Canton Synagogue (Venice)

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Canton Synagogue
The synagogue building seen from the square of the Ghetto Nuovo
Basic information
LocationItaly Venice, Italy
AffiliationOrthodox Judaism

The Canton Synagogue (Italian: Scuola Canton) is one of five synagogues in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, Italy. Established only four years after the nearby Scuola Grande Tedesca (1528), it is the second oldest Venetian synagogue.[1][2]


The Canton Synagogue was built between 1531 and 1532[3][4] by members of the local Ashkenazi community. Like the other four synagogues in Venice, it was termed a scuola ("School"), rather than sinagoga ("Synagogue"), in the same way in which Ashkenazi Jews refer to the synagogue as the shul (שול‬) in Yiddish. Among the several proposed etymologies for the word Canton, the generally accepted one links it to the site's ancient toponym, canton del medras (midrash's corner), referring to the building's position in the southern corner of the square of the Ghetto Nuovo.[a] According to another hypothesis, the word derives from the Canton family which allegedly financed the synagogue's construction.[6][2][7]

The synagogue building originally hosted both religious and social functions: the ground floor was occupied by the coffin warehouse of the Fraterna della Misericordia degli Hebrei Tedeschi, a Jewish institution which provided burial services for members of the community, while the second floor housed the local Talmud Torah school (Fraterna sive Scuola Talmud Torah di Ghetto Nuovo).[5][1]

The Canton synagogue was remodeled multiple times throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.[b] Between 1973 and 1990 the building underwent major restoration interventions, operated by the World Monuments Fund and other institutions, which included stabilization of the foundations and wall insulation.[9] A new conservation campaign was carried out by the WMF in 2014.[10]


Detail of the domed skylight

The synagogue occupies an inconspicuous spot on the top floor of a three-story vernacular building facing the Ghetto's main square, and is hardly noticeable from the outside. An anonymous exterior was an indispensable feature for synagogues built in Venice in the early decades of the sixteenth century, since Jewish places of worship—although tolerated—were still formally prohibited at that time.[11] The synagogue stands on an elevated position (a feature shared with the nearby Scuola Grande Tedesca and Scuola Italiana) in accordance with Talmudic precepts about synagogue architecture;[12][13][14] on a more practical note, the parcel where the building sits was owned by a prominent Venetian patrician family,[c] but the raised placement put the synagogue under the direct control of the Jewish community.[15]

The interior, heavily altered by the eighteenth century interventions, is decorated in the Baroque style with some Rococo elements.[4] The bimah and the ark are placed at the opposite ends of the sanctuary: this was indeed the first Venetian synagogue to be built with the "bifocal effect,"[4] as the pulpit of the Scuola Grande Tedesca, later relocated, was originally placed in the middle of the room,[16][4] in accordance with the traditional 'central bimah' configuration.[17] The intricately decorated ark occupies a deep recess in the southern wall and is entirely gilded, while the bimah "projects from a polygonal apse supported by four original columns of interlacing branches"[7] and is illuminated from above by a dome-shaped skylight. The synagogue features a raised women's gallery which dates back to 1657–1658.[18] Three of the four walls are noteworthy for the presence of eight wooden panels depicting biblical episodes from the Book of Exodus, including the city of Jericho, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the Altar of Sacrifice, the Manna, the Ark on the banks of the Jordan River, Korah, the gift of the Torah, and Moses making water flow from the rock.[4]


  1. ^ Analogously, another corner of the square was called canton del forno (bakery's corner).[5]
  2. ^ The most important interventions took place in the late 1630s and 1650s, around 1730, and in the 1770s.[8]
  3. ^ The lot of the Scuola Canton belonged to the Erizzo [it] family; similarly, the Scuola Grande Tedesca and the Scuola Italiana were built on parcels owned by two wealthy patrician families.[15]


  1. ^ a b Davis & Ravid 2001, p. 43.
  2. ^ a b Tigay 1994, p. 542.
  3. ^ Stiefel 2016, pp. 47–48.
  4. ^ a b c d e The synagogues. Jewish Museum of Venice. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Concina, Camerino & Calabi 1991, p. 105.
  6. ^ Calimani 2013.
  7. ^ a b Canton Synagogue. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  8. ^ Concina, Camerino & Calabi 1991, pp. 105, 107–108, 113.
  9. ^ Concina, Camerino & Calabi 1991, p. 162.
  10. ^ Schola Canton. World Monument Fund. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  11. ^ Concina, Camerino & Calabi 1991, p. 93.
  12. ^ Bleich 1977, p. 63.
  13. ^ Eisenberg 2004, p. 321.
  14. ^ Levy 1963, pp. 29–34.
  15. ^ a b Concina, Camerino & Calabi 1991, p. 95.
  16. ^ Concina, Camerino & Calabi 1991, p. 102.
  17. ^ Turner 1979, p. 293.
  18. ^ Davis & Ravid 2001, p. 44.

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