20 April 2021

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
63, Bevis Marks Synagogue, London

Bevis Marks Synagogue … the only synagogue in Europe that has held regular services continuously for more than 300 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, I am offering photographs of synagogues that have welcomed me over the years and offered a place of prayer and reflection. My photographs this morning (20 April 2021) are from Bevis Marks Synagogue, often seen as the Jewish ‘cathedral’ among synagogues in London, and the oldest operating synagogue on these islands.

I have been welcomed there when I visited for a number of reasons:

● the synagogue helped to fund and held the trust deeds of the first Jewish burial ground in Ireland, at Fairview in Dublin;

● in recent years, I have found one branch of the Comerford family whose extended family tree includes families who were members of Bevis Marks Synagogue;

● I am working on yet another paper for a lecture in Limerick next month on the Irish-born scientist JD Bernal, who had many ancestors linked with Bevis Marks Synagogue.

In addition, after visits to Jewish sites in Spain and Portugal, I had an added interest in the story of the Sephardic community of Spanish and Portuguese descent that began to settle in these islands over 350 years ago.

Bevis Marks Synagogue is officially the Qahal Kadosh Sha’ar ha-Shamayim (קָהָל קָדוֹשׁ שַׁעַר הַשָׁמַיִם, or ‘Holy Congregation Gate of Heaven’). It stands in a courtyard off Bevis Marks, the street in the city of London that gives this synagogue its popular name.

The synagogue was built in 1701 and is at the heart of the story of London’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community. It is a Grade I listed building, and it is the only synagogue in Europe that has held regular services continuously for more than 300 years. Indeed, the story of the community goes back into the mid-17th century and the arrival of many of Jewish families with Spanish or Portuguese ancestry.

Bevis Marks Synagogue is close to the heart of the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

John 6: 30-35 (NRSVA):

30 So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”.’ 32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

The Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark resembles in design the reredos of churches of the same period (Photograph © Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Community)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (20 April 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Green Schools initiative run by the Church of South India. May they continue to teach the next generation how to live sustainably and combat climate change.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Above the central doorway are the Hebrew and secular dates of the opening: 5462, 1701 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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