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Hidden Jewish treasures of the Sacred Torah are unveiled

PUBLISHED: 00:01 16 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:46 05 October 2010

Mantles of three sacred Torahs, 17th and 18th centuries, including one (centre) made from a wedding dress

Mantles of three sacred Torahs, 17th and 18th centuries, including one (centre) made from a wedding dress

HIDDEN treasures of the ancient Jewish community in London’s East End have been revealed in a display of religious textile mantles used as covers for the Torah scrolls, the Old Testament recited on the Sabbath. The textiles have gone on show in Britain’s oldest synagogue, the Bevis Marks at Aldgate, founded in 1701. The exhibition runs until March 15

HIDDEN treasures of the ancient Jewish community in London's East End have been revealed in a display of religious textile mantles used as covers for the Torah scrolls, the Old Testament recited on the Sabbath, writes Mike Brooke.

The textiles have gone on show in Britain's oldest synagogue, the Bevis Marks at Aldgate, founded in 1701.

The exhibition, Hidden Treasures, Sacred Textiles, opened on Wednesday (November 12) in the Grade I-listed building at Bevis Marks, staged by the Jewish Museum, runs until March 15.

The highly-decorated Torah mantles, donated to the congregation by individuals and families over the centuries, have gone on show to the public for the first time after years of intricate and painstaking restoration.

The exhibition was opened by the iconic British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

"These sacred textiles possess a timeless beauty," she said. "They are a rare and wonderful opportunity for ideas and inspiration for students."

Restorers found inside the top of one 18th century silk mantle a cutting from a gentleman's magazine, dated December, 1780, that had been placed there to stiffen the fabric. It helped accurately date the mantle.

Many were woven in highly-prized Spitalfields silk, made by Huguenots who lived and worked around Spitalfields and Whitechapel.

One was presented to the congregation in 1851 by David Lindo, uncle of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli's father attended Bevis Marks until he quarreled with the administration and had his children baptized.

The exhibition includes guided tours, lunchtime lectures, hands-on craft activities and sessions with expert embroiderers. Illustrated panels have also been put up taking visitors through the history of the East End's Saphadi Jewish community, which first settled around Aldgate in the 1640s.

The Bevis Marks community began in Oliver Cromwell's time in the 1640s, founded by descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled persecution in the 15th and 16th centuries.

But there was no official Jewish community in England in the centuries after their expulsion in 1290-until a Spanish Jew, Antonio Carvajal, founded a synagogue in Creechurch Lane in Aldgate 1656.

But the growing community soon outgrew the premises and in 1701 the larger synagogue at nearby Bevis Marks was built.

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Hidden Treasures, Sacred Textiles runs until March 15 at the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, Bevis Marks, Aldgate, London EC3A 5DQ. Tel: 020-7626 1274.

Nearest Tube: Aldgate or Liverpool Street.

Open: Monday-Friday 11am-1pm, Sunday 10.30am-12.30pm

Admission: £3. Group visits by arrangement

www.jewishmuseum.org.uk


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