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Synagogue Maior

U Templu
Boskovice, 680 01

The core of the Synagogue Maior ("greater") dates from 1639, when it was constructed for the Jewish community by Sylvestr Fiota, builder of Italian descent. In 1698 it was completely reconstructed and enlarged in Baroque style. The ceiling, walls of the hall and extensions were decorated with Baroque ornamental frescos with vegetable motifs and ritual Hebrew texts. In 1989-2001 the synagogue was thoroughly restored, a permanent exposition "The Jewish Quarter of Boskovice" was installed in it, and it was officially opened to the public on 23 June 2002.
 
 


The great synagogue (synagogue maior) in Boskovice was constructed  in 1639 to the order of the local Jewish community by Italian builder Sylvester Fiota who came to Boskovice from Clavenna before 1598. He participated also in the Renaissance adaptations of Boskovice Castle , and probably in the building of the tower of the parish Church of St James Major. The remarkable structure of Boskovice synagogue became a model for many others in Moravia and Bohemia, and ranks among the oldest and best-preserved synagogues in Europe. It is an oblong structure with a wide saddle roof and massive peripheral walls. The high cloister vault over the central oblong hall (ca 10 x 8 m)  was originally decorated with stucco frames, as in the Church of St James Major.Adjoining the hall in the west is a barrel-vaulted anteroom with the main entrance and above it the women´s gallery (ca 4 x 8 m), originally accessed by a wooden stairway from the lane behind the synagogue. In the middle of the hall is a podium with a lectern for reading the Torah (almemor, bima), situated on the eastern wall is a stone tabernacle (aron Ha-Kodesh) for the Torah scrolls.

The synagogue underwent several structural and decorative adaptations.  In 1657-1667 painters Mordechai of Cracow and Meter of Zülz decorated the main hall in a style based on period models, connecting the stucco mirrors with the vegetable décor. The painting on the walls is of a more traditional nature, the main role being played by fields inscribed with texts of prayers and psalms. This decoration is completely linear and flat. A painting of the temple menorah with the text of Psalm no. 67  has survived on the western wall, as has the table for  bread presentation which oncestood in the Jerusalem Temple opposite the Ark of the Covenant  (the reason why paintings were traditionally placed on the western wall opposite the tabernacle).

At the end of the 17th century, the new lords of the Boskovice demesne - the Dietrichsteins - permitted the Jews to enlarge the synagogue. In 1698 a side aisle, on the ground level spanned by a single field of groin vault and two fields of barrel vault with lunettes at the upper level, was built between the synagogue and the wall of the law court. An entrance with a wooden spiral stairway was installed in the west part, providing access to the women´s gallery. The north wall was broken by a large arcade between the original windows, thus connecting the two spaces. Soon after completion (in 1704-1705) the whole west and north galleries and the east part of the north extension were decorated with paintings, judging by the preserved signatures executed by Jeshaya of Cracow. The unusually lively and rich ornamentation includes inscribed fields, spiral vegetable designs, star-shaped floral motifs, symbolic representations of animals and birds, but also the Ten Commandments and the Crown of the Torah. This part of the synagogue painted decoration is most impressive.

In 1836, a masonry stairway leading to the gallery was added, a wooden tribune for singers was erected on the west side of the main hall, and the north gallery eastern part was extended.  A new tabernacle with attachments for the Ten Commandments Tables was installed, and gratings were fitted on the windows of the women´s gallery. The entrance portal was adapted as well. A safety iron stairway leading to the northern gallery and a cast-iron balcony above the main entrance were put in place in 1892.  During the next restoration in 1908, stained-glass panes were fitted in the main hall windows, and new painted decoration was executed. The latest modernization of the interior took place in 1935-1936 to the design by Brno architect Arnošt Wiesner (author of many noteworthy functionalist buildings in Brno). The chief reason for the modernization was the installation of electric lighting. The main hall walls were wainscotted in the lower part, and the pews arranged in rows, one behind another. The top parts of the main hall were whitewashed, with the original painted ornaments exposed only at two places (the arcade of the north wall and part of the gallery vault).

 During World War II the synagogue was of course closed and used for storing confiscated possessions of the deported Jews of Boskovice. From 1959 it served as a store, too (e.g. of building material).  In 1979-1986 its new owner, the Boskovice municipality,  had two projects produced for its reconstruction , which did not start untill 1988. In 1994 the synagogue, by then restored to a large extent, was returned to the possession of  the Jewish Community in Brno, which started restoring the original painted decoration. With the support of the municipality, the state and the World Monuments Fund the restoration works were completed, and at present the synagogue is open to the public and serves cultural purposes.





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