The delicate restoration of the elaborately carved and painted wooden Ark, or Aron Kodesh, of the 17th century Great Synagogue in Iaşi is moving forward, and experts expect it to be completed by spring, 2018.
Project Director Lucia Apostol, of the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities (FEDROM), has sent us photographs taken on the European Day of Jewish Culture September 3, when visitors could meet the restoration team and inspect the process.
The Great Synagogue in Iaşi is the oldest synagogue in Romania and one of only two synagogues still standing in a city that before World War II had more than 100. Originally built in 1670-1671 and rebuilt successively in 1761, 1822, 1863 because of fire and other devastation, it is listed as a historical monument.
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) placed it on its 2014 Watch List of endangered cultural heritage sites, underscoring the threats to the building, which had suffered greatly over the preceding decade due to years of botched and incomplete restoration work that had left it open to the weather.
Restoration of the exterior and most of the interior of the synagogue was mainly completed in 2015 — you can see the restored interior in the slideshow above, leaving the ornate carved and painted Ark, which dates from the 1860s.
The Ark, stated the WMF:
was in such a severely deteriorated condition that many conservators balked at the scope of work. Thankfully, an expert husband-and-wife team, Mihai and Pia Stinghe, signed on for the task. Together with a number of apprentices, they disassembled the fragile aron kodesh, which includes many distinctive zoomorphic figures, and began treating and restoring the crumbling pieces, using the synagogue itself as a studio.
Mihai Stinghe died in 2016, leaving Pia to continue the work.
The emergency stabilization of the Ark was completed in 2015 thanks to the support of the David Berg Foundation. In 2016, the synagogue received a $76,000 grant from the Wilson Challenge through the WMF, which along with a match from FEDROM, is enabling the completion of the work.
A WMF spokesperson told JHE in 2016 that beginning in May 2015 the restoration team
carefully dismantled the nineteenth-century aron kodesh and treated all the sculptured wooden elements against biological infestation including insects and mold. Where necessary, the team performed pre-consolidation (reattachment) of the detached polychrome layers prior to removal and treatment of the elements. Prior to dismantling the aron kodesh, the team carried out studies and tests to determine its fragility and damages, revealing that the pieces were too frail to be moved offsite for treatment. A section of the synagogue was identified and set up for the restoration team to perform the emergency treatment and stabilization of the dismantled pieces. Restorers carefully documented the dismantled pieces and developed a plan for conservation works and reinstallation.
“Pia and Mihai Stinghe took over the emergency intervention for the salvage of Aron Kodesh of The Great Synagogue of Iasi, when no one else dared to do it,” Lucia Apostol told JHE in November 2016. “The Aron was in a state of deterioration close to total loss. The challenge and the beauty of the art work caught them. After successfully completing the emergency intervention a year ago, they were ready and eager to continue for the full restoration and conservation.”