ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz

Architecture and scholarship – Innovation and Remembrance

UNESCO World Heritage

Mainz, Old Jewish Cemetery “Judensand”, View of the Memorial Cemetery by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The serial property is located in the former Imperial cathedral cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, in the Upper Rhine Valley. The three component sites tangibly reflect the early emergence of distinctive Ashkenaz customs and the development and settlement pattern of the ShUM communities, particularly between the 11th and the 14th centuries. The buildings that constitute the property served as prototypes for later Jewish community and religious buildings as well as cemeteries in Europe.

Worms, Old Jewish Cemeterey “Heiliger Sand”, tombstones of Rabbi of Rothenburg (MaHaRAM) and Salomon von Wimpfen by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

ShUM is a term created from the initial letters of the Hebrew city names.
Speyer-Shpira-Shin-(Sh)
Worms-Warmaisa-Waw-(U)
Mainz-Magenza-Mem-(M)

View over the Speyer Jewry-Court by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The Speyer Jewry-Court is located in the heart of the city and close to the imperial cathedral. The Courtyard started to develop from 1084 CE onwards. It encloses everything needed for a vibrant religious Jewish life – a synagogue, a women’s prayer room, a yeshiva (teaching house) and the monumental ritual bath. In the courtyard, the Jewish Community gathered and held religious and social events such as weddings. It is one of the earliest Jewish community compounds known in Europe.

Speyer, synagogue and women’s shul by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The synagogue (on the right) and its adjacent women’s prayer room are towering remains. The synagogue opened on the Jewish New Year in September 1104. It is considered the earliest preserved example of a synagogue of this design. This Romanesque hall became influential in Ashkenaz (Jewish Term for western, middle and eastern parts of Europe) for centuries. The building, partially conserved, is the best-preserved synagogue from the early 12th century in Europe.

Speyer, oculi in synagogue by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

In the crusaders pogrom in 1196 in Speyer, 11 Jews were murdered. The synagogue was attacked and reconstructed in ca. 1200. Two round-arched windows from the west wall mirror this period. During the Gothic era, two windows in the east wall were replaced by larger ones. One of the oculi built into both gable ends is also preserved. This style of two windows with a round one above, was installed by other Jewish communities in synagogues in Ashkenaz, e.g. in Erfurt, Maribor and Sopron.

Speyer, seating benches in women’s shul by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The Speyer Jewry-Court also tells about Jewish women and their history and reflects their high status in the Jewish communities. Adjoining the synagogue are the remains of the women‘s place for prayer (women’s shul). The floor was decorated with tiles made of sandstone in which were, for instance, engraved lilies and dragons. Listening windows made it possible for women to follow the main services. Female cantors accompanied the services in their own space.

Speyer, staircases leading to platform in mikveh by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

A ritual bath (mikveh) fed by “living water” from rivers, the sea or groundwater is used for ritual purification. In Speyer and in Worms these ritual baths mirror a certain choreography of ritual cleansing. This was a result of debates after the crusades´ destructions and how ritual purity can be achieved. Around 1110/20, the Romanesque mikveh was built: a tower in the ground, ca. 11 meters deep. More than 30 steps of different heights lead down from the portal – as the way to God is not easy.

Speyer, platform in mikveh by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

In the ritual bath in Speyer a second Romanesque portal opens towards a platform, with elegant columns and windows facing the tower shaft. On the left is a small room with a bench, then more steps lead to the immersion pool, fed by ground water. Light falls into the shaft from above. It was abandoned after several centuries. In the 18th century, the mikveh was described in detail by scholars because of its uniqueness.

Speyer, seating niche in mikveh by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

A ritual bath is mainly attended by women. Women and men go separately into such a ritual bath. A mikveh is a social place, the seating niches in the Speyer mikveh are evidence of this. Constructed in 1110/1120, it is one the oldest and best preserved in Europe and had obviously been built with participation of the masons also working on the cathedral.

Founders´ Inscription, Worms’ synagogue, 1034 by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The first synagogue in Worms was built in 1034, as we know from the original founders´ inscription. It is the oldest Hebrew inscription north of the Alps. It names the founders, Jacob and Rachel, a childless couple who are praised for what they did was “Better than sons and daughters / They shall remain remembered for good memory”. It is also said that the Worms’ synagogue is “the small sanctuary” (miqdash me’at) in reference to the temple in Jerusalem as the large sanctuary. The term reflects the experience of exile and at the same time of great creativity and achievement especially in ShUM.

Worms’ synagogue, Interior by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

“Stronger than parchments and books, this building bears witness to Jewish history in Germany...“ (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, 1934) .This is true when thinking about the Worms’ Synagogue that was rebuilt several times, the last time after the Shoah. The first synagogue fell victim to the crusades. In 1174/75, a new synagogue was erected. The building ”quotes“ the Solomon Temple in Jerusalem with its two pillars and the lectern (bima) between them.

Worms’ synagogue, Pillars by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The two pillars in the Worms’ synagogue gained an iconic status in the Jewish world. In the Solomon Temple in Jerusalem stood two columns in the vestibule, called Jakhin and Boaz. Jakhin = HE will raise up / Boaz = In HIM is the power.
In the Worms’ synagogue these two columns hold the vaulted ceiling. Worms gets the name “Jerusalem on the Rhine”. The synagogue with its two pillars inspires Jewish communities; synagogues in Regensburg, Vienna, Prague or Krakow are built after this model.

Worms, women’s Shul by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The Torah does not imply a separation of the sexes in the synagogue. As a reaction to the Crusades, the “Pious Ashkenazim” in the 12th and 13th c. discussed the importance of ritual purity. One result: the construction of monumental ritual baths and separate prayer rooms for women (women’s shuln). The first women’s shul was built in Worms in 1212/13, followed by the Speyer community around 1250. ShUM leads the way - and many other communities follow. Women’s shuln are established from the 13th c. onwards in e.g. Würzburg, Cologne and Vienna.

Worms, entrance hall to women’s shul and Jewish Council chamber by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

In 1615, the Jews were expelled from Worms. The synagogue was destroyed and remained desolate until 1620. David Oppenheim zur Rose was supporting the rebuilding process of the synagogue. He also donated the vestibule to the women's shul and a Judenrat room on the second floor. This front is the first thing visitors see today when they enter the synagogue square.

Worms, Rashi-Yeshiva by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

One of the centerpieces in the rebuilding process of the Synagogue Compound in Worms after 1616 was a semicircular niche that gained even legendary status as the Rashi Teaching Room (yeshiva). Rashi, a Jewish scholar from the 10th/11th c. studied in Mainz and Worms; his texts and commentaries are still printed and debated today. He did not teach in this yeshiva, but it is the ideal of Rashi that remains there. The Synagogue Compound was burnt down in November 1938. Debates about the restoration of the synagogue and its annexes have gone on since 1948.

Worms, Rashi-Yeshiva by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

Between 1957 and 1961, the synagogue was restored, although no Jewish Community was left in Worms after the Shoah. One can still see “scars” of the willful destruction by Nazi-Germany in 1938 as not to whitewash this era. Details were rebuilt as well – like the niche in the eastern wall of the women’s shul. It is connected to a legend told for many centuries. It is about a threat to a pregnant Jewish woman, her rescue as she turned with her baby belly to the wall that sheltered her – and the birth of a later Jewish scholar.

Exhibition in Rashi-Houe in medieval foundations by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The lively Community House in Worms was built in the 12th c. and later on housed a dance house, a hospital, a prayer room for services on weekdays and a home for the elderly. The building saw the same destructions as the Synagogue Compound up to 1938. From November 1938, it was misused as a ”Judenhaus” – a transit space for Jews expelled from their homes and then deported to the extermination camps in 1942. After 1945, it deteriorated and was demolished in 1971. A new building erected in 1982 took up the form of the medieval building. Medieval walls are conserved in the basement. A Jewish Museum displays an exhibition on ShUM there.

Worms, Old Jewish Cemetery “Heiliger Sand”; entrance courtyard and Tahara-House by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The ”Heiliger Sand“ is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe (11th c.) preserved in situ. Today, ca. 2,500 stones are still visible and many other have sunk in the ground. The cemetery was largely spared during the pogroms in the Middle Ages and also under National Socialism. Since the 17th c. the first Tahara house known in Ashkenaz was built here to prepare the dead for burial. There is also a forecourt with a fountain for the ritual cleansing of the hands and a plaque with the great prayer for the dead. Until 1911, Jews were buried on the “Heiliger Sand“ while family graves continue to be occupied.

Worms, Old Jewish Cemetery “Heiliger Sand”, Martin-Buber-View by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The view axis across the older part of the old Jewish cemetery “Heiliger Sand” to the imperial Cathedral is called Martin Buber View. Martin Buber, a German-Jewish philosopher, reflected in a text about his conversation with the Protestant theologian Karl Ludwig Schmidt who rejected the covenant of the Jewish people with God because of the New Testament. Buber visited the Worms Jewish cemetery and contrasted the Romanesque cathedral with its harmony with the Jewish cemetery of ”crooked, shattered, directionless stones”, through which he felt close to his ancestors. Buber: “The covenant has ... not been revoked”. This visual axis is part of the UNESCO World heritage of ShUM.

View over the Old Jewish Cemetery, “Judensand” by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

The Old Jewish Cemetery »Judensand« in Mainz is the oldest known Jewish cemetery in Ashkenaz – in the northwest region of Germany in central Europe. Here and in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Worms, Jewish burial culture in Ashkenaz started to evolve. In Mainz, expulsion of the Jews had led time and again to desecrations and change of use of the »Home of Eternity«. The city and citizens used tombstones as construction material. From the 1820s onward, new construction works in Mainz brought numerous medieval tombstones back to light.

Newer Part of the Cemetery “Judensand” by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

After expulsions in the 15th century, the cemetery “Judensand” was not in use again until about the late 17th century. Then, a Jewish community slowly reformed in Mainz. From 1700 onwards, the remaining part of the cemetery was used again for laying the community members to rest. This area was occupied until 1888. In 1862, the Jewish community reacquired a plot of land that was also located on the original medieval site and was to serve in the future as an expansion area for the already heavily occupied cemetery. Then, a new Jewish Cemetery was established at the end of the 19th century in the public cemetery on Untere Zahlbacher Straße.


Old Jewish Cemetery/Memorial Cemetery; Tombstone of Meshullam ben Kalonymos by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

Since October 1926, there has been a Memorial Cemetery on the “Judensand”. Born from an initiative of the Rabbis Siegmund Salfeld and Sali Levi, medieval Jewish gravestones and memorial stones (11th to 15th centuries) were placed there. They had been used as building materials after pogroms and were discovered since the 1820s during work on the fortifications in Mainz. The Memorial Cemetery underlines the long presence of Jews in Mainz. The memorial stone for Rabbi Meshullam ben Kalonymos the Great is dated in the 11th century and replaced the lost tombstone. Meshullam was the founder of the Jewish Community in the 10th century.

Old Jewish Cemetery/Memorial Cemetery; Tombstone of Jacob ben Yakar by ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and MainzUNESCO World Heritage

This is the tombstone for Jacob or Yaacov ben Yakar, a student of the famous scholar Gershom ben Yehuda. Ben Yakar was a teacher of the great Rashi from Troyes. With these stones we see three generations of teachers and scholars intertwined closely. Jewish people from around the world – believers or not – visit these erudite ancestors and want to see the stones as the thoughts of these scholars are still discussed today.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by ShUM-Cities Speyer, Worms, Mainz e.V.: schumstaedte.de/en/

More on the ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1636

Photos: Klaus Venus, SchUM-Städte e.V./Susanne Urban, GDKE/Jürgen Ernst, Rheinhessen Touristik/Dominik Ketz, Stadtarchiv Worms, B. Bertram, GDKE/Christian Seitz, Carsten Costard.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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