The ‘sinagoga grande’ (large synagogue)

“… with a high and magnificent cupola and a window open to the light”. Trani’s synagogue is descibed in the inscription of its foundation, dated 5007 from the creation of the world, according to the Bible, i.e. in 1246-47 and that was put back here in its original place.

The “Sinagoga Grande” (Large Synagogue) or Scola Grande is the largest in Trani. It stands separately from other buildings with a rectangular floor plan beneath a double octagonal tympanum and a hemispherical dome. Inside, four arches sustain the cylindrical drum and the hemispherical cupola, and four windows light it from above.

The pillars, arches, tambour and dome were built in the Apulian romanesque style.This was used in Trani’s
S. Maria di Giano and S. Maria di Siponto, but also invarious Mediterranean buildings that drew inspiration from the qubbat, the Islamic mausoleum tomb, like in the baptistery in the S. Giovanni Battista crusader church at Byblos.

The building may have had the apparence of several Middle Eastern construction and – if not of the Islamic Dome of the Rock or the destroyed Hurva Synagogue, which belong to different periods and have different proportions – but undoubtedly resembling that of
S. Anna, all in Jerusalem.

Restoration has uncovered the plan of the four pilasters, 140 cenimetres from the road level, revealing the moulded bases. This was the original level of the synagogue. The synagogue was developed all on one level, and we can suppose it was arranged with the Aron ha-quodesh along the eastern wall, facing Jerusalem. Typical of many synagogues of the Diaspora, the wooden bimah was placed in the center or along the western wall, the seats for the elders in front of the aron and those of the other members on the side.

Restoration has recovered the remains of stone of a possible seat, one of the itzavot to fit “the singers” which the inscription of the synagogue foundation refers.

Probably other areas like the hall ran beside the central hall, where the present ones are found, for use as vestibules or as mehizah for the women. However, no certain evidence has been discovered by excavation, other than the wall traces of precending buildings.

It is difficult to identify the miqweh for ritual ablution, even if the crypt has some small areas, peraphs of earlier date but much reworked. In some of these a genizah can be found, where the texts containing the ‘holy name’ were kept but were no longer usable: since they could not be destroyed, they were stored.

A small cusped tympanum is incorporated (impropely) in the east façade,on the accessory door for entry to the church; its size and archivolt recall the overarch of the aron of the “Scola Nova”, and it may well have belonged to the aron of this Sinagoga Grande and have been applied on the exterior after the conversion into church.
Owing to its elegance, it has been chosen as graphic symbol of this Museum.

Photo: Trani, Sinagoga Grande (Large Synagogue) south view prior to restoration.

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