The SynagogueThe Synagogue of Speyer's Medieval Jewish Community
Apr. 1 - Oct. 31: Mon - Fri 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. and
2 p.m. - 5 p.m., Sat and Sun 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Admission: 1 EUR (reduced 0,50 EUR)
Guide Tours: Tourist-Information Speyer
Fon: +49 (0) 62 32 / 7 72 88
On the initiative of Speyer's Bishop Rüdiger Speyer's medieval Jewish community was founded in 1084. From the beginning, it was considered one of the most important Jewish communities in Europe and remained so up to the mid-13th century.special privileges endowed by the bishop and emperor, the Jews of Speyer were active in foreign trade and banking. They had extensive economic and cultural connections to Jewish communities insouthern Europe and even to the Near and Far East, via the Islamic countries on the Mediterranean. Because the Jews were so cosmopolitan, so well educated in foreign languages and alphabets and so learned in religion, they represented an economic and intellectual elite within the towns population.
The teachings and writing of the wise men of Speyer, as the medieval rabbis were known, had a decisive influence on western Judaism.
Originally, Bishop Rüdiger settled the Jews in the outskirts north of the town centre, in Old Speyer. Only a few years later however, after the Crusades pogrom of 1096, settlement shifted from the outskirts to the centre of town, southwest of the cathedral.
Jewish settlement in Old Speyer came to an end after 1195. Settlement in the town centre concentrated around the "curia ludaeorum", popularly known as the "Jewish Courtyard". The most significant traces of Speyer's medieval Jewish community, the ruins of the synagogue and the ritualbath, are situated here in this courtyard, once much larger than it is now.
The synagogue was consecrated on New Years Eve 4865 in the Jewish calendar, that is on Sept. 21st, 1104. It was a Romanesque structure, approximately 10.5 m in width by 17.5 m in length. The only visible remains are the building's east wall. The west wall was integrated into the apartment building built in 1899 at Judenbadgasse 6. Two Romanesque bow windows from the west wall belong to the Museum of Palatinate History in Speyer. A few layers of stone from the southwall can be found in the courtyard of the building at Judenbadgasse 4.
By studying the east wall, it is apparent that the synagogue was built in two phases. Originally, two Romanesque windows divided the eastwall, analogous to those in the west wall. There was a round window (in latin: oculus), the stone frame of which can still be seen. The foundations of a semi circular apse, which protruded from the eastwall, also remain. In the interior of the synagogue, this apse concealed the ark, known in Hebrew as Aron ha Kodesch, where the sacred Torah scrolls were kept under lock and key. The ark containing the Torah always faces Jerusalem, which means it always faces east in synagogues in the western world. Later, when the building was no longer used as a synagogue, the apse was torn down and the whole in the wall was bricked up.
We do not know very much about the interior design of the synagogue. In rabbinic literature there is a reference to the synagogue's stone floors and glass windows. Traces of the window frames can still be seen on the two windows in the west wall.
Since the Jews were limited to working in foreign trade and banking, the construction of the synagogue had to be taken over by non-Jewish craftsmen. Since the Jewish community at that time had such a strong economic and legal position, it was able to employ the best construction workers available. These were the craftsmen who just happened to be working on the renovations of the cathedral at that time.
During the pogrom of 1349, the synagogue was desecrated, but was restored with some alterations in 1354. The Romanesque windows in the east wall were replaced with considerably higher rectangular windows, which were later bricked up when the building was no longer a synagogue. A Gothic round window, substantially larger than the Romanesque round window, was built in above it. The lower edge of the window, with some remains of the Gothic tracery, can still be seen. The semicircular apse was replaced with a rectangular one. A women's gallery was added on to the south wall of the synagogue. In order for the women to at least be able to hear the service in the synagogue, several small window-like openings were made into the synagogue's south wall. Originally there was a tall rectangular window in the east wall of the women's gallery. During the 15th century, this window was bricked up and flying buttresses made out of sandstone blocks were built in front of it. In place of the bricked-up middle window, two rectangular windows were made in the east wall, which were bricked up during the later non-Jewish usage of the building.
The ruins of the Speyer synagogue are the oldest visible remains of a synagogue in Central Europe.