The Medieval Jewish cemetery of Bologna, destroyed in 1569, has been discovered, authorities announced last week. The announcement was made by the Bologna and regional superintendence for archaeology and the city’s mayor Virginio Merola, along with other officials, at a news conference.

Excavations in 2012-14 uncovered 408 graves, perfectly aligned in parallel rows. The graves are dug in an east-west direction with the heads of the dead placed on the west end. There were no signs of tombstones and 150 of the graves were evidently desecrated. The graves were of women, men and children, and in some artefacts were also found, such as ornaments made of gold, silver, bronze, hard stones and amber.

The cemetery was found while excavations were conducted for the construction of a residential complex. It was destroyed in 1569, when Pope Pius V had issued a decree banishing all Jews from Papal states except Rome and Ancona. In 1569 the cemetery was handed over to a nearby convent, the nuns of the cloister of St. Peter the Martyr. They were given permission to dig out the remains of the dead and send them wherever they wanted, as well as to demolish or convert to other forms the graves built by the Jews, and to remove the gravestones or scrape off their inscriptions. Evidence of handiwork was found in the majority of the graves, perhaps by the sisters.

Four ornate Jewish gravestones now displayed in Bologna’s Civic Medieval Museum are believed to have come from this cemetery.

At the press conference Rabbi Alberto Sermoneta highlighted the need for the recovered remains to be given a dignified burial.