Great Synagogue (Sydney)

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The Great Synagogue
The Great Synagogue Sydney.JPG
The Great Synagogue facade and front entrance in Elizabeth Street
Basic information
Location187a Elizabeth Street and 164-166 Castlereagh Street, Sydney CBD, New South Wales, Australia
Geographic coordinates33°52′22″S 151°12′34″E / 33.87265°S 151.20947°E / -33.87265; 151.20947Coordinates: 33°52′22″S 151°12′34″E / 33.87265°S 151.20947°E / -33.87265; 151.20947
AffiliationOrthodox Judaism
Year consecrated4 March 1878
LeadershipRabbi Dr. Benjamin Elton
Architectural description
Architectural typeSynagogue
Architectural style
Construction costover £23,000[1](p7)
Direction of façadeEast
Capacity1,600 (ground floor only)
Length43 metres (140 ft)
Width20 metres (64 ft)
  • Sandstone from the Pyrmont quarries;
  • Brick with cast-iron columns;
  • Timber floors;
  • Slate roofing
Official name: Great Synagogue
Criteriaa., b., c., d., e., f., g.
Designated10 September 2004
Reference no.01710

The Great Synagogue is a large synagogue in Sydney. It is located in Elizabeth Street opposite Hyde Park and extends back to Castlereagh Street.

Description and history[edit]

The Great Synagogue was designed by Cornish architect Thomas Rowe, and consecrated in 1878. It combines elements of Byzantine style and Gothic characteristics.[5] This grand building is often described as the "cathedral synagogue" of Australia.

The Sydney Jewish community, which dated to the earliest days of the colony, met in rented spaces before building its first synagogue, designed in Egyptian style by James Hume in 1844.[6] It was the first Egyptian Revival building in Australia.[7]

The present synagogue has the traditional feature of an elevated ladies' gallery. When first erected, the bimah was central, as is traditional. However, to increase seating capacity the bimah was moved forward to the western wall in 1906. Over the years, extensive additions and alterations have been made to the other facilities appurtenant to this building, including the construction of a succah, excavation and construction of a large reception area below the synagogue itself, construction of the Rabbi Falk Memorial Library, installation of electricity in the chandeliers, and installation of a "shabbat" elevator. A useful overview of the synagogue's history is provided by the recent book edited by Rabbi Raymond Apple.[1]

The building is listed on the (now defunct) Register of the National Estate[8] and the New South Wales State Heritage Register[4] since 10 September 2004 as a site of state significance with the following citation:

The Great Synagogue is of state and potentially national significance as the earliest surviving synagogue in NSW still in use, which has represented the centre of Jewish worship and culture in central Sydney since the 1870s. The Great Synagogue is associated with the Mother Congregation of Australian Jewry, together with many subsequent leading members and families of the Jewish faith. By its prominent situation and presence in Central Sydney, its magnificent architectural grandeur, its rich symbolism, and its important collection of Hebrew documents and other religious artefacts, the Great Synagogue also embodies and demonstrates the early development and importance of the Jewish faith and culture in New South Wales during the 19th Century. The Great Synagogue is a major landmark of Sydney. It is the only high Victorian style Synagogue in Australia and represents one of the most elaborately decorated Victorian buildings in Sydney, internally and externally. The building also represents one of the finest works of the leading NSW architect, Thomas Rowe. It contains excellent examples of the best quality decorative work in moulded plaster, carved sandstone and timber, metalwork, tiling and stained glass that is remarkable for its richness, originality and the degree of craftsmanship by leading decorative firms of the High Victorian period from Australia, Great Britain and the United States. Apart from its architectural excellence, the Great Synagogue provides a rich townscape aspect to Hyde Park and is an iconic building of Elizabeth and Castlereagh Streets.

— Statement of significance, New South Wales State Heritage Register


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Apple, Raymond, ed. (2008). The Great Synagogue: A History of Sydney's Big Shule. UNSW Press.
  2. ^ "The Great Synagogue, 187A Elizabeth St, Sydney, NSW, Australia". Australian Heritage Database. Australian Government. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  3. ^ "The Great Synagogue". Sydney Architecture.
  4. ^ a b "Great Synagogue". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H01710. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Welcome to the Great Synagogue, Sydney", "Visiting The Great Synagogue, Sydney", 19 February 2008.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Muir Appelbaum, Diana (2012). "Jewish Identity and Egyptian Revival Architecture". Journal of Jewish Identities. 5 (2): 7.
  8. ^ The Heritage of Australia. Macmillan Company. 1981. p. 2.


CC-BY-icon-80x15.png This Wikipedia article was originally based on the Great Synagogue, listed on the "New South Wales State Heritage Register" published by the Government of New South Wales under CC-BY 3.0 AU licence (accessed on 4 September 2017).

External links[edit]

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