Speyer, Worms and Mainz are considered the cradle of European Jewry. Jewish life shaped these three cities for more than 900 years. There are still traces of that time today.
Judenhof in Speyer
When Jews settled in Speyer in the 11th century, they built the Judenhof, an ensemble of synagogue, women’s synagogue and ritual bath. The ruins of the synagogue (left) and the adjacent women’s synagogue (right) can still be seen today. Women were able to follow the service through the slits in the partition.
Synagogue in Speyer
The synagogue was consecrated in 1104, desecrated in 1349 and finally destroyed in the 16th century. Visitors have access to the Judenhof via the small Schpira Museum with archaeological exhibits. Schpira is the Hebrew name for Speyer. Worms means Warmaisa (W is pronounced like U) and Mainz Magenza. These three cities are therefore shortened to SchUM cities.
Mikwe in Speyer
There is a mikveh next to the synagogue ruin. The Jewish ritual bath from the 12th century is the oldest facility of its kind in Central Europe. If you descend, a Romanesque portal leads into an anteroom with a stone bench that could have been used as a changing room. Another staircase leads to the water basin, 10 meters underground.
The synagogue in Worms is almost 1000 years old and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. During the Nazi era it fell victim to the November pogrom in 1938. The reconstruction then took place in 1961. At that time there was no Jewish community, but today services are held here again.
Interior of the synagogue in Worms
This synagogue also consists of the main worship room and a women’s synagogue (on the left behind the column passages). As in Speyer, there is an ensemble of synagogue and mikveh in Worms. That was extraordinary at the time and makes the SchUM cities so special. The Mikwe in Worms is currently being restored and can therefore not be visited.
Heiliger Sand cemetery in Worms
The Holy Sand in Worms is still of great importance for Jews worldwide. Because many famous scholars and rabbis are buried here, for example Rabbi Meir von Rothenburg. There are over 2500 visible tombstones here. Some are almost 1000 years old. This makes the Holy Sand the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe.
New synagogue in Mainz
There are only a few traces of the great past left in Mainz: a cemetery and remains of columns from the old synagogue (foreground picture). In 2010 a new, architecturally spectacular synagogue was built. It forms the form of the word “Kedusha” (sanctification), a prayer that pious Jews pray three times a day.
Interior of the New Synagogue in Mainz
The walls of the worship room are gold colored and decorated with Hebrew characters right into the tower. Even the benches form a letter: Lamed – the Hebrew L. Architect Manuel Herz designed the New Synagogue with reference to the SchUM tradition. He dedicated his work to the famous rabbi Gerschom ben Jehuda from Mainz.
SchUM – Jewish tradition on the Rhine
The three cities are applying for the UNESCO World Heritage title with the support of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and the Jewish community. Susanne Urban from the SchUM-Städte-Verein believes in success because the SchUM tradition fulfills the required criterion “filling the gaps”. So far there have been only a few Jewish World Heritage Sites. The decision should be made in July 2021 at the earliest.