Sunday, January 15, 2012

Scenes from Toledo, Spain Part VI

Synagogue of the White Virgin

This is what our guide called it; online sites call it the Synagogue of St. Mary the White.  See Sacred Destinations website for further information.  Cf. Mary in Our Life: Atlas of the Names and Titles of Mary, the Mother of Jesus (book excerpt at Google). 

Our guide told us that the site was originally used as a mosque, then converted to a synagogue, and after the explusion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella, the synagogue was converted to a church where the French "White Virgin" statue that I photographed at the Cathedral was first housed for many years, before being moved to the Cathedral.  It seems likely that the sculpture of the White Virgin was housed in the former Synagogue at some point for some years, since construction on the Cathedral wasn't begun until the early 1200s CE and took about 250 years to complete, while the Synagogue was a completed building by 1203 CE (another site I read said by 1080 CE).  Our guide also told us that there had possibly been a women's gallery (on a upper level) as part of the mosque at one time, but it had been removed at some point.  There is certainly enough room for a sort of balcony gallery to have existed all around the perimeter of the building -- but history tells us that the city of Toledo was reconquered in c. 1080 CE by a Catholic monarch and so it seems doubtful that a new mosque would have been built in the city after that date; then again, I would not have thought a new synagogue would have been permitted to be built, either...

The photographs at the Sacred Destinations website put mine to shame! But I'm posting mine anyway :)

Here's the photo of the White Virgin, again, just to remind you how gorgeous she is.  It is agreed that she is of French origin, of alabaster, sculpted some time in the 12th century (the 1100s CE) and is called "White" because of the predominant color of her robes.  However, she is also known as a Black Madonna because of the darker color of her skin!  Note: Some sources cite her as 13th century, and some at late as the 15th century CE. 

No more altar-piece - I don't know why it was removed and I don't recall our guide mentioning it.  I do not understand why anyone would want to partially "wall" over those beautifully shaped "key hole" windows (Moorish) on the back wall, either.  At the time of our tour, an art exhibit was taking place.  We were asked not to photograph any of the art, and so I obediently kept my camera pointed upward!  That's where the most interesting things were, anyway.  You can't really tell from this photo, but the ceiling is fully criss-crosssed with huge wooden beams.

This is a photo of the ceiling area in the alcove to the left of the "main" alcove in the photo, above.  On the left wall is a mural that was partially uncovered (or restored) - see photo below.

This is a photo of the ceiling above the central or "main" alcove, looking at the left wall - I was fascinated by the opening next to the obviously added-much-later oriole window -- there was no similar opening on the right wall.  I may be wrong, but from this I deduced that the alcoves were also added in a later renovation - probably during its tenure as a Catholic church, chopping up what must have been a wide-open space that was only punctuated by those wonderfully-shaped windows all around the upper roofline of the original mosque and then synagogue, and on the ground level the columns supporting the beautiful arches.

A view toward the roofline.  On the left side, you can see how one of the "alcoves" was cut into the original Moorish arch and the space walled off to form the alcove.  (The same thing is visible in the alcove on the left, at the rear of the photo).

The beautiful arches; the feeling I got was like waves of the ocean, depending on where you were standing when you looked upward. 

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