06 May 2023

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (28) 6 May 2023

The Jerusalem Synagogue, the youngest and the largest synagogue in Prague, was built as the Jubilee Synagogue in 1905-1906 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We come to the end of the Fourth Week of Easter today, and we are now into the second half of the 50-day season of Easter. Already, so early in the morning, news and media outlets are saturated with coverage of the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla later today in Westminster Abbey.

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.

Inside the Jerusalem Synagogue, designed by Wilhelm Stiassny and decorated by František Fröhlich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague:

During our visit to Prague last month, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving 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. However, the tickets to the six synagogues in the Old Town do not include the Jerusalem Synagogue on Jerusalem Street, the youngest and the largest synagogue in Prague.

It was originally built as a Reform synagogue, with an organ and a choir. Today it is used by the more traditional or modern orthodox members of the Jewish community in Prague. It is an active synagogue, aligned with Orthodox Judaism

The synagogue was built as the Jubilee Synagogue in 1905-1906 to replace three earlier synagogues – the Zigeiner, the Velkodvorská and the New synagogues – that were levelled in 1898-1906 during the redevelopment of Prague.

The association involved in the building project was formed in 1896, but it took a decade to complete the synagogue. Building began on 26 June 1905, it was completed on 1 September 1906, and the synagogue was opened on 16 September 1906. It was transferred from the synagogue society to the Prague Jewish Community in 1907.

The synagogue was designed by the Bratislava-born Jewish architect Wilhelm Stiassny (1842-1910), who was based in Vienna, and it was built by Alois Richter. It was named the Jubilee Synagogue to mark the Silver Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. When Czechoslovakia became independent in 1918 and the Habsburg monarch was abolished, the Jubilee Synagogue became known as the Jerusalem Synagogue. The name of Jerusalem Street, however, has nothing to do with the synagogue, however: the street is named after the nearby Church of Jerusalem.

Stiassny designed the synagogue in the Moorish Revival or Pseudo-Moorish style, with Art Nouveau decoration, especially in the interior. The design is a hybrid blend of Moorish Revival and Art Nouveau, with horseshoe arches on the façade and on the interior columns supporting the women’s galleries in a three-bay building. The Mudéjar red-and-white coursing of the stone façade is particularly striking.

The centre of the façade is marked by its mighty arch and a big rose-window, with the Star of David. The Hebrew inscription on the facade reads זה השער ליי צדיקים יבאו בו, ‘This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it’ (Psalm 118: 20). Above the three arches of the entrance there is a quotation in Czech Hebrew and German: ‘Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?’ (Malachi 2:10). There are two towers, one on each side of the entrance.

Inside, the Moorish elements are overlaid with brightly painted Art Nouveau patterning. The synagogue also preserves inscribed plaques from the former Zigeuner Synagogue.

There is seating inside the synagogue for 850 people, with separate entrances and side galleries designed for women.

The interior decoration, including the colourful decorations in the aisle, the wall paintings and the stucco work were the work of František Fröhlich’s studios. The veil of the Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark is decorated with a grape-vine motif, with the tablets of the Ten Commandments above.

During the Nazi German occupation of Prague, the synagogue was used to store confiscated Jewish property in 1941-1945.

The Jerusalem Synagogue is one of only eight synagogues designed by Stiassny where services are still held. The synagogue re-opened in 1996 after extensive reconstruction in the 1990s. It opened its doors on a regular basis to tourists and people interested in architecture on 1 April 2008, and it is open daily from April to October, except Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

The synagogue is also a cultural and exhibition venue, including concerts on the original organ by Emanuel Stephen Peter. The first concert in this year’s season takes place in the Jerusalem Synagogue next Wednesday (10 May 2023).

The current exhibition, ‘Overlooked Czech-German-Jewish Personalities,’ presents 20 unjustly neglected Jewish personalities with Czech roots who have had a significant impact in cultural, scientific or political life. They include the music scientist Guido Adler, biochemists and doctors Gerta and Carl Cori, economist Alexandre Kafka, journalist Hans Natonek and physician and ethnographer Jakob Eduard Pollak. The exhibition continues until 26 July 2023.

‘This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it’ (Psalm 118: 20) … the Jerusalem Synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 14: 7-14 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 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.’

‘Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?’ (Malachi 2:10) … the Jerusalem Synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) has been ‘The Work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital.’

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Saturday 6 May 2023, Coronation of Charles III):

Let us give thanks for all who put duty and responsibility before their own needs. May we pray for Charles III on his coronation day and remember the many who serve their countries and people unseen.


Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Jerusalem Synagogue takes its name from Jerusalem Street, which in turn is named after the nearby Church of Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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