Great Synagogue (Sydney)
The Great Synagogue is a large heritage-listed synagogue located at 187a Elizabeth Street in the Sydney central business district, in the City of Sydney local government area of New South Wales, Australia. Sited opposite Hyde Park, the synagogue extends to Castlereagh Street. It was designed by Thomas Rowe and built from 1874 to 1878, with stonework by Aaron Loveridge. The synagogue was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 10 September 2004. The building is also listed on the (now defunct) Register of the National Estate.
|The Great Synagogue|
The Great Synagogue facade and front entrance in Elizabeth Street
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Active|
|Leadership||Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Elton|
|Year consecrated||4 March 1878|
|Location||187a Elizabeth Street and 164-166 Castlereagh Street, Sydney CBD, New South Wales, Australia|
|Construction cost||over £23,000(p7)|
|Direction of façade||East|
|Capacity||1,600 (ground floor only)|
|Length||43 metres (140 ft)|
|Width||20 metres (64 ft)|
|Official name: Great Synagogue; The Great Synagogue|
|Type||State heritage (built)|
|Criteria||a., b., c., d., e., f., g.|
|Designated||10 September 2004|
|Builders||Aaron Loveridge (stonework)|
The Great Synagogue was built to unite two Jewish congregations in Sydney which worshipped at the time in synagogues in York Street and Macquarie Street. The York Street Synagogue had been designed in the Egyptian Revival style by James Hume and built in 1844. The first moves were made in 1864 towards obtaining a suitable site for a new, larger synagogue. In 1871 a meeting was held at York Street to discuss buying land available in Elizabeth Street. It was suggested a meeting be held with the Macquarie Street Synagogue to unite in purchasing the land for a synagogue to serve the whole community. John Solomon, a builder, purchased the land at auction for £2,000 in 1871 and held it until the congregation could raise sufficient funds. The proposal was for a synagogue and educational facilities for the less wealthy members of the congregation. The money was to be raised by sale of land in Kent Street which had been granted for a Jewish school but never used. Further money was raised by the sale of the York and Macquarie Street properties. An appeal was also launched to fund the new building, accompanied by a photograph of the New London Synagogue (subsequently destroyed by bombing in 1941) which was intended to serve as the model for the Sydney building. Thomas Rowe, a Cornish architect, was selected in 1872 by means of a limited competition, the other competitors being G. A. Mansfield and Benjamin Backhouse. Rowe also acted as the construction manager for the new building. The building of the synagogue was also partly supervised by the Princes Road Synagogue, Liverpool and the New West End Synagogue, London. The foundation stone was laid in January 1875 by Saul Samuel, Postmaster General, later to be the first Jewish minister of the Crown in the British Empire. A huge bazaar was held in December 1875 to raise extra funds.
The principal contractor for stonework was Aaron Loveridge, founder of the modern firm of Loveridge & Hudson. The contract drawings by Rowe, and signed by Loveridge, are held by Sydney's Mitchell Library. Other notable firms connected with the work were William Coleman (carpentry and joinery), Fletcher Brothers (decorative cast iron), Lewis and Steel (decorative plaster), Cornelius and Co of Philadelphia (gas fixtures), Minton Hollins & Co (tiles), P. N. Russell & Co (cast iron columns), and Lyon & Cottier (stained and etched glass).
The synagogue was consecrated on 4 March 1878, but its decoration was not completed until 1883. At the time of completion the synagogue was the most imposing building in Elizabeth Street and was one of the first large Victorian buildings erected in Sydney and reflected civic pride and prosperity. The Great Synagogue is the mother church of Australian Jewry and still maintains a register of all births, marriages and deaths which have taken place since the first entry was made on 1 November 1826. It also houses a museum which attracts much interest as does the library. The synagogue is involved with festivals in Sydney including the Festival of Sydney and the 1986 "Music on the Move" program. In 1988 the Bicentennial Council of NSW recognised the importance of the building and recommended a significant grant for restoration work on the Elizabeth Street facade. Each year many tourists visit the synagogue which features prominently in guidebooks as well as special interest groups, especially schools.
The Great Synagogue consists of two main sections: the original synagogue (house of worship) with ladies' gallery, at the Elizabeth Street end, and a five-storey modern section at the Castlereagh Street end behind the facade of the original Beadle's residence. The original eclectic design in Victorian Free Gothic style was described at the time of consecration as Byzantine interspersed with Gothic elements. The Elizabeth Street frontage and towers are of Pyrmont stone, and the remainder of the early structure is brick with cast-iron columns and timber floors, and a slate roof. The Castlereagh Street facade is stone at ground floor level, with rendered brickwork above. The interior is elaborately decorated with moulded plaster, carved timber and stained glass, all embellished with abstract patterns to avoid representation of living forms. Surviving timber stairs at the Elizabeth Street end have strongly carved balustrades. Walls are painted with gold leaf highlights, and the furniture is mostly of polished timber and brass. Some original colour schemes survive, notably on the ceiling of the Elizabeth Street porch, while the midnight blue ceiling with gold leaf stars has been repainted to the original design several times. Timber floors are raked at both ground and gallery levels, and the centre section of the ground floor and Ark steps, like the porch, are ornately tiled in tessellated and mosaic work. The basement contains a hall which has steel portal frames supporting the columns and floor above, and also contains the A M Rosenblum Museum and Rabbi Falk Library. The modern section, constructed of reinforced concrete, contains offices, classrooms and meeting rooms, together with a lift and fire stairs, and has a top floor with an openable roof. The modern stained glass windows in the Castlereagh Street facade were designed by Louis Kahan of Melbourne. The building contains notable examples of venerable sacred scrolls and religious artefacts, including a menorah (nine-branched candelabrum) made by Rabbi L. A. Falk.
The present synagogue has the traditional feature of an elevated ladies' gallery. When first erected, the bimah was central, as is traditional. However, to increase seating capacity the bimah was moved forward to the western wall in 1906. Over the years, extensive additions and alterations have been made to the other facilities appurtenant to this building, including the construction of a succah, excavation and construction of a large reception area below the synagogue itself, construction of the Rabbi Falk Memorial Library, installation of electricity in the chandeliers, and installation of a "shabbat" elevator. A useful overview of the synagogue's history is provided by the 2008 book edited by Rabbi Raymond Apple.
As at 22 August 2001, the condition of the building is generally good, although the upper sections of stonework require maintenance (1997). There is unlikely to be much archaeological potential owing to the excavations for new sections of the building in the 1950s and 1980s.
The Great Synagogue is generally intact both externally and internally in the older section fronting Elizabeth Street.
Modifications and datesEdit
- 1911 – choir gallery moved from east to west end, western semi-circular apse made square, reading desk moved from centre to western end and rebuilt to incorporate pulpit, and extra seats installed in centre block. Architects Kent & Budden. Little intrusion, although some impact on original, highly traditional synagogue plan.
- 1910s – gasoliers converted to electric light. Little intrusion.
- 1940s – eastern wheel window strengthened internally with reinforced concrete. Some intrusion internally.
- 1957 – basement deepened and reconstructed as War Memorial Hall. Architect Orwell Phillips. Some intrusion, although the previous basement area appears to have been of little significance.
- 1981 – western section rebuilt behind original facade as Education Centre. Architects Orwell Phillips and David Nathan. Some intrusion mostly in less significant areas, except for the replacement of original timber stairs with concrete fire stairs.
- 1987 – stonework conserved and interiors decorated with stencilling, some based on early patterns found. Sprinkler system installed. Minimal intrusion.
One of the State significant items used at the launch of the State Heritage Inventory.
As at 12 August 2004, The Great Synagogue is of state and potentially national significance as the earliest surviving synagogue in NSW still in use, which has represented the centre of Jewish worship and culture in central Sydney since the 1870s. The Great Synagogue is associated with the Mother Congregation of Australian Jewry, together with many subsequent leading members and families of the Jewish faith. By its prominent situation and presence in Central Sydney, its magnificent architectural grandeur, its rich symbolism, and its important collection of Hebrew documents and other religious artefacts, the Great Synagogue also embodies and demonstrates the early development and importance of the Jewish faith and culture in New South Wales during the 19th Century.
The Great Synagogue is a major landmark of Sydney. It is the only high Victorian style Synagogue in Australia and represents one of the most elaborately decorated Victorian buildings in Sydney, internally and externally. The building also represents one of the finest works of the leading NSW architect, Thomas Rowe. It contains excellent examples of the best quality decorative work in moulded plaster, carved sandstone and timber, metalwork, tiling and stained glass that is remarkable for its richness, originality and the degree of craftsmanship by leading decorative firms of the High Victorian period from Australia, Great Britain and the United States. Apart from its architectural excellence, the Great Synagogue provides a rich townscape aspect to Hyde Park and is an iconic building of Elizabeth and Castlereagh Streets.
The place is important in demonstrating the course, or pattern, of cultural or natural history in New South Wales.
The Great Synagogue is the earliest surviving synagogue in NSW still in use, and according to some, the earliest surviving synagogue building. A small building in Goulburn, possibly used as a synagogue, was built some years earlier. The Great Synagogue has considerable ecclesiastical and historic importance as it represents the Mother Congregation of Australian Jewry, which saw the merger of two separate congregations to build the present synagogue, and represents the centre of Jewish worship and culture in central Sydney since the 1870s.
The place has a strong or special association with a person, or group of persons, of importance of cultural or natural history of New South Wales's history.
The Great Synagogue is associated with the mother congregation of Australian Jewry, and many leading citizens and families of the Jewish faith. It is also associated with the prominent architect Thomas Rowe, who designed several other landmark buildings in Sydney of which perhaps the best known is Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street.
The place is important in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and/or a high degree of creative or technical achievement in New South Wales.
The Great Synagogue is a major landmark of Sydney and represents one of the most elaborately decorated Victorian buildings in Sydney, internally and externally. It contains excellent examples of the best quality work in moulded plaster, carved stone, decorative tiling and stained glass. According to George Proudman, former master mason with the NSW Public Works Department, the Synagogue has some of the finest stone carving in all of Sydney. The form and construction of the building exemplify the traditional 19th century pattern of Orthodox Anglo-Jewish worship.
The building represents one of the finest works of the leading NSW architect, Thomas Rowe, in association with the architect W. L. Vernon (then in private practice) reputed to have partly supervised Thomas Rowe in the design. The design is reputed to be inspired by the Princes Road Synagogue in Liverpool and the New West End Synagogue in London - a composite Renaissance style, mainly Byzantine but with Gothic overtones, particularly apparent for the main window.
The place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in New South Wales for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.
The Great Synagogue is socially significant because it continues to be the focus of Jewish communal worship and culture in central Sydney, as it has been since its construction.
The place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of the cultural or natural history of New South Wales.
The Great Synagogue has technical and research significance as a living museum of decorative embellishment in 19th century buildings, which contains examples of the work of many leading practitioners of the time. It also contains a number of religious scrolls, books and artefacts. The form and construction of the building exemplify the traditional 19th century pattern of Orthodox Anglo-Jewish worship.
The place possesses uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of the cultural or natural history of New South Wales.
The Great Synagogue is remarkable for its richness and originality of decoration, coupled with the excellence of the craftsmanship. It is rare in NSW as the earliest surviving synagogue in NSW still in use, and according to some, the earliest surviving synagogue building.
The place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural or natural places/environments in New South Wales.
By its prominent situation and presence in Central Sydney, its magnificent architectural grandeur, its rich symbolism, and its important collection of Hebrew documents and other religious artefacts, the Great Synagogue also embodies and demonstrates the early development and importance of the Jewish faith and culture in New South Wales during the 19th Century. The Great Synagoue has represented the centre of Jewish worship and culture in Sydney (and arguably the State) since its construction in the 1870s. Architecturally, the Great Synagogue represents one of the finest works of the leading NSW architect, Thomas Rowe, and the most elaborately decorated Victorian building in Sydney.
Bimah of The Great Synagogue
- Apple, Raymond, ed. (2008). The Great Synagogue: A History of Sydney's Big Shule. UNSW Press.
- "Great Synagogue". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H01710. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
- "The Great Synagogue, 187A Elizabeth St, Sydney, NSW, Australia (Place ID 1802)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of the Environment. 21 March 1978.
- "The Great Synagogue". Sydney Architecture. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008.
- The Heritage of Australia. Macmillan Company. 1981. p. 2.
- Muir Appelbaum, Diana (2012). "Jewish Identity and Egyptian Revival Architecture". Journal of Jewish Identities. 5 (2): 7.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 September 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2008.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Phillips, 1975.
- Bersten, 1995.
- "Welcome to the Great Synagogue, Sydney" Archived 18 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine, "Visiting The Great Synagogue, Sydney" Archived 19 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine, 19 February 2008.
- Phillips, 2000.
- Heritage Office, 2004.
- Attraction Homepage (2007). "Great Synagogue".
- Orwell & Peter Phillips Architects (2000). Conservation Management Plan The Great Synagogue Sydney.
- Raymond Apple ; with members of the congregation (2008). The Great Synagogue : a history of Sydney's big Shule.
- The National Trust of Australia (NSW) (1975). Classification Card for the Great Synagogue.
- Tourism NSW (2007). "Great Synagogue And Am Rosenblum Jewish Museum".
This Wikipedia article contains material from Great Synagogue, entry number 1710 in the New South Wales State Heritage Register published by the State of New South Wales and Office of Environment and Heritage 2018 under CC-BY 4.0 licence, accessed on 14 October 2018.
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