Synagogue of El Tránsito

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The Synagogue of El Tránsito (Spanish: Sinagoga del Tránsito) is a historic building in Toledo, Spain. It is famous for its rich stucco decoration, which bears comparison with the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra palaces in Granada.

Ark of the synagogue

History of building[edit]

The synagogue was founded by Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, Treasurer to Peter of Castile, in about 1356. The founder was a member of a family who had served the Castilian kings for several generations and included kabbalists and Torah scholars such as Meir and Todros Abulafia, and another Todros Abulafia who was one of the last poets to write in the Arab-influenced style favored by Jewish poets in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Spain. The synagogue was connected to Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia's house by a private gate and he intended to use it as a private house of worship.[1] King Peter probably gave his assent to the building of the synagogue to compensate the Jews of Toledo for destruction that had occurred in 1348, during anti-Jewish pogroms that accompanied the arrival of the Black Death in Toledo. The founder eventually fell afoul of the king and was executed in 1360. The synagogue was converted to a church after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The building, which is in a good state of conservation, is currently a museum.

History of changes[edit]

After the expulsion of the city's Jews under the Alhambra decree in 1492, the Synagogue came under the Order of Calatrava, who converted the building into a church serving a priory dedicated to Saint Benedict. In the 17th century the church's name changed to Nuestra Señora del Tránsito: the name derives from a painting by Juan Correa de Vivar housed there, Transit of the Virgin.

The synagogue was also used as military headquarters during the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1877 the building became a national monument. The transformation of the building into the Sephardi Museum, as it is now officially called, started around 1910. It was initiated by the Vega-Inclan Foundation.


With the apparent approval of the king, ha-Levi defied the laws that required synagogues to be smaller and lower than churches, and plain of decoration. The building features Nasrid-style polychrome stucco-work, Hebrew inscriptions praising the king and ha-Levi himself, and quotations from the Psalms, as well as multifoil arches and a massive Mudéjar artesonado ceiling. Arabic inscriptions are intertwined with the floral patterns in the stucco.

Women were separated from men during services; a second-floor gallery was reserved for them. The gallery is located along the southern wall, having five broad openings looking down towards the ark of the Torah, called in the Sephardic tradition the Hechal.


  1. ^ "'El Transito' Synagogue in Toledo, Spain". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°51′21″N 4°01′46″W / 39.8557°N 4.02944°W / 39.8557; -4.02944