latter having the longest urban Rue aux Juifs in Normandy (1.2 km long). Rues aux Juifs also existed in the countryside and even some hamlets were called Les Juifs (the Jews) or La Juiverie (the Jewish area), which shows that the Jews living there were not only merchants but also farmers whom the Roman authorities had encouraged to settle in the provinces conquered by the Empire.

In Normandy as a whole, Norman Golb has identified 85 Streets of the Jews and other sites indicating Jewish settlement.