From synagogues to churches

When at the end of 13th century the majority of the Jews converted to Christianity the synagogues in Trani were turned into churches.
Probably the transformation wasn’t of violent nature, but voluntary, like the Neapolitan Synagogue converted in 1290 into the church of S. Caterina Spina Corona by request of the neophytes themselves. Scola Nova was dedicated to S. Maria Annunziata and Scola Grande to the Saints Quirico and Giovita (and from the ‘700 to S. Anna). The other two synagogues were named after S. Pietro Martire and S. Leonardo.

The choice of the names wasn’t casual: Annunziata was the title given by the Christians to Mary, the Jewish women who had welcomed the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement and became the mother of the Messiah of Israel.

Later, a Madonna was painted inside the church. The names of Quirico and Giovita were attributed as an act of regard towards the Angevin dinasty. As a matter of fact the bishop of Auxerre, S. Amanzio carried the relics of the two martyrs from Antiochia to Marseilles, in Provence.

Pietro of Verona was a ruthless Dominican inquisitor. He was killed by heretics in 1252, it is narrated that in is last living moments, using his own blood, he imprinted the words ‘I believe’ on the floor. The dedication was a tribute to the Dominicans for converting many Jews to Christianiy in Trani.

S. Leonardo of Limoges was the patron saint of captives and prisoners. His iconographic attributes are the chains of freed prisoners at which it is usually added a book, a cross and a flag. The saint was meant to remind the neophytes of the chains of the ‘error’ that could be broken only with the conversion, as well as the duty to proclaim the Gospel.

The synagogues were transformed into churches in differnt ways.
Thus at Scola Nova / S. Maria Nova only the hall on the first floor was involved, adding the outside staircase, and the Aron was turned into a sort of votive stall – or as ancon of an altar, now lost – with an image of the Madonna.

At Scola Grande / S. Anna a more radical solution can be found: a semicircular apse was added, the Aron was demolished and the entrances modified. In the subsequent centuries, the sacristy and belltower were added, with decoration in the style of the period. The cartouches with inscriptions in tempera found in the area of the apse belong to the 17th century; the wooden side altar and the crypt established by the Confraternity of S. Anna are of the 18th century; the two restorations “in more splendid form”, with coverings of plaster and decorations, were performed in 1841 and 1888.

The Scola Nova event is similar to a medieval legend illustrated in a manuscript written around 1360 in the monastery of Krumau in Boemia (Codex Vindobonensis 3007) and known as “The Jews house turned into Mary’s church”.

The legend narrates that a painted image of the Madonna miracolously appeared on a wall of synagogue that have been converted into a church.

As in the legend, the formerly synagogue of Scola Nova was provided with an image of a Madonna Galaktotrophousa, the Breastfeeding, painted on the niche of the Aron ha-quodesh. This leads us to believe this legend was used to facilitate the conversion of sinagogue into churches.

Photo: Scolanova / Santa Maria Nova. Byzantinesque icon of the Galaktotrophousa (the Breast Feeding) painted within the niche of the Aròn ha-quodesh after the transformations of the sinagoge into church.

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