Jewish Heritage Europe

Lithuania: Archaeologists unearth Bimah of Vilnius Great Synagogue

Jon Seligman points out the remains of the Bimah of the Great Synagogue of Vilna to Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius. (Photo used with permission)

An international team of archaeologists from the USA, Canada, Lithuania and Israel have revealed the foundations of the Bimah that once anchored the destroyed Great Synagogue in Vilnius, locating it directly under the school building that was constructed atop the site in the 1950s.

Archival photo of the Great Synagogue, Vilnius around 1934

“The remains of the Bimah exist to the height of a metre and show the great potential for future excavation,” the Vilna Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf Research Project announced.

“It is really a very exciting development,” Israeli archeologist Jon Seligman, who leads the archaeology team along with Lithuanian archaeologist Justinas Račas, told AFP. “When we talk about the presentation of the site to the public in the future, this will be one of the central features of the display that will be shown to the public.”

Following the discovery, according to AFP,  Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius announced that the school, vacated last year, will be demolished in the coming years and a commemorative site about the synagogue will be developed and inaugurated by 2023, when Vilnius marks its 700th anniversary.

The Great Synagogue was built in the early 1600s in Renaissance-Baroque style. It became the center of Jewish life in Vilnius (Vilna), towering over the Shulhoyf, a teeming complex of alleyways and other Jewish community buildings and institutions including twelve synagogues, ritual baths, the community council, kosher meat stalls, the Strashun library, and other structures and institutions. It was ransacked and torched by the Nazis in World War II, and the postwar Soviet regime torn down the ruins and built the school on the site.

The Bimah was built in the 18th century following a destructive fire in 1748. Its construction was financed by a local benefactor, a writer and judge named Yehudah ben Eliezer, who was known by the acronym YESOD. The archaeologists describe the Bimah as having been “a two tier baroque structure built of four Corinthian and eight Tuscan columns, decorated with lions facing the Aron Kodesh.”

Archival view (l) of the Bimah in the Great Synagogue in Vilnius (photo used with permission)

The archaeology project began in 2011 with a preliminary excavation, followed by a Ground Penetrating Radar Survey in 2015 and full excavation seasons in 2016 and 2017. The project is partnered and sponsored by a variety of Lithuanian, Israeli, and American institutions.

Last year, major finds were the discovery of two ritual baths (mikvehs).

The 2018 season commenced July 9 and ended July 27. Its main goals were  to further explore the bathhouse and the associated features and also to identify the outer walls of the synagogue.

Plan showing the 2018 excavation priorities of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius (photo used with permission)


See the Baltic News Service article

6 comments on “Lithuania: Archaeologists unearth Bimah of Vilnius Great Synagogue

  1. Pingback: Lithuania's 'Great Synagogue' fell to the Nazis, but archaeologists have uncovered it - Manhattan Herald
  2. When they show this Bimah, they will have to apologize for the complicity in the murder of 100,000 jews during the Nazi era.
    I visited Vinius a few years ago ,as I was invited to participate to a conference in Atomic Physics. All the local colleagues were quick to point out the statue of the Gaon of Vilna ( there is a street in his name), but the only monument to the memory of the victims is a small sign in the old jewish neighborhood , now “gentrified” , saying from here were taken xxx jews to a place ( I don’t remember)…

    • You are right for the “complicity”. As the next step the “complicity” persons must be named.
      Glad to see that Lithuania rebuilds what was totally destroyed by soviets. Also Russia should apologize for ~300,000 Lithuania citizens (Lithuanians, Jews, Poles, Karaites…) which was killed, expelled or imprisoned.
      Btw many monuments were destroyed by soviets and even Jewish and Lithuanians tombstones was used for soviets as a building materials. Glad to see that Lithuania finally cleans that occupation mess and I hope that international (not just local) Jewish community will proactively join these local initiatives. Furthermore it would be great to see more cooperation with international Jewish community and see more Judaic Lithaunia citizens.

  3. When I think…..when I assume that my grandmother, and great grandmother’s family the “Abelove”s
    prayed in this magnificent synagogue in Vilna, I am overcome by the emotion!

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