To Andrea, for birthday
In the middle of the maze of medieval walls there is the Castel, the medieval castle converted from the Roman watch-tower, with two rings of streets around it, the whole cannot be larger than a hundred meter. Where the road forks from the outer ring towards the Borgo, the suburb, there stands the church of St. Helena, marked with number 27 on the map, a typical Italian Gothic chapel, with a towerless triangular façade.
However, on this façade, so usual in the Italian towns, we see something very unusual.
The constellation of the cross and the six-pointed star has already chased a number of guide writers into hopeless talmudic speculations. György Fehér’s Istria, as well as the Horvát tengerpart (The Croatian coast) by the silver-tongued Sándor Szarka, the unsurpassed juggler of guide book phrases, both firmly state, that the prayer house was used for centuries by Catholics and Jews together, hence the double signal.
But this can be stated only by someone who has personallly never used either a Catholic, or a Jewish prayer house. Beyond the fact that in the Middle Ages, most Christians did not willingly tolerate Jews in the same city, let alone in the same prayer house, and Jews also would not happily sing our Lord, the God, is One in a place, where every symbol seemed to them a blasphemy of this, how would have they celebrated, for example, Passover, when even the private houses have to be cleaned of all fermentable grain, in a place where the Sacrament must be permanently there under the accident of bread?
Besides, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, no Jews ever lived in Bale. The Istrian town councils authorized the establishment of five wealthy Jewish families in five towns – Isola, Pirano, Rovigno, Pola and Veglia – for the purpose of money lending, but from the 17th century, the “monti di pietà”, the pawnshops set up by the Istrian citizenship gradually took over their role, and these few Jews vent over from the peninsula to Trieste.
We are wandering with the Cultural Association of Hungarian Jews the streets of the medieval town, we are impressed with this little jewel-box, and we try to decipher the liturgical riddle. In the Cathedral they are about to begin the Mass, but it is delayed, because I am retaining the priest in the sacristy. “What do you know about this?” “To tell the truth, I’m not from around here, I come from the next town to celebrate Mass. But I have also noticed it. The local parish members say, they added the Star of David, because St. Helena was a Jew.” He asks for my e-mail address, to investigate and to notify me about the solution.
I have not yet received any e-mail, and I had not the heart to tell him that Empress St. Helena was no Jew. Even if it is not historically correct, if it is liturgically impossible, it is probably better if in the eyes of the locals a third Jew, next to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, also strengthens the cohesion of Christians and Jews.