Bevis Marks Synagogue


Bevis Marks Synagogue, officially Qahal Kadosh Sha'ar ha-Shamayim ( he, קָהָל קָדוֹשׁ שַׁעַר הַשָׁמַיִם, "Holy Congregation Gate of Heaven"), is the oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom in continuous use. It is located off
Bevis Marks Bevis Marks, classified as part of the A roads in Zone 1 of the Great Britain numbering scheme, A1211, is a short street (about 150 m long) in the ward of Aldgate in the City of London. Traffic runs northwest in a One-way traffic, one-way direct ...

Bevis Marks
Aldgate Aldgate () was one of the gates in the former defensive wall around the City of London. It gives its name to Aldgate High Street, the first stretch of the A11 road which included the site of the former gate. The locality of ''Aldgate'', the mo ...
, in the
City of London The City of London is a City status in the United Kingdom, city, Ceremonial counties of England, ceremonial county and local government district that contains the historic centre and the primary central business district (CBD) of London. It co ...

City of London
. The synagogue was built in 1701 and is affiliated to London's historic Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community. It is a Grade I
listed building A listed building, or listed structure, is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, in Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency ...
. It is the only synagogue in Europe which has held regular services continuously for more than 300 years.



Services at a small synagogue in Creechurch Lane date to at least October 1663, when it was visited on the festival of
Simchat Torah Simchat Torah or Simhat Torah (, lit., "Rejoicing with/of the Torah", Ashkenazi Ashkenazi Jews ( are a Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are members of an ethnoreligious group ...
by the diarist
Samuel Pepys Samuel Pepys ( ; 23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English diarist and naval administrator. He served as administrator of the Navy of England and Member of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the people ...

Samuel Pepys
, who recorded his impressions of the service. In 1698
Rabbi A rabbi is a spiritual leader or religious teacher in Judaism. One becomes a rabbi by being ordained by another rabbi, following a course of study of Jewish texts such as the Talmud. The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisees, Phar ...

David Nieto took spiritual charge of the congregation of "Spanish and Portuguese Jews" (
Sephardim Sephardi Jews, also known as Sephardic Jews, ''Sephardim'',, Modern Hebrew: ''Sefaraddim'', Tiberian: Səp̄āraddîm, also , ''Ye'hude Sepharad'', lit. "The Jews of Spain", es, Judíos sefardíes (or ), pt, Judeus sefarditas or Hispanic Jews ...
). A considerable influx of Jews made it necessary to obtain more commodious quarters. Accordingly, a committee was appointed, consisting of António Gomes Serra, Menasseh Mendes, Alfonso Rodrigues, Manuel Nunez Miranda, Andrea Lopez, and Pontaleão Rodriguez. It investigated matters for nearly a year and, on 12 February 1699, signed a contract with Joseph Avis, a
Quaker Quakers are people who belong to a historically Protestant Christian Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...
, for the construction of a building to cost £2,650. According to legend, Avis declined to collect his full fee, on the ground that it was wrong to profit from building a house of God. Also unsubstantiated is the story that a timber was donated by the then
Princess Anne Anne, Princess Royal, (Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise; born 15 August 1950) is the second child and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. She is 15th in the Succession to the British throne#Current line of suc ...

Princess Anne
for the roof of the synagogue. On 24 June 1699, the committee leased from Sir Thomas and Lady Pointz (also known as Littleton) a tract of land at Plough Yard, in Bevis Marks, for 61 years, with the option of renewal for a further 38 years, at £120 a year. The structure was completed and dedicated in September 1701. The interior decor and furnishing and layout of the synagogue reflect the influence of the great
Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam
Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam
of 1675. The roof was destroyed by fire in 1738 and repaired in 1749. During the
London Blitz The Blitz was a German bombing campaign against the United Kingdom in 1940 and 1941, during the Second World War World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a World war, global war that lasted from ...
the synagogue's silver, records and fittings were removed to a place of safety; the synagogue suffered only minor damage. The synagogue suffered some collateral damage from the
IRA Ira or IRA may refer to: *Ira (name), a Hebrew, Sanskrit, Russian or Finnish language personal name *Ira (surname), a rare Estonian and some other language family name Law *Individual retirement account, in the US, giving tax benefits *Indian Reor ...
in 1992 and the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing, but this was restored.Belinfante (2003) The essential original structure of the building thus remains today. In 1747 Benjamin Mendes da Costa bought the lease of the ground on which the building stood, and presented it to the congregation, vesting the deeds in the names of a committee consisting of Gabriel Lopez de Britto, David Aboab Ozorio, Moses Gomes Serra, David Franco, Joseph Jessurun Rodriguez, and Moses da Costa, Moses Mendes da Costa.


For Sephardic Jews, the Bevis Marks Synagogue was a religious centre of the Anglo-Jewish world for more than a century, and served as a clearing-house for congregational and individual Jewish problems all over the world. These included the appeal of Jews in Jamaica for a reduction in taxation (1736), the internecine quarrel among Jews in Barbados (1753), and the aiding of seven-year-old Moses de Paz, who escaped from Gibraltar in 1777 to avoid a forced conversion to Christianity. The congregation came to the aid of the History of the Jews in Ireland, Jewish community in Ireland by donating funds to build a wall around the Ballybough Cemetery and providing an agent to oversee the works. The deeds for the cemetery were then lodged at Bevis Marks Synagogue. Through the actions of the leading synagogue member Moses Montefiore the synagogue was also involved in the 19th century in the Damascus Affair and the Mortara Affair, two events provoking much international discussion of Jewish rights and reputation. It was part of the inspiration for Jacob Sassoon's Ohel Rachel Synagogue in History of the Jews in China#19th century, Shanghai, the largest synagogue in the Far East. Amongst the Chief Rabbis of the Anglo-Sephardic Community (Haham#Among the Sephardim, Hahamim) who have served at Bevis Marks have been Daniel Nieto (1654–1728) and Moses Gaster (1856–1939). Amongst other notable members of the synagogue's congregation have been the boxer Daniel Mendoza, and Isaac D'Israeli (father of Benjamin Disraeli), who resigned from the congregation after an argument over synagogue fees.

Expansion of the community

As the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community grew and moved out of the City and East End of London to the West End and the suburbs, members demanded a new synagogue to be built in the West End. When the leadership refused this, some members formed a breakaway synagogue in Burton Street, which later became the West London Synagogue. In 1853 a branch synagogue was opened in Wigmore Street; in 1866 this moved to Bryanston Street, Bayswater. Attendance at Bevis Marks declined so much that in 1886 a move to sell the site was contemplated; a "Bevis Marks Anti-Demolition League" was founded, under the auspices of H. Guedalla and A. H. Newman, and the proposed move was abandoned. In 1896 a new synagogue was built at Lauderdale Road Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, Lauderdale Road, Maida Vale, as successor to the Bryanston Street synagogue.

Events in the twentieth century

On 10 April 1992, the synagogue was affected by an Baltic Exchange bombing, IRA terrorist attack on the Baltic Exchange. The bomb was contained in a large white truck and consisted of a fertiliser device wrapped with a detonation cord made from Semtex. The Chairman of Buildings for the Spanish & Portuguese Congregation, donning a hard hat and escorted by police, was one of the first people to enter the cordoned area of streets to examine the damage to the synagogue. He, with the agreement of the insurance company, put in place a programme of repair which lasted fifteen weeks, but enabled the building to be restored before his daughter's wedding. The following year the synagogue was also affected by an attack on Bishopsgate. Nearly £200,000 was raised by donation to help with the renovations to return it to its former glory. In June 2019, it was awarded £2.7m by the National Lottery (United Kingdom), National Lottery for conservation work and to cover half the costs of building a new religious and cultural centre.


A prominent feature of the synagogue is the Renaissance-style Ark (synagogue), ark (containing the Torah scrolls) located at the centre of the Eastern wall of the building. It resembles in design the ''reredos'' of the churches of the same period. Painted to look as though it is made of coloured Italian marble, it is in fact made entirely of oak. Seven hanging brass candelabrum, candelabra symbolise the seven days of the week, the largest of which – hanging in the centre of the synagogue – represents the Sabbath. This central candelabrum was donated by the community of the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam. The candles are still lit today for weddings and the Jewish Festivals. The rest of the year the Synagogue is lit by the electric lights added in 1928. The ner tamid (sanctuary lamp) is of silver and dates from 1876. Twelve pillars, symbolising the twelve tribes of Israel, support the women's gallery. The synagogue contains benches running parallel to the side walls and facing inward, leaving two aisles for the procession with the Torah scrolls. In addition, backless benches at the rear of the synagogue, taken from the original synagogue at Creechurch Lane, date from 1657 and are still regularly used. A number of seats in the synagogue are roped off as they belong or have belonged to notable people within the community. Two seats were reserved for the most senior officials of the congregation's publishing arm, ''Heshaim''. A third seat, fitted with a footstool, (the seat nearest the Ark on the central row of the left half of the benches) is also withheld as it belonged to Moses Montefiore. It is now only ever occupied by very senior dignitaries as a particular honour. In 2001 Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Charles used the seat during the synagogue's tercentenary service. Prime Minister Tony Blair used it for the service celebrating the 350th anniversary of the re-settlement of the Jews in Great Britain in 2006, when the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue Sir Jonathan Sacks and the Lord Mayor of London were also present. The synagogue retains notable historical records, including community circumcision and marriage records dating back to 1679.

The modern synagogue

On Friday 13 November 1998, Peter Levene, Baron Levene of Portsoken, Peter, Lord Levene of Portsoken became the eighth Jewish Lord Mayor of London. An Ashkenazi Jew by birth, Lord Levene's first public act was to walk, with a retinue, from his official residence (Mansion House, London, Mansion House) to Bevis Marks Synagogue, for the Sabbath Eve service. This was repeated on Friday 12 November 2010 by the then Lord Mayor Michael Bear (Lord Mayor), Michael Bear. Today the Spanish and Portuguese descendant community in London operates three synagogues: Bevis Marks; Lauderdale Road Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, Lauderdale Road (which is the community's administrative headquarters); and a smaller synagogue in Wembley. The community's sheltered housing scheme "Harris Court" and old-age home "Edinburgh House" are also located in Wembley. A number of other Sephardic synagogues in Britain have associated status. Bevis Marks Synagogue remains the flagship synagogue of the British Sephardic Jewish community. Daily services are held and the synagogue is frequently a venue for weddings and other celebrations. As of 2020 the rabbi of Bevis Marks is Shalom Morris, an American of Ashkenazi Jews, Ashkenazi descent. He is a great grandson of Rabbi Eliezer Silver.

Associated people

* Sir Moses Montefiore * Daniel Mendoza, English boxing champion * Isaac D'Israeli (1766–1848), writer, scholar and man of letters, best known for his essays, his associations with other men of letters, and as the father of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli * Joseph Dweck * Aby Belasco, English bare-knuckle boxer



* Barnett, Richard D and Abraham Levy (1998).The Bevis Marks Synagogue, London: The Society of Heshaim. * Belinfante, Randall (2003),
England and Bevis Marks Synagogue 1701–2003
', accessed 31 December 2012 *

Further information

* Moses Gaster, Gaster, Rabbi Moses (1901). ''History of the Ancient Synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews''. * Greene, Richard Allen
"At 300, Britain’s oldest shul wants a brand-new image"
Jewish Telegraphic Agency via ''Jweekly'', 12 October 2001, accessed 23 November 2010. * Moses Hyamson, Hyamson, Moses (1951). ''The Sephardim of England: A History of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Community 1492–1951'', London. * Moses Hyamson, Hyamson, Moses (1951). ''Treasures of a London temple: A descriptive catalogue of the ritual plate, mantles and furniture of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Synagogue in Bevis Marks'', London. ASIN B0000CI83D. *Sharman Kadish, Kadish, Sharman; Bowman, Barbara; and Kendall, Derek. (2001). ''Bevis Marks Synagogue 1701–2001: A Short History of the Building and an Appreciation of Its Architecture, English Heritage. *Carol Herselle Krinsky, Krinsky, Carol Herselle (1996)
''Synagogues of Europe: architecture, history, meaning''
Courier Dover Publications, pp. 412–415. * Paul, Lindsay (1993). ''The Synagogues of London'', Vallentine Mitchell. * Picciotto, James (1875)
''Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History''
Trübner & Co.

''Jewish Communities and Records – UK'', hosted by, page created 17 March 2003 with subsequent updates, accessed 24 November 2010.

External links

The Bevis Marks Blog
(Official blog of Bevis Marks' Rabbi)
Liturgical music of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of London
(Site maintained by visiting Rabbi, Jonathan Cohen) {{Coord, 51, 30, 52.16, N, 0, 4, 44.58, W, region:GB_type:landmark, display=title 1701 establishments in England 18th-century synagogues Aldgate Grade I listed buildings in the City of London Grade I listed religious buildings and structures Orthodox synagogues in England Portuguese diaspora in the United Kingdom Portuguese-Jewish diaspora in Europe Religion in the City of London Religious buildings and structures completed in 1701 Sephardi Jewish culture in the United Kingdom Sephardi synagogues Spanish and Portuguese Jews Synagogues in London Tourist attractions in the City of London