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Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum
Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Muziejus

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Exhibit of the month

 
Published: 2019-07-04

 

 Fragment of a wall tile from a miqve that was part of the architectural complex of the Great Synagogue of Vilna,inventory No. VŽM 9013/31 (Photo No. 1)

 
 
From the end of the 16th century to the 1940s the Great Synagogue of Vilna was famous for being an important spiritual and educational centre of the Jews of Lithuania which resulted in Vilnius being referred to as the Jerusalem of the North. The archaeological investigations on the site of the Great Synagogue of Vilna started in 2011 with the aim to identify the amount of remaining fragments of the architectural complex of the synagogue. The investigation continued from 2015 to 2018. This year a new season of archaeological research conducted by an international archaeological ream started on 1 July.
The following architectural structures attributed to the Great Synagogue of Vilna have been included on the Register of Cultural Valuables: fragment of a stone wall with the entrance to the synagogue dating back to the second half of the 18th century – end of the 19th century; fragment of the southeastern stone wall with Aaron Kodesh dating back to the first half of the 17th century; fragment of the eastern corner of the stone synagogue; and architectural fragments of the synagogue building. In addition, the register includes remains or sites of the former buildings that were part of the architectural complex of the synagogue, i.e. remains of the bath building with ritual baths (miqve) dating back to the first half of the 19th century – first half of the 20th century. A miqve is a special bath located in the vicinity of a synagogue and used for purification rituals that include complete immersion into water.
It was during the archaeological investigations of 2017 (lead by M. Daubaras) that the remains of two miqve were discovered. The following fragments of the two miqve were uncovered at the 6th cutting of the archaeological site: an external wall of public baths dating back to the first half of the 19th century, clay brick flooring of the interior and a miqve with steps leading into it as renovated in 1911. At the 7th cutting of the archaeological site archaeologists uncovered an external wall of public baths dating back to the first half of the 19th century, clay brick flooring of the interior and fragments of a miqve as renovated in 1911, including fragments of a water storage built at a later stage.
The miqve was formed of pinkish-yellow sharp-edged bricks made of encaustic clay and grout. Several descent paths and a drainage ramp sruvived untouched. The inside walls of the miqve area were decorated with white square tiles. A mosaic made of yellow and small red tiles adorned the bottom of the uncovered miqve. The tiles were made in Grodno and, according to historic sources, could have been used to decorate the miqve back in 1911. Grodno brickyard and tile plant Stanisławów operated at the end of the 19th century – first half of the 20th century and was located on the territory of the former Stanislaw August Poniatowski’s summer residence named Stanislavov.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Miqve uncovered in 2017 during the archaeological investigations performed at the 6th cutting of the archaeological site (photo No. 2)
 
Prepared by Asta Vasiliauskaitė
Conservationist-researcher at the Inventory and Conservation of Holdings Department
 
© Photo (1) courtesy of Neringa Dargytė
© Photo (2) courtesy of Mantas Daubaras
 
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