Jewish mementos in Györ-Moson-Sopron Comitatus

Sopron

Old Synagogue, Új utca 22

This early gothic synagogue, one of very few in Mid Europe at the time, was built around 1300 on the former Zsidó Road (Street of the Jews), nowadays Új utca (New Street).

The regulations back then did not allow for the synagogue to reach up to the storefronts on the street, that is why there is a yard in front of it. This yard was used to preside over legal conflicts and for settling deals with Christians. As of 1440 the Zsidó utca is called Új utca.

In 1526 the population of the city accused the Jews of collaborating with the Turks and drove the Jews from the city. The synagogue started to decay and was transformed to a residential building. Two late medieval houses were built in the yard. The remains of the Old Synagogue were discovered in 1967 and restored as well as possible. The yard surrounding the synagogue is entered through a basket arch gate from the 18th century. On the right hand side adjoining the synagogue the entrance to the former hospital built in the 15th century is visible. To the front stands the renovated synagogue.

It is a triaxial building, the facade is closes up to the single piece entablature. There is a strip of wall above the ground floor. On the first floor there is a rose window with stone grid between two narrow arched windows. The closed rectangular door, framed in stone, opens to the second axis. The balustrade and lintel molding of the stone framed windows are straight as well. Left of the barrel vault entrance one enters the (large) men’s prayer room. Straight ahead lies the women’s prayer room, the ritual bath is on the right hand side. The gothic main entrance of the great hall and the two side architraves are still the original ones, they date back to the 1300s. Fortunately, the red painting on the tympanon which is adorned with geometric patterns is still visible today. The great hall too still has original gothic arches, stone partitions and rose windows. The vault is modeled after a Regensburg pattern notably used in Hungary. To the Eastern side lies the Aron cell which is well structured, framed in stone and embellished with a tympanon, it displays grapes and leaves drawn with natural paints. The scroll of the Tora was kept here and produced during the services to be ceremoniously exhibited and then carried to the Bima (lectern). The Bima is a hexagonal raised platform. Its base has been reconstructed according to the original plan.

In accordance with ancient rites the women followed the liturgie from a separate hall. The prayer hall behind the main hall has its own exit, it is one of the earliest in Europe. Next to the synagogue was the hospital which also accommodated travelers and the ritual bath of which only the small stone well, half sunken into the ground, is preserved today. Since ancient times the Jewish religion strictly distinguishes between clean and unclean things. The bath therefore had a significant role. The laws of Moses prescribed the submergence in running water, only the natural water of the well was suitable for this. The ritual submergence symbolized a purifications. The well is located in a small room.The exhibition in the closed gallery of the main hall not only introduces the building, it also displays commodities of the liturgical life of the Jewish community as well as items found during the excavation of the bath.

by Johannes Scholem Graf & Alexandra Vogt

2012.05.27