The Secrets of the Kabbalists Garden
Does a hidden garden hold the encoded secrets of the Kabbalists?
Hidden away in a cul-de-sac at the base of the towering medieval walls of Girona, Catalonia, Spain, is a tranquil garden. A statue of a long-haired angel stands guard over the entrance, its hands clasped in prayer. If the iron gate is unlocked, which happens erratically, you can enter the terraced garden.
The high walls of the garden. (Klimmanet/CC BY 3.0)
On your left as you walk in is a 10-foot-high (3-meter-high) stone wall dripping with roses and decorated with numerous brass plaques etched with the Catalan and Hebrew names of angels. It is a peaceful place; an unexpected refuge from the busy, tourist-filled streets. But in Girona, things are rarely what they seem, and this unassuming garden conceals more than a secret or two.
The Jardí de l’Ángel—The Garden of the Angel, Girona, Catalonia, Spain. (©Elyn Aviva)
This angel sits at the garden gate. (©Elyn Aviva)
The Girona tourist map identifies this place as Jardí de l’Ángel—The Garden of the Angel—but other people call it the Kabbalists Garden or, even, the Garden of the Jews. Once, Girona was the most important Kabbalist center in medieval Europe, but all the Jews in Spain were forced into exile or into forced conversion in 1492. This garden is much more recent; a product of urban renewal in the 1990s—or is it? And why are some of the angel-names written in reverse?
The garden consists of four levels, linked by stone stairs. The main patio and three off-set terraces are built against the ancient city walls, each level progressively smaller and built one on top of the other.
Stone stairs link the four levels. (©Elyn Aviva)
Fragrant orange trees shade the scattered wooden benches on the ground level of the garden. A low retaining wall between the first and second level displays additional brass angel-name plaques, but almost all the plaques have been stolen.
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A garden wall featuring inscribed plaques. (©Elyn Aviva)
Lush greenery and fruit-laden trees hug the medieval walls of the garden. (©Elyn Aviva)
The second level is planted with a profusion of pomegranate, acanthus, lavender, neatly trimmed bushes, and fragrant flowers. A narrow stone staircase, partly hidden in vegetation, leads to the third level. Here there are more shrubs, more acanthus, a heavy-laden fig tree rising out of a mound of earth and bedrock—and a life-size gilded angel. This slightly battered, 19th-century statue has its wings folded at its back, its arms held in front of its chest, and holds what looks like a wreath. The tiny fourth level can only be reached by pulling yourself up a few protruding stones to a narrow ledge, barely large enough to sit on.
A gilded angel watches from on high. (©Elyn Aviva)
What this garden actually is—or was—depends on whom you ask. According to the official tourist information, it is a product of 1990’s urban renewal and is named not after the two angels in the garden but the medieval street—Carrer de l’Angel—that you follow to reach the garden. The urban-renewal group included Josep Tarrés, reputed to be a member of a secret esoteric order. The group constructed the multi-level garden out of a vegetable garden that existed behind a Civil Guard barracks.
Angels and Kabbalists
According to Gerard Serrat, a guide to Jewish Girona, this place is called the Kabbalists Garden because, centuries ago, the mystical Jewish kabbalists used to meet here in secret, at the edge of medieval Girona, to do esoteric practices. The brass wall plaques inscribed with the Hebrew names of angels point to this connection, as does the golden angel. Although most tourist guides think that the statue represents the Archangel Michael, its attributes are actually those of the Archangel Metatron—and Metatron is the “patron” of Kabbalah.
An Eastern Orthodox Church icon of the "Seven Archangels". (Public Domain)
Girona was a major medieval Kabbalah center, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the garden pays hidden homage to that history. The important scholar and teacher Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nachmanides) lived in Girona in the 13th century and headed a major Kabbalist school there. In 1263, in what is called the Disputation of Barcelona, he was forced to debate a Dominican scholar over questions of faith. Although Nachmanides won the debate—or, rather, because he won it—he was forced to flee Girona and died in the Holy Land in 1270.
21st-century artistic depiction of Nachmanides in Acre, Israel. (Chesdovi/CC BY-SA 3.0)
And what about the angel plaques? Some of the brass plaques have been pried free and stolen, but a number remain. And some of these are puzzling. Although Hebrew words are written from right to left, some of these plaques are inscribed in Hebrew that is written from left to right. And, according to one knowledgeable reader of Hebrew, some of the plaques are written using the wrong Hebrew letters.
Some of the remaining plaques in the garden. (©Elyn Aviva)
Are these inconsistencies simply errors made by the inscriber who, perhaps, didn’t actually read Hebrew? Or are they, following a well-documented esoteric tradition, an attempt to “claim” the power of the names by reversing them? Although I have consulted several authorities, nobody is prepared to give me an answer.
Traditionally, there are 72 holy names of God, created through various permutations of Hebrew letters. On the retaining wall at the entrance, it appears that there were originally 27 plaques. Is this perhaps a hidden reference both to gematria, the Kabbalistic system of letter and numerical associations, and to the importance of reversal?
Why are there Four Levels?
At least one other mystery remains. Why are there four levels in the garden? Is this just a happenstance of landscape design, or is this another hidden message? Kabbalah teaches that reality begins as a descending “chain of being” known as the Four Worlds. This movement from absolutely nothing to something proceeds from the most-rarefied vibration to the most “dense.”
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According to this paradigm, creation as we know it began (and continually begins) with the First World, Emanation, and moves through the Second World, Creation, to the Third World, Formation, and finally to the Fourth World, Action. These are also sometimes called the Spiritual, Intellectual, Emotional/Psychological, and Physical Worlds, worlds that interpenetrate in time/space.
This complex Sacred Geometry structure – Metatron’s Cube, is derived from the ancient structure of the Flower of Life. It is named after the Archangel Metatron. (Public Domain)
It is almost certain that the four levels in the garden represent the Four Worlds. The statue of Archangel Metatron is located on the 2nd terrace (or World) from the top—the same level where Metatron is found on the Kabbalist Tree of Life diagram. Another indication is the local tradition that, if you have an important question, you should go to the Kabbalists Garden and ask it at the lowest level, the main patio. If you don’t receive an answer, you go up to the second level. And if you don’t get an answer there, you ask at the next level, and then at the top. If the garden terraces represent the Four Worlds, you would begin seeking your answer at the most mundane, physical level and (possibly) end up finding it at the highest, most spiritual level.
The Kabbalistic Tree of Life with the names of the Sephiroth and paths in Hebrew. ( Public Domain)
Perhaps this tradition is the faint memory of when an earlier garden at this location was, indeed, a Kabbalists’ meeting place. After all, a learned and wise practitioner such as Nachmanides would have been the ideal person to ask for guidance.
Peering down into the garden. (©Elyn Aviva)
The Garden of the Angel, The Kabbalists Garden, The Jewish Garden—whatever you prefer to call it—is a tranquil hideaway at the end of a narrow medieval street. But that’s not all it is. It is filled with the scent of roses, lavender, orange blossoms—and mystery.
Elyn Aviva is a writer and fiber artist who lives in Oviedo (Asturias), Spain. She is the author of numerous articles, books, and novels on transformational travel, pilgrimage, and earth mysteries. Elyn has a Ph.D. in anthropology (her dissertation was on the modern Camino de Santiago) and an M.Div. She is co-author with her husband, Gary White, of “Powerful Places Guidebooks.” including the guidebook Powerful Places in Wales. To learn more about her publications, go to www.pilgrimsprocess.com and fb.me/ElynAvivaWrites on Facebook. To learn about Elyn’s fiber art, go to www.fiberalchemy.com. Elyn’s latest novel, The Question – A Magical Fable, has just been published. Kabbalah plays an important part in the story.
Featured image: A mysterious secret garden. (Public Domain/Deriv)
By Elyn Aviva