Old Synagogue (Canterbury)

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Old Synagogue seen from the street

The Old Synagogue in Canterbury is considered to be the best example of an Egyptian Revival synagogue.[1] The earliest record of a Jewish community in Canterbury dates from 1160. The community is known to have been prosperous and to have traded in corn (grain) and wool as well as banking. Despite pogroms in 1261 and 1264, the community flourished until the Edict of Expulsion, given by Edward I of England in 1290. Its presence is commemorated in the street name, Jewry Lane.

A modern Jewish Community is known to have existed in Canterbury by 1720. The present building was designed by Canterbury architect, a Christian gentleman named Hezekiah Marshall, and constructed in 1846–48 to replace a 1763 building torn down to make place for the new railroad built by the South Eastern Railway Company. The cornerstone was laid by Sir Moses Montefiore in September 1847. A pair of columns with lotus capitals flank the doorway of the simple building, 40' by 27' by 30' high. The building is made of Portland cement, which gives the appearance of granite. There is a central bimah, the columns of which boast lotus-leaf capitals, and a women's balcony supported by Egyptian-style obelisks. The mikveh was described as "a miniature brick-faced temple set in the garden behind the synagogue". It is the only Egyptian Revival mikveh known to exist.[2][3] The site is known to have been a hospice of the Knights Templar in medieval times.[4]

The Old Synagogue now serves only occasionally for Jewish services of worship, led by the Jewish Society at the University of Kent and Chabad Lubavitch of Sussex and South East Coast Universities. Since 1947 The Old Synagogue was no longer used for prayer. The first Shabbat service with a minyan and the reading of the Torah took place in 2011. The service was held by Iury London and Yitzhak Marrache of the Kent Jewish Society and Rabbi Zalman Lewis of Chabad. It is maintained and used as a recital hall by The King's School, Canterbury.[1][5]

Although several synagogues and churches were built in the Egyptian revival style in the early nineteenth century, only a few are known to survive, they include the Hobart Synagogue in Tasmania the Downtown Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Tennessee and the First Presbyterian Church (Sag Harbor), New York.


  1. ^ a b H. A. Meek, The Synagogue, Phaidon, 1995, p. 184
  2. ^ Diana Muir Appelbaum, "Jewish Identity and Egyptian Revival Architecture", Journal of Jewish Identities, 2012 (5(2) p. 7.
  3. ^ Rachel Wischnitzer, "Thomas U. Walter's Crown Street Synagogue, 1848–49", The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 13, No. 4 (December 1954), pp. 29–31
  4. ^ Krinsky, Carol Herselle, Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning, pp. 140–142
  5. ^ King's School - Old Synagogue Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.

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Coordinates: 51°16′54.7″N 1°4′50.6″E / 51.281861°N 1.080722°E / 51.281861; 1.080722