Tucked away below the City’s high-rise monoliths is the Bevis Marks Synagogue. Dating back three hundred years, it is Britain’s first ever Jewish house of worship. Retaining all of its original features, it’s a hidden gem that passes most office workers by as they scurry to and from the Gherkin. Intrigued, I popped along during my lunch break to take a look.
Finding your way to the Bevis Marks Synagogue
Finding the synagogue was my first challenge. When Bevis Marks first received planning permission 300 years ago, it was in the understanding that it was not to be visible from main roads. This explains its hidden location behind wrought iron gates on Heneage Lane. Typically, Google maps leads me to its back entrance. Racing round to the front of the building, I’m met by a mysterious cloaked gentleman who wordlessly swings open the wrought iron gates.
The origins of the Bevis Marks Synagogue
With a cheery smile that belies his solemn appearance, I’m led into a hidden courtyard. An iron lantern hangs stylishly above the main entrance door beside a plaque marking the opening date: 1701.
The synagogue was originally founded by Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were brought over from Europe by Oliver Cromwell during the mid-17th century. In the days before Bevis Marks, Jewish worshippers met in a room on the nearby Creechurch Lane. Perched under the shadow of the might Gherkin, the building now has a blue plaque in its honour. How things have changed since its early days.
Inside the Bevis Marks synagogue
Once inside, I notice a basket filled with skull caps. The skull caps or “kippahs” are worn to signify that there’s someone above who watches our every act. Men and women are segregated with women seated in the gallery above the main proceedings. Women also need to cover their heads before being seated in the gallery.
The interior is a feast for the senses with dark oak panelling clashing with bright sunlight streaming through the arched windows. Seven, huge brass candelabra dangle elegantly from the ceiling creating a mystical, Eastern quality to the room. The seven candelabra represent the seven days of week and the candles are lit for special occasions such as weddings, concerts and festivals. I can only imagine what an amazing spectacle it is once illuminated.
The future of the Bevis Marks synagogue
Rabbi Shalom informs us that the demographic of the area is changing and they’re starting to see many new, young Jewish people joining their Friday night services. The synagogue also hosts many social events including: concerts, suppers and the ever popular cocktail parties. With a Heritage Lottery Fund application in progress, there’s also plans in place to create an educational centre with many, new interactive features. It appears that the skyscapers are not the only march of progress evident in the Square Mile today.
Entrance fee: £5.00
For opening hours, please see website: https://www.sephardi.org.uk/bevis-marks/