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The New Synagogue, Berlin, Germany Eldridge Street Synagogue, New York, USA
New West End Synagogue, London - Famous Synagogues
210    Dibyendu Banerjee    16/02/2024

Located in St. Petersburgh Place, London, the New West End Synagogue is one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful Jewish temples in use and the perfect Hidden Gem to visit while in London. Described as the architectural high-water mark of Anglo-Jewish architecture, the awe-inspiring edifice with its high Victorian Orientalist opulence, is considered by many to have London’s most splendid synagogue interior and is one of two synagogues in the country which have been awarded Grade I listed building status. The designers of the building, George Ashdown Audsley and William James Audsley of Liverpool, applied their past experience of designing Protestant Churches, incorporating elements of High Victorian Gothic Revival styles of architecture, integrating Egyptian, Greek, Saracenic and Hindu architectural styles. The dignified edifice instantaneously impresses the visitors as they approach a hallway through the towering arches supported by golden columns and then the Circular marble steps, leading to the room in the form of a multi-domed and arched building, where the splendid Torahs’ ark is placed on a raised platform.

new west end synagogue london

The history of the Jews in England goes back to the Norman conquest of 1066, which heralded the arrival of Jewish communities in England and the Jewish settlement in the country that continued until the Edict of Expulsion promulgated by King Edward I on 18 July 1290.

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Much later after the expulsion, a small Sephardic community of Jews living in London was identified during the rule of Oliver Cromwell in 1656, which were permitted to live and openly worship in London, although Cromwell never officially readmitted Jews to the Commonwealth of England. Consequently, a synagogue was established in a rented house in Creechurch Lane, London and a plot of land was leased at Mile End for a proposed burial ground. However, as the Sephardic community was growing steadily, the Bevis Marks Synagogue was built and completed in 1701, making it the only synagogue in Europe, which has held regular services continuously for more than 300 years.

new west end synagogue london

For more than a century, the Bevis Marks Synagogue served as the centre of the religious Anglo-Jewish world. But as the Sephardic community grew and moved out of the City and East End of London into the West End and suburbs, the Bryanstone Street Synagogue was built in 1866, while Mr Leopold de Rothschild, a British banker, thoroughbred race horse breeder, laid the foundation stone for the New West End Synagogue on 7 June 1877, in the presence of the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler and the new Orthodox synagogue was officially opened on 30 March 1879. The total cost for the entire project, including construction and land, amounting to £24,980, was raised by private contributions, as well as donations from the United Synagogue, of which the New West End Synagogue is a constituent.

new west end synagogue london
new west end synagogue london

Constructed of red brick, the building of the New West End Synagogue is partially ornamented with red Mansfield stone and terracotta, with slate for the roof.

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The central gable, the triangular portion of the wall between the edges of intersecting roof pitches, approximately 77 feet high, is flanked by 94 feet high square turrets, crowned with open tabernacles and domes. There is a magnificent doorway in the central gable that is deeply recessed under an elaborately ornamented arch in Moorish style. While the walls of the spacious prayer room are treated with opulent alabaster facing, applied in the 1890, the Gothic arches arising from the top storey windows join to form a barrel-vaulted ceiling, trimmed in gold. Designed by Nathaniel Hubert John Westlake, the beautiful stained glass windows, rectangular on the ground floor, arched on the second floor and round on the third, adorn the walls.

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In addition to that, Hebrew texts adorn the walls and a mosaic made of small tiles adorning the flooring of the aisle, lead from the bimah to the splendid Torah ark, known as Aron Kodesh in Hebrew. The women’s gallery, featuring wood panelling carved of polished pitch pine and highlighted with gilding, is located on the upstairs and runs along the sides and back of the sanctuary.

new west end synagogue london

Recognized as a monument of outstanding national importance, today the synagogue is also a popular choice for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, a ceremony and celebration for a Jewish girl at the age of 12 or 13 when she takes on the religious duties and the responsibilities of an adult.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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