Wednesday, July 30, 2014 /
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Spanish Synagogue

Spanish Synagogue

This is the largest and best known of Venetian Synagogues. Its construction was started in 1555 (or in 1584, according to Cecil Roth) but it was entirely rebuilt one century later (1635 or 1654) by Baldassare Longhena (1598- 1682), architect of numerous Venetian « Scuo¬le » and palaces (such as the Scuola di S. Ni¬colo dei Greci or that of Santa Maria dei Carmini, Ca' Pesaro, now the Modern Art Museum, and Ca' Rezzonico, now the Museum of 18th century Venetian art, and of the very well-known Church of the Madonna della Salute) .

The facade seems almost to be closed in and compressed by the neighbouring houses and even its large windows hardly show up from the corner of the small square. On the arch of the portal one reads the inscription: « Blessed are they that dwell in Thy House and continue to praise Thee» (Psalm 84, 5).

In the hall, to the left is a small Midrash which has retained its original characteristics. On the back wall there is a tablet with the names of the Jews deported from Venice in the years 1943-44 while numerous other tablets on the side walls commemorate many members of well known Venetian families: Treves, Maurogonato, Gentilomo, Belilios, Coen, Caravaglio. On the stairs one finds an ancient alms box.

Inside

Several restorations were carried out during the last century and (particularly the installation of the organ in the place of the original pulpit) have partly altered its harmony. An elegant semicircular wooden balustrade, with finely worked uprights, delimits the large space in front of the Aron ha-kodesh which is supported by handsome columns in polychrome marble. In the center is the officiants' lectern which stood where the organ is now.

On the lower part of the Teva a small tablet reminds one that in 1848 «a bomb hit the Synagogue on the evening of Rosh ha-shanà (News Year's Day) 5609: it embedded itself but showed pity». On the door of the Aron: «I have set the Lord always before me » (Psalms XVI, 8) and, as always, the Ten Commandments and the date: 1755. The year 1845 on the candle-sticks and on the chandeliers 1772 indicate the dates of the donations. A women's gallery runs all around the hall giving a sense of unity to the entire ambient. The motif, which is not related to the tradition¬al architecture of the Synagogues, reminds one of the Scola Grande Tedesca, which seems to have inspired Longhena, perhaps in accordance with the wishes of the person commissioning the work, to emulate the splendour of the first Synagogue built in the Ghetto.