01 May 2023

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (23) 1 May 2023

The High Synagogue (left) faces onto Red Lane (Červená ulice), between Maiselova Street and Paris Street in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Today is May Day and a public holiday (1 May 2023), and today is also marked as Staffordshire Day. We are still in the season of Easter, and this is the Fourth Week of Easter. Today, the Church Calendar also celebrates the apostles Saint Philip and Saint James.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following our visit to Prague earlier this month, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a synagogue in Prague;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A restaurant in part of the remodelled buildings housing the High Synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The High Synagogue, Prague:

During our visit to Prague earlier this month, I visited the seven surviving, working synagogues in Prague, including the six remaining synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery, the most remarkable of its kind in Europe.

The High Synagogue, beside the Old-New Synagogue, dates from the 16th century. It was financed by Mordechai Maisel, and was finished in 1568, the same year as the Jewish Town Hall. It was probably named the High Synagogue because the house of prayer was located on the first floor rather than the ground floor of the building.

This synagogue was probably modelled after the High Synagogue in Kraków, which was built in 1556. The house was designed in the Renaissance style by the architect Pancratius Roder, and the supervising builder was a master named Rada.

It was designed as a preaching place for the councillors of Jewish Town Hall. Originally, it was accessible only from the first floor of the Jewish town hall and served for assemblies of the senior members of the ghetto, the religious community and perhaps sittings of the rabbinical courts.

The bimah in the centre was surrounded by seats, the stucco ceiling had Gothic ribbed vaulting and Mordechai Maisel donated Torah scrolls and silver tools to the synagogue.

However, the original synagogue was destroyed in the great fire of Prague in 1689. It was rebuilt in 1690 to designs by the architect Pavel Ignác Bayer, who also designed the women’s gallery. The Aron haKodesh or holy ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept, was adapted in 1691 in the style of contemporary Baroque altars.

The burned roof trusses were repaired after another fire in 1754.

The synagogue was rebuilt by JM Wertmüller in 1883, when the façade was simplified and given a modern appearance.

When the streets of the Old Jewish Town were being cleared and rebuilt in the early 20th century, the eastern front of the High Synagogue was covered up, a new entrance was made from Red Lane (Červená ulice), and the whole synagogue was overshadowed by the large corner house with towers between Maiselova Street and Paris Street. Only the north front of the synagogue, facing Červená Lane remained open. This house was designed by the architects Richard Klenka of Vlastimil and Frantisek Weyr, and it is often seen as part of the High Synagogue.

Other adaptations of the High Synagogue were made in the 1960s and the 1970s. A permanent exhibition of synagogue textiles from the Jewish Museum collection was installed there in 1982.

The High Synagogue was returned to the Prague Jewish Community in 1994, and it was restored and refurnished as a house of prayer in 1995. Today, the ground floor serves as a ticket office and a gift shop.

The Jewish Town Hall was built beside the Old New Synagogue on the corner of Maiselova Street and Červená Ulice, and was the main meeting house of the local Jewish community.

The first references to the Jewish town hall date from 1541. After a fire it was rebuilt in 1577-1586 in the Renaissance style, with funding from the Mayor of the Jewish town, Mordechai Maisel. It acquired its rococo façade in the 18th century.

The building is best known for its two clocks, one on a tower with Roman numeral markings, the other, lower clock has Hebrew numerals in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with aleph and continuing counter-clockwise around the clock dial.

Today, this building is the centre of the Jewish Community of Prague and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, and the seat of the Chief Rabbinate of Prague and the Czech Republic. However, the building is closed to the public.

Fret work above the entrance to the High Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 14: 1-14 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’

Figurines on sale in the Judaica Shop on the ground floor of the High Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East, Davidson Solanki, who reflected on the work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital, Bangladesh, for International Midwives’ Day this week.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Monday 1 May 2023, Saint Philip and Saint James):

Let us pray for all who seek to be disciples of Christ. May we, like Philip and James, pay attention to our Lord, hear his voice, and seek to follow his call on our lives.


Almighty Father,
whom truly to know is eternal life:
teach us to know your Son Jesus Christ
as the way, the truth, and the life;
that we may follow the steps
of your holy apostles Philip and James,
and walk steadfastly in the way that leads to your glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Jewish Town Hall on the corner of Maiselova Street and Červená Ulice, beside the High Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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 clock with Hebrew numerals in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet on the Jewish Town Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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