ABSTRACT

In order to appreciate the renaissance of early modern synagogue development and design, an understanding of the historical context behind the average medieval Jewish house of worship is essential. A single chapter on medieval synagogues is the typical treatment that synagogue architecture from this period receives in books on Jewish architectural history. A full monograph has yet to be written, most likely due to the shortage of information that survives, especially in comparison to the information available on church and mosque architecture. However, in comparison to previous studies, the present volume will not just delve into a discussion on what buildings are extant, but will also discuss what has been lost. Indeed, the synagogues that survive from the Middle Ages are a mere fraction of what once existed. Many met a fate of anti-Semitic destruction or repurposement, such as for Christianity or Islam. Others were lost through vandalism, natural disaster and neglect. Indeed, there are probably entire building types of synagogues where no examples survive. Rare texts pertaining to Jewish houses of worship from this early period provide some historical information, as well as recent archaeological excavations of former synagogue sites. However, what is also highly informative are surviving built environments from areas where medieval Jews are known to have lived even when there are no synagogues from the period. In respect to material availability, economics and socio-political standing, an educated understanding of typical medieval synagogues is achievable, which gives us a better understanding of the signi cance of what developed during the early modern period.