Full disabled access, Toilets, Partial disabled access
One of the best-preserved houses of worship of its period still in use and oldest synagogue in Britain. Contains one of the finest collections of Cromwellian and Queen Anne furniture in the country.
The History of the Building every 30 mins (10.15am-1.30pm) max 100 per tour
Much of the early history of the descendants of David Ottolenghi (born 1730, Italy) is recorded at Bevis Marks Synagogue of Bishopsgate, London. Bevis Marks was founded by Sephardic Jews. The congregation is known as the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation. Among the other early members of the congregation was the grandfather of Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli's grandfather, like David Ottolenghi, was born in Italy and emigrated to London.
Bevis Marks Synagogue was opened in 1701, and is the oldest synagogue in use on British soil.
The contract for its construction was given to Joseph Avis in 1699. Avis, a Quaker, refused to make any personal profit from the work. The synagogue's exterior design embodies the simple, Puritan lines of non-Conformist chapels of the period. The interior reflects the influence of Sir Christopher Wren, then overseeing the re-building of the City of London churches following the Great Fire of 1666. The east end is dominated by the Echal (Ark) – the sanctuary housing the sacred hand-written scrolls of the Torah (the five books of Moses). The style here is baroque and the Corinthian columns slightly resemble the altar pieces in a number of Wren churches.
The interior of the Synagogue retains all its original furnishings. However, several Cromwellian benches are even older, coming from the place of worship established when Jews first returned to England in the 1650s. The private house where they met was soon outgrown, and Bevis Marks was built.
Twelve pillars, symbolising the tribes of Israel, support the ladies' gallery, the reading desk and Echal are flanked by 10 candlesticks representing the Ten Commandments; the interior is dominated by seven magnificent candelabra, corresponding to the days of the week. One of the great oak beams supporting the roof is said to have been presented by Princess (later Queen) Anne.
In 1992 and 1993 the synagogue suffered great damage from terrorist bomb attacks on the City of London. Nearly £200,000, raised by donation, has since been spent in repairing and renovating the structure.