plan your visit
Reyes Católicos, 4. Toledo
(+34) 925 227 257
Tickets and bracelets are sold at the monument ticket office.
Open from monday to sunday.*
MARCH 1 TO OCTOBER 15
10:00 - 18:45 **
OCTOBER 16 TO FEBRUARY 28
10:00 - 17:45 **
General: 2’80 €
Reduced: 2’40 € *
Free: 0 € **
TOURIST BRACELET: 9€
ACCESS TO THE 7 MONUMENTS
* January 1 and December 25 closed.
December 24 and 31 closed at 13:00.
** The ticket window closes 20 min. before.
* Accredited school groups.
** Under the age of 11. Accredited religious. Residents in Toledo.
SAINT MARY THE WHITE VISITORS OPINION
“Not to be missed”
This is one of the most beautiful synagogues I've seen. I am glad that people who took over the place and made it into the church centuries ago recognized the beauty of it and did not spoiled it. Don't miss it.
“Llena de encanto”
“Evocative antique synagogue”
This was the gem on the tour my wife and I took. We were simply amazed and the combination and complexity of how all three religions were represented in the building. Worth a visit!!
ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT ITS ORIGIN
The Main Synagogue of Toledo
No one knows for certain when it was built because we have scarce documentary information taken from inscriptions elsewhere. Based on this information some historians claimed that this is the so called New Yosef ben Susán Synagogue who died in 1205. Others suggest that it could be the so called Yosef ben Susán Synagogue, backed by David ben Salomón Abí Darham in 1271.
However, most of today's scholars, based on the building's grandiose architecture, and the archaeology's results say that this is the Main Synagogue of the Toledo Jewish Quarter. It was built at the end of the 11th century by ibn Alfache, advisor and ambassador to Alfonso VIII, who was openly sympathetic toward Jews. After a fire in 1250, the synagogue was rebuilt.
Recently, attending to his profuse decoration similar to the nazarí art some investigator pleads for carrying his origin back in the time and dating the construction in the 14th century.
SANTA MARÍA LA BLANCA
SAINT MARY THE WHITE
CHURCH ONE CENTURY BEFORE THE EXPULSION
Her conversion in Santa María de Blanca Church
The historian Pisa in the 16th century writes the news, that Lorenzana would later expand upon, of the discovery of an old handwritten book of the narration of the event that occurred due to the preachings of San Vincente Ferrer in 1411: "and the people were the ones who were enraged with the Sermon of St. Vincent, and with this, they took the synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, as it is now called, from the Jews." We know that the confrontations between Pedro I's followers and those of his step brother, Enrique Trastámara, and anti Semite, encouraged the assault and pillaging of some buildings in the Jewish quarter. This would also occur throughout the following century due to the struggle between the Ayala and Silva family lines who were in favor of converts. What is certain is that decades before the Expulsion, it was no longer used as a synagogue. It was converted into a church named Santa María la Blanca because the White Virgin was the parish image. A copy of the existing one is in the Cathedral's choir.
Improvements during the Renaissance
In 1554, Cardinal Silíceo founded a group of pious people devoted to Nuestra Señora de la Piedad (Our Lady of Piety) or Refugio de la Penitencia (Penance Shelter). It was for taking in female penitents and was operating until the end of the century when it once again became a shrine without a cult.
Covarrubias remodeled the sanctuary and created three chapels which he covered with vaults, a dome in the central nave and a quarter sphere in the side naves on squinches and pendentives respectively. An altarpiece commissioned to Nicolás de Vergara the elder and Bautista Vázquez was situated here, today in the Salvador church´s main chapel. Also belonging to the 17th century were the 17 tombs, three of them children's, that appeared during the last excavations in 1989.
A destination for romantics and travelers
In 1791, the image of Nuestra Señora la Blanca was moved to Santo Tomé parish church. Its outbuildings were converted into army infantry barracks. This considerably deteriorated the complex. From this era, there are 14 vaulted outbuildings existing under the building's ground level.
When it threatened to be ruined in 1798, it was converted into a Royal Treasury warehouse. It continued to be visited by romantic travelers who, in the 19th century, visited Toledo in search of an imperial past and a picturesque present. They were able to depict this vision in descriptions and engravings. In the mid 19th century, the Provincial Commission of Historic Monuments took charge of building. The commission closed off the south wall and commissioned woodcarver Ceferino Díaz to repair the chapiters. In 1930 it was declared a National Monument.
An original style
The building is considered to be an incomparable example of Mudejar art in Toledo. It is the symbiosis of techniques inherited by Muslim master builders. The architectural characteristics of what has been preserved, including the octagonal pillars, for many, belonging to Almohad art, are closer to Castilian buildings from the late Middle Ages. On the other hand, the complex decoration of the lower part with discs on the arch spandrels and pine cones on the chapiters separated by the basket lead researchers to associate the decorative style with Nazarite architecture of the kingdom of Granada and Merinite architecture from 14th century Morocco.
An odd, irregular floor
Its floor is an irregular quadrangle. Its sanctuary is oriented toward the East. Its measurements vary between 26 and 28 meters in length and 19 and 23 in width. This is somewhat odd and unusual. It seems to have been built upon earlier buildings. Their foundations were made use of and the South and East walls might have been altered or added during different building campaigns.
The main entrance, at the foot of the building, is through a large wooden door with Mudejar decoration with ten point star ornamental bows. It was installed during the reforms at the end of the 19th century, and it is protected by a small roof. The entire complex provokes contemplation and dumbfounded praise, just as it did for centuries with the Jewish people.
It is divided into five naves separated by horseshoe arches on octagonal pillars. The central nave is wider than the side naves and the side naves are wider than the end naves. A second set of multifoil arches was built on top of the horseshoe arches. They were originally open and have been walled for some time. The central nave measures 12.50 meters, the middle naves measure 10 meters and the end naves measure 7 meters. They are covered by wooden larch frames: with a coupled and collar-beam roof supported by thick beams.
The synagogue's lovely grounds are surrounded by a wall enclosing an old garden filled with cypress trees. The building can be seen at the very end. Its walls are whitewashed brick and mud.
The inherited space currently leads to proposing the possibility of placing the women's area somewhere in the side naves. However, after the most recent studies, we can affirm that women would have been at the foot of the central nave in a high wooden tribune. This tribune no longer exists. There are, however no Spanish references of this arrangement on the same axis as the hejal (Holy Ark) and the bimá (ambo). The foundation study and the fact that the last for chapiters adjoining the south wall are slightly different to the rest, as well as the mural paintings found that provide evidence of the addition of a new space, lead us to believe that after the fire of 1250, this last section could have been added to the naves to house the women's tribune.
Prayers losted on the walls
The 16th century improvements made to the sanctuary destroyed the most important and richest part of the synagogue. This area held the hejal or niche for theTorah. We conjecture that there might be an inscription alluding to when the building was founded. In this main chapel, researchers have discovered the first building's original pointed horseshoe arches. There must also have been inscriptions painted with psalms or fragments of the Bible on all of the walls. Inscriptions of this nature can be found in the neighboring synagogue of Samuel Ha Levi called del Tránsito. The inscriptions have been preserved there because they seem to have been carved in plaster: "My soul languishes and yearns for the gates of Heaven. My heart and flesh rejoice with the living God... Blissful are those who dwell in Thy house praising you forever... Better is a day in your hall than one thousand in my mansions" (Psalm 84, 3.5.11), "In my anguish, I shouted to the Heavens, I asked my God for help; from his temple, he heard my voice, my call rang in His ears" (Psalm 18.7), "...but I, like a leafy olive tree in the House of God, in the love of God I forever trust." (Psalm 52, 10).
On the west wall, on both sides of the main door, researchers recently found the remains of red ochre paint on a white background with a pattern of chains and circles, a serpent's head and fish. They belong to a Mudejar building that existed before the synagogue. The prayer room must have been destroyed during one of the time it was remodeled (after the fire in 1250?) in order to enlarge it. Paintings have been correlated with those of the chapel in Brihuega castle from the mid 18th century, those of the Tower of Hercules in Segovia from the late 18th and early 19th century, and with those from the apse of Cristo de la Luz in Toledo from the early 18th century where the same fish motifs can be seen.
SAINT MARY THE WHITE
SAINT MARY THE WHITE
Rich and luxurious decoration
The beautiful stucco chapiters stand out due to their decoration. They give the pillars a finish of wooden ribbons, scrollwork and pine cones. The pine cone is a Middle Eastern traditional element. It is related to unity of the people of Israel. Christianity would later take it up because of its symbology of communion. Volutes formed by palmettes run above the arches. The arches' spandrels have disks with multiple geometrical compositions. Vegetation and geometry the image of the work of the Creator in the cosmos and nature are recurring themes in areas of worship for Jewish and Muslim iconoclasts. Above them are alto-relief shells or medallions associated with water and new life as well as holders between them for storing the sacred texts that would be painted which we have lost entirely. Above that are friezes with very simple eight sided stars before the decoration of disks between arches. These may very well have belonged to the building's first construction phase, along with the naves' body. The extension of sections, decoration between arches and possibly the roofing were added to this body.
An only star of David
On the last decorative disk to the right of the central nave is the famed Jewish symbol of the Magen David or Star of David. This is a six pointed star whose unmistakable association with Judaism is after the 15th century. Therefore, in this context, it forms a part of the heritage shared by Middle Eastern cultures.
SAINT MARY THE WHITE
Star of David
The surface on the inside is quite altered due to past intervention. Up to two floors before the present one which is from the 19th century. The original pavement, however, did not survive. However, this baked clay floor still retains ancient ceramic remnants: the lower part of some pillars is decorated with small pieces of ceramic with the dry string technique, the wood paneling that date back to the 16th century, to Silíceo's remodeling. From that same era, forming a tile pattern, there are ceramic strips or ribbons made with the edge technique and Renaissance patterns. The rest of the narrow strips of dry cord with abstract motifs, blue and orange on a white background, belong to our era.
SAINT MARY THE WHITE
This section to the West of the city has been known as Judería Mayor since the times of chancellor don Pedro López de Ayala. However, there are news from before the era of the Muslim governor Muchair ibn al-Qatil (IX century) when it was called: madinat al Yahud, or city of Jews. It was a walled city. In this place, there were different quarters such as Alacava, Caleros, Hamanzeite, Cosperos, postigo del Fierro, Arriaza… They appear in documents and were located by some of their surviving streets. Across from this synagogue was an old Jewish castle. Beyond it, toward the San Martín bridge were butcher shops, the slaughterhouse or place where animals were butchered according to Jewish purity laws. Its surroundings have different ritual baths or mikvé. They have left behind material remains, Rabbinical schools or yeshivas, shops, souks, ovens...and all the buildings found in a prosperous Jewish quarter that at one time had over five thousand inhabitants. The life of Jews in Toledo and Sepharad was interrupted by the Expulsion Edict issued by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492. This was motivated by their interest in converting all the subjects and inhabitants to Christianity; especially after the conquest of the Kingdom of Granada and their desire to protect those who had already been converted. With the establishment of the Inquisition in 1478, they attempted to do away with the issue of false converts. However, given the apostasy of most Christian converts, encouraged by Jews, who considered that they could not become good Christians as long as they lived alongside Jews, the inquisitors decided: "...there having been much deliberation on the matter, we agreed to order all Jews and Jewesses to leave our kingdoms."
Toledo had ten or twelve synagogues
In the poem by Yaaqob Albeneh dedicated to the grave events of 1391, nine synagogues in Toledo's Jewish quarter are mentioned. These are: the Main Synagogue (probably Santa María la Blanca), the Old Temple, the New Temple or New Synagogue the Prince Semuel Leví Synagogue (now the Sephardic Museum), the Cordobés Synagogue, the Benzizá Synagogue, the Ben Abidarham Synagogue, the Suloquia Synagogue and the Algiada Synagogue. Recently, architect Jean Passini identified the building that was the Sofer synagogue.
Testimony about the Jewish Quarter of Toledo
"I came to the vast city of Toledo, the kingdom's capital; blanketed with the charm of domination and decorated with science. It shows off its beauty to its peoples and princes. Because that is where the tribes emigrated, the tribes of the Lord. There are so many palaces on the inside that make the lights dazzle from its magnificent beauty and splendor! There are so many synagogues of incomparable beauty within it. Every living soul praised the Lord in there. In its midst lives a religious congregation whose ornament is justice; as numerous as the plants in the field." (Judá ben Selomó al Haziri. Twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Sefer Tahkhemoni – The Assemblies of the Wise-)
SAINT MARY THE WHITE
discover + TOLEDO MONUMENTAL
TOLEDO MONUMENTAL © 2017