Maharshal synagogue in Lublin (defunct)
The Maharshal synagogue, also called The Great Synagogue, was pride and glory of the Jews of Lublin. Its construction had begun in 1567. Located at the foot of the castle hill, it was the biggest Jewish building in Lublin. Nowadays, Tysiąclecia Avenue runs along the site.
No. 5, Jateczna St. (nonextant).
Jateczna St. was where the oldest and the biggest synagogue in Lublin was situated, named the Maharshal synagogue, after one of the greatest rabbis and rectors of the local yeshiva in the Old Polish period. Building was constructed around 1567, after permission for building a synagogue and a gymnasium had been granted by king Sigismund Augustus. A wooden synagogue had been located here previously. In the two storey building of the Maharshal synagogue (with men’s halls on the ground floor and women’s halls on the 1st floor), the smaller Maharam synagogue and the little Szywe Kryjem synagogue also functioned.The latter, which is still mentioned in documents from the 19th century, served for everyday prayers.
The Maharshal synagogue was remodelled after 1655, when it was destroyed in the Cossack-Moscow raid. On October 7, 1854, ceilings of the synagogue collapsed. Remodelling of the temple was being carried out between 1855 and 1862, while repairs in the interior probably lasted until 1866, which is confirmed by inscription on the casing of Aron Kodesh. Historic Renaissance-Baroque interior had been almost completely destroyed. After the remodelling, the prior character of the temple was lost. Walls and the Aron Kodesh were the only remnants of the old synagogue. Whole Jewish community in Lublin contributed money to the restoration of their main temple.
Scandal broke out when it turned out that some pieces of the synagogue equipment could not be retrieved after the repairs. Books, candlesticks and other utensils had been lent to private houses of prayer until the repairs would have been finished.They ended up mostly in houses of the richest Jews of Lublin. After the repairs, when the equipment of the synagogue was being assembled anew, they were reluctant to return those items. Resorting to intervention of the municipal authorities and police became necessary.
In the World War II period the Maharshal synagogue ceased to fulfill its religious function. Jewish public prayers had been banned by Nazis. The building itself, since it could accommodate several thousands of people, was converted into an asylum for displaced persons and refugees. Besides, similar was the fate of other synagogues in Podzamcze. Kitchen that served meals for the paupers of Podzamcze was also established in the Maharshal synagogue. At the time of the Lublin ghetto being liquidated in march and april 1942, Nazis turned the Maharshal synagogue into a gathering point for people of whom the transports to extermination camp in Bełżec were assembled. Many people were also murdered inside the synagogue. Every night, ca. 1500 people were gathered here in order to be rushed through Kalinowszczyzna, to the ramp behind the city slaughterhouse, from where trains departed towards Bełżec. After the ghetto had been liquidated, the synagogue building, alike others in Podzamcze, was dismantled. Until the early 1960s the bimah remained a sole remnant of the synagogue, only to be dismantled when the so-called east-west route was being built. Nowadays, a memorial plaque marks the site of the former synagogue.
remodelling in the 19th century.
Dates of construction and remodelling
before 1567 - a wooden synagogue
August 23 1567 - king Sigismund Augustus granted the privilege allowing the synagogue to be built.
ca. 1567 - construction of the first brick synagogue
1655-1660 - restoration after a fire caused by a Cossack raid
1854 - collapse of the ceilings
1855-1862 - construction of the second brick synagogue, after the collapse
1939-1942 - the synagogue served as a shelter for displaced persons and refugees.
1942 - destruction of the synagogue by the Nazis
Materials and technologies
Building constructed entirely of stone, plastered. Architectural details made of plaster, roof covered with sheet metal.
(regarding the whole complex, together with the Maharam synagogue)
eastern side - 41m
northern side - 30.8m (including the staircase annex - 37.2 m)
western side - 43.3m
southern side - 30.5m
main building height - 17.6m, half-hip roof height - 5.3 m
women galleries height - 12.2m, skillion roof height - 3.3 m
height of the wall between roofs - 2.1 m
Description of the building
Assumption has it that the 16th century Maharshal synagogue was an example of centrally planned renaissance synagogue. Walls were probably supported by buttresses, with small windows, and crowned with an attic. The Maharam synagogue, laid out on rectangular square, was adjacent to the bigger temple. However, those hypotheses can not be proven, due to lack of adequate archival material. More reliable are the information provided by sources that regard aforementioned objects after the remodelling in 1860s. Therefore, the following description will chiefly concern the building in its later shape.
Location of the synagogue remained unchanged, modifications occurred only in its surroundings. The new complex was laid out in form of an irregular rectangle. Predominant shape was an elongated cuboid, covered with half-hip roof, with gable at the western side. Furthermore, women sections that flanked the central tetrahedron from the west and the north were distinguishable. Western, eastern and northern elevations were two storey. The southern part was four storey. Elevations were vertically divided by pilasters and bore rectangular window holes and doorways, surmounted with arches. Storeys were separated with string course, while crowning cornice surmounted the elevations. Ornaments: shields made of plaster, blind tondi framed with flat bands (on the 2nd storey).
The interior of the synagogue was two storey, with attic and basement. Layout of the interior was centered around the men’s hall of the synagogue, which measured 18.8 x 21.4 m and was two-storey high. Ground floor accommodated ten rooms: vestibule (21 x 5.2 m), small prayer room (3.3 x 5.2 m), staircase (4.5 x 5.2 m), northern women section (22.5 x 5.6 m), staircase, also serving as the northern women section’s vestibule, in the northwestern corner (radius of the corner: 5.3 m), staircase, also serving as the northern women section’s vestibule, in the northeastern corner (6 x 4.8 m), southern women section (22.5 x 7.6 m), staircase, also serving as the southern women section’s vestibule (8.2 x 5.2 m), premises of an unidentified function (3.3 x 4.8 x 22.5 m). 1st floor also accommodated ten rooms: men’s hall, western and northern women’s hall, three staircases. Rooms upstairs were divided by walls with doorways and equipped with windows. Walls of the synagogue were probably white, no accounts of presence of polychromes exist.
Entrance to the main hall led through the vestibule which was accessible using two pairs of doors from the west. Central part of the eastern wall of the men’s hall was occupied by the Aron Kodesh.
It was situated between two rectangular windows, closed with segmental arches. Above it, on the second storey level, there were four rectangular windows, each of them closed with a round arch. The Aron Kodesh was placed in a niche with semicircular coping, framed by pilasters with Corinthian capitals, on which a profiled entablature rested. The aedicula was crowned with volutes, that were accompanied by a pinnacle on each side. The whole segment was coped with Decalogue stones, flanked by two griffins facing each other. The receptacle itself had double door and was crowned with profiled cornice and floral shaped pediment. The Ark (closet containing the Torah scroll) was covered with parochet decorated with a lambrequin on its top. In front of the Aron kodesh, there was a podium with stairs and a balustrade alongside them.
In the middle of the men’s hall, there were four groups of three small colonnettes with Corinthian capitals, forming the setting of bimah. Above them, there was a disjointed entablature supporting the top section with semicircular arcades. Everything was coped with crowning cornice. Podium was situated along the north-south axis. Five stairs led towards it from both sides. Podium and stairs were surrounded by a balustrade.
South of the stairs leading to Aron Kodesh, the cantor’s lectern was located, bearing a shiviti plaque. Nearby there was a Hanukkah Menorah, standing on a wooden table.
Wooden tables and benches in the main hall stood in lines, along all of the walls, save for window and door niches. Benches were also arranged around the bimah and on both sides of the Aron Kodesh. Tables were situated perpendicularly and parallelly to the eastern wall, standing between the lines of benches. Interior of the synagogue was illuminated by hanging chandeliers, wall lamps and candelabrums. In the women sections, lines of benches stood along the walls and in the centres of halls.
The complex was situated on the northern slope of the castle hill, in Podzamcze district, in no longer existent Jateczna St. Most important qahal institutions, as well as public utility buildings, such as academy or guild synagogues, were concentrated around the Maharshal synagogue. It is obvious that Jateczna St. constituted the centre of the Jewish town. The synagogue was situated perpendicularly to Jateczna St.
Important research studies
Detailed paper by Dorota Chabros - architectural analysis placed in historical context - based on preserved archival material: drawings, descriptions, accounts, chronicle records. (Chabros D., Synagogi Maharszala i Maharama w Lublinie, Lublin 2005.)
The virtual synagogue
Until recently, it was believed that no material trace of existence of the Maharshal synagogue has survived. However, it turned out that in the synagogue in Bielsko-Biała, the velvet parochet from the Lublin temple has been kept and used until today. This uncommon discovery, made in 2008, is an achievement of historian Jacek Proszyk, who had been inventorying the items utilized in Bielsko-Biała synagogue.
The Ten Commandments, among other motifs, are placed on the cloth. They are coped with the Torah Crown, supported by a pair of lions. There is also a Hebrew inscription: זאת נדבן נשים לבה״כּ דמהרשל ז״ל - שבת תּרפ״ו לפּ״ק
This can be translated as follows: “This is a women’s donation for the synagogue of Maharshal of blessed memory, 5 Shevat 686 [January/February 1926]”
The parochet was funded by women in 1926 for the Maharshal synagogue. It has been used since 1945 in the synagogue of Jewish Religious Community in Bielsko-Biała, yet nothing is known about how it got there.
Additional information by Anna Kończanin
Edited by Monika Śliwińska
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