Maribor’s synagogue

The Maribor synagogue was one of the more important synagogues in Styria because of the role and importance of the Maribor Jewish community.

The synagogue was not only the religious but also the spiritual and cultural centre of the former Maribor Jewish community. In regard to its importance and role, it was certainly the largest and finest building within the Jewish quarter, although a relatively small and modest sanctuary when compared with contemporary Christian churches.

Original features of the synagogue

The Maribor synagogue is a simple, rectangular building, predominantly built of stone. Its southern frontage is situated on the city wall itself, where it is reinforced by three Gothic stepped buttresses, which in the form of pilaster strips continue to the top of the building with a cornice along the top. Originally it probably had a flat wooden ceiling, but was certainly not vaulted before the first quarter of the 15th century. The first written sources go back to 1354, but it must be even older than that because of its several hidden structural phases. A tomb stone of Rabbi Abraham from 1379 is also preserved.

During the second quarter of the 15th century the synagogue even occasionally served as the seat of the Supreme Rabbinate of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola. Rabbi Israel Isserlein ben Petachia, one of the more prominent representatives of the Maribor Jews, was active at that time. His wisdom and knowledge were respected far beyond the provincial borders; his thoughts and decisions are still applicable within the rabbinic law of today.

According to religious tradition the synagogue’s inner part, where the so-called Holy Ark (Aron Ha-Kodesh) containing the Torah was situated, faced eastwards. A curtain (parokhet) was placed in front of it and next to it an eternal light (ner tamid) burned continuously. In the synagogue there was a typical Jewish candlestick (menorah), and in the middle of the room there was a table for reading the Torah (bimah) with seats for worshippers placed around it. The particularity of the synagogue in Maribor was that there were always three or four seats reserved for Christian guests. It is unknown where the room for women worshippers was situated. Marriages and circumcisions were performed in the synagogue which was also used for a religious education and some legal matters.

Reorganization to the Catholic Church

After the Jews had been expelled from the city, the abandoned synagogue came in the possession of Bernardin Druck(h)er. Together with his spouse Barbara he allowed it to be changed into the Church of All Saints in 1501. Over the following centuries the church was rebuilt several times. In 1659 a new bell tower was built and the sexton’s premises were added as well.

Century of reconstructions

After the Emperor Joseph II had ordered the church to be closed in 1785, the synagogue was used as a military depot, and after 1811 it became a property used by various merchants and tradesmen. During the 19th century even more alterations were made, which considerably changed its appearance. The interior was rebuilt as two storeys – the upper into a residential area and the lower into a basement. At the end of seventies and during the early eighties, of the 20th century, an amateur fine-arts exhibition centre was opened within the lower area. At the beginning of the nineties extensive restoration works began which were completed in December 1999.

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