By Anne Leblay-Kinoshita
The Spanish presence in Jerusalem and its neighborhood might appear quite marginal and original at the same time: marginal, because the Spanish consulate was founded in 1854, later than other European countries, but also original, thanks to the presence of Spanish Franciscans in Jerusalem since the 13th century, the specific history of Spain with Jewish and Muslim people (Vilar, 2003) or with the figure of the Spanish diplomat Count of Ballobar, who became the guardian of various nations’ interests during the World War I (Mazza, 2010).
Therefore, it appeared opportune, in the framework of the Open Jerusalem project, to take a closer look at the historical records of Spanish entities in Jerusalem. From 17–24 January 2016, Anne Leblay-Kinoshita, archivist at the French National Archives, went to Madrid to study those records.
A first visit was paid to the Archivo general de la administración (AGA) in Alcalá de Henares, a city located 30km from Madrid, best known for its historical precinct and university inscribed on the World Heritage List and as the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes.
Less known, the AGA is nevertheless one of the biggest archives in the world, after the US and French national archives. Officially created in 1969, the AGA hold records of the state administration, mainly from the 20th century but also the second half of the 19th century. It holds 427 boxes and registers of records from the Spanish Consulate in Jerusalem, dated from 1852 to 1976.
She also paid a visit to the Archivo histórico nacional (AHN) in Madrid. Created in 1866, the AHN has been located in the Spanish Research National Council complex since 1952. The AHN holds records from the old regime and contemporary institutions (up to the Spanish Civil War), ecclesiastical Institutions, private archives and specific collections. Since 2013 and the closing of the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, the AHN holds its pre-civil war records, such as those of the Obra Pía de los Santos Lugares en Jerusalén. The Obra Pía is a religious institution, initially dedicated to the administration and preservation of sacred heritage in Holy Places. It became a state institution in 1772 under Charles III. Around 435 packets and more than 20 registers dating from the 16th century until 1936 are now preserved in the AHN. During those visits, some inventories were collected, providing an idea of the content of each box, packet or register.
Among the records of the Spanish Consulate, some series appear quite interesting for the history of the city of Jerusalem and the Spanish presence there: there is a chronological series, more or less continuous since the creation of the consulate; a series dedicated to the relationship between the consulate and the Obra Pía administration in Madrid; a fascinating series about the protection of foreign interests – especially during World War I for the Russians, French, Italians and, above all, Greeks – or various record series relating to financial and juridical matters which give an idea about the everyday life of the different communities in Jerusalem.
Initial research in the records also demonstrates the importance of the Jerusalem consulate during the Spanish Civil War. With regard to the Obra Pía, the records appear to be of less interest to the Open Jerusalem project. First, this was a Spanish institution, so the documents mainly describe the organization there. Secondly, the inventory lacks precision, for example, the content of the first 169 packets is described as various correspondence and budgets produced between 1500 and 1900. However, the continuity of the fonds is indeed outstanding and shows the importance of the institution for the relationship between Spain and the Holy Places.
These first steps in the Spanish archives are quite promising and research on the records of the Spanish Consulate in Jerusalem may produce exciting results. This is highly encouraging. To be continued!
Mazza, Roberto. “Antonio de la Cierva y Lewita: the Spanish Consul in Jerusalem 1914-1920.” The Jerusalem Quarterly 40 (2010): 36–44.
Vilar, María José. “Una percepción desde España de la cuestión Palestina. Aproximación a sus fuentes documentales y bibliográfica en español.” Anales de Historia Contemporánea 19 (2003): 285–312.
Spanish archive portal: http://www.mecd.gob.es/cultura-mecd/areas-cultura/archivos/mc/archivos