Priceless volume that survived centuries after exile of its persecuted owners finally returns to Galicia
On a summers day in 1476 a scribe called Moses Ibn Zabarah put the finishing touches to an enormous and magnificently illustrated Hebrew Bible commissioned by the son of a wealthy Jewish family from Galicia, north-western Spain.
The blessed Lord grant that he study it, he and his children and his childrens children throughout all generations, he wrote.
The Bible, whose pages teem with dragons, monkeys, peacocks, intricate geometric patterns and a slightly alarmed Jonah entering the whales mouth head first, took 10 months to complete and would have demanded careful study.
But the scribes wish was not to be fulfilled. Sixteen years later Spains Jews who had already endured a century of persecution that led many to convert to Catholicism were ordered to leave the country by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
The expulsion cast the family and their precious Bible into exile. From Spain, the book was taken to Portugal, North Africa, Gibraltar and Scotland before finally ending up in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Today, after 527 peripatetic years, the book is finally coming home albeit temporarily.
The Kennicott Bible, named after Benjamin Kennicott, the scholar and librarian on whose advice the work was bought by Oxford University, has been loaned to the regional government of Galicia and will be on show in Santiago de Compostela from Friday until next April.
It forms the centrepiece of the first of three major exhibitions intended to reflect on Galicias contributions to world culture and history.
The Kennicott is one of the worlds great Bibles and it has a dual value: a technical one because of its spectacular artistry, but also a symbolic one, said Romn Rodrguez, minister for culture and tourism in the regional government.
It shows how, at one time, people of three religions Jews, Muslims and Catholics coexisted in Spain. It also shows that there was a strong cultural and economic Jewish presence in Galicia, but which was forced out as Jews were in the rest of Spain.
Despite the Kennicotts Galician heritage and global renown, Rodrguez said the region had no plans to ask for its permanent return: Its Galician, no matter where it is.