Six centuries years after the building was turned into a church, the Jewish community in Spain wants a medieval former synagogue in Toledo, currently a museum, returned to Jewish ownership.
(This is not the famous El Transito synagogue, a former private synagogue that since 1964 has housed the state-run Sephardi Museum (the National Museum of Hispano-Jewish and Sephardi Heritage and Art) but a separate, earlier building — Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca — that also can be visited as a privately run museum that showcases its architecture.)
The Guardian newspaper reports that Isaac Querub, the president of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, has called on the archbishop of Toledo “to demonstrate the church’s commitment to interfaith relations through the symbolic gesture of handing back the building.”
He told the Europapress news agency:
We are talking about a symbolic return in the sense that the synagogue should be recognized as a synagogue, returned to the heritage of the State, open to everyone.
In a three-page statement in February, the archidiocese sharply rejected any return, saying the “ecclesiastical title to the ancient synagogue of Santa María la Blanca is perfectly demonstrated” via documentation.
The Guardian reported that the statement “also pointed out that the proceeds from the museum went on the upkeep of other buildings in the archdiocese and that the archbishop had spent almost €800,000 on conserving the building since 2013.”
The Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca is believed to have been built in the early 13th century, making it one of the oldest standing synagogue buildings in Europe. It was also believed to be the largest of the nine or ten synagogues in the medieval city.
It became a church (Santa Maria la Blanca) in the early 15th century, decades before the expulsion of Jews from Spain, after a bloody attack on it led by a virulently anti-Jewish Catholic preacher. It served as a church or convent until the 1790s, when it was taken over as a military barracks and used as a storehouse for the Royal Treasury.
The Provincial Commission of Historical Monuments took it over in the 19th century; according to the Episcopate it was returned to the Episcopate in 1929. It was declared a national monument in 1930.
The museum there today showcases the stunning Moorish-style architecture. But the newspaper El Pais reports that there is poor signage, a lack of information for visitors, and little museological content.
Read a lengthy article about the case in El Pais
Read the article about the case in The Guardian
Read the Europapress article on this
Santa Maria la Blanca museum web site — see pictures of the synagogue
See pictures and history of the building on Toledo tourism web site