12 November 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
167, the Scuola Spagnola, Venice

The Scuola Spagnola in Venice founded around 1580 by Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Jews whose families had fled the Inquisition (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I am coming to the end of my city break in Venice this week. I have been spending a few days at the Hotel San Cassiano in the Ca’ Favretto in the Santa Croce district, just a few minutes’ walk from Rialto, and celebrating some important family birthdays and anniversaries.

Before the day begins, and before I pack to catch a mid-afternoon Ryanair flight to Dublin, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

As part of my reflections and this prayer diary this week, my photographs are from the ghetto in Venice. I am looking at each of the five historic synagogues in the Ghetto in turn each morning this week.

My photographs this morning (12 November 2021) are from the Scuola Spagnola, founded around 1580 by Spanish and Portuguese speaking Jews.

Inside the Scuola Spagnola, rebuilt in 1635-1657 by the architect Baldassare Longhena (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Spanish Synagogue is one of the two functioning synagogues in the Ghetto, and is open from Passover until the end of the High Holiday season.

The Spanish Synagogue was founded by Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition in the 1490s. They reached Venice in the 1550s, usually through Amsterdam, Livorno or Ferrara, in the 1550s. Many of these people were crypto-Jews and Maranos, whose families had been forced to convert to Christianity in previous generations.

This four-storey, yellow stone building was built in 1580-1584. A document in 1582 speaks of ‘a school that hosts foreigners.’ It was rebuilt in 1635-1657 by the architect Baldassare Longhena (1598- 1682).

This was a clandestine synagogue, tolerated on condition that it was concealed inside a building that does not look like a house of worship from outside.

This is the largest and best-known of the five surviving synagogues in Venice, and it is entered through a wide double staircase that leads upstairs. On the stairs one finds an ancient alms box.

Inside, this elegant synagogue is elaborately decorated, with its Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark in multicoloured, and a high, marble elliptic women’s gallery.

A tablet on the back wall is inscribed with the names of the Jews deported from Venice in the years 1943-44. Many tablets on the side walls include the names of well-known Venetian Jewish families: Treves, Maurogonato, Gentilomo, Belilios, Coen, Caravaglio …

A marble commemorative plaque on the façade outside is dedicated to the Jews of Venice murdered in the concentration camps during the Holocaust in 1939-1945.

The synagogue was completely restored in 1980-1983.

The Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark in the Scuola Spagnola (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 17: 26-37 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 26 ‘Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them 30 — it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. 34 I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.’ 37 Then they asked him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’

The bimah in the Scuola Spagnola (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (12 November 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for young adults in higher and further education. May they emerge from this difficult time as conscientious individuals confident in themselves and curious about the world.

The ceiling in the Scuola Spagnola (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The names of the dead in tablets on the walls of the Scuola Spagnola … ‘May their memories be blessings unto us’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

The Holocaust memorial on the façade of the Scuola Spagnola (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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