The historic Shaar Hashomayum Synagogue in Ponta Delgada in the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago of nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, will open in April after a fullscale renovation process. It will serve as a museum and archive devoted to Jewish history in the Azores.
Completion of the restoration and the date for the opening were announced earlier this month by José de Almeida Mello, president of the Association of Friends of the Synagogue, who coordinated the €215,000 project. Work on the project kicked off in February 2014.
“The works have been completed. We are now in the process of development and completion of the content,” Almeida Mello, who has long been involved in efforts to save the synagogue and has written and researched about its history, told the Lusa news agency.
Ponta Delgada, on the island of San Miguel, is the capital of the Azores. There were once five synagogues in the city, but only one, the Shaar Hashomaylum Synagogue, at 16 rua de Brum, remains. It was built around 1820 and consecrated in 1836 — the oldest synagogue in Portugal built after the Inquisition.
The synagogue, which last held services in the 1950s, is located on an upper floor of a building that also included the rabbi’s residence and whose exterior appearance is that of a normal house. The narrow sanctuary has plain walls, arched windows, an ornate chandelier and wooden fixtures including the Ark, benches, bimah and wall panelling. The restored synagogue will include a museum and library in the building’s complex. In 2009, the Lisbon Jewish Community donated the synagogue to Ponta Delgada City Hall on a 99-year concession in exchange for guarantees that it would be restored.
According to Almeida Mello, quoted by Lusa, the restoration of the synagogue and creation of the museum was the culmination of “decades of efforts” to raise support and financial aid, including from emigres in the United States and elsewhere. Architect Igor França designed the architectural project, while historian Susana Goulart Costa, of the University of the Azores, oversaw the creation of the museum exhibition.