Latvia: Ludza Great Synagogue restoration nears completion

Exterior of the Great Synagogue in Ludza, Latvia, as of mid-December 2015. Photo courtesy Jews in Latvia Museum

Exterior of the Great Synagogue in Ludza, Latvia, as of mid-December 2015. Photo courtesy Jews in Latvia Museum

Restoration of the historic Great Synagogue in Ludza, Latvia — dating from around 1800 and the oldest surviving synagogue in the country — is nearing completion, with work slated to be finished in early 2016 and a formal rededication planned for the second half of August.

Ilya Lensky, of the of the Jews in Latvia Museum in Riga, has sent us an update on the restoration process as of mid-December, based on information provided by Dr. Pēteris Blūms, the supervising architect of the project and a prominent specialist on wooden architecture.

The building, the only synagogue in Latvia to preserve an inner cupola, has been recently heat insulated and new exterior planking has been put in place. New window casements have been installed, and every day all three stoves are lit to heat the building.

Ludza, Latvia Great Synagogue, December 2015. Photo courtesy of Jews in Latvia Museum

Ludza, Latvia Great Synagogue, December 2015. Photo courtesy of Jews in Latvia Museum

Currently the main attention on the interiors, and the decorative floral ornamentation and coloring and plastering are being restored. Also a new floor is slated to be installed.

Photo courtesy of Jews in Latvia Museum

Photo courtesy of Jews in Latvia Museum

Work continues on the grounds, too, where a new fence has been installed, and a new cobblestone pavement laid.

The Great Synagogue was constructed in 1800-1801, and has been remodeled several times. Initially it was a wooden building, but probably in early 20th century it was covered with bricks. Its inner cupola also was probably added around that time.

Exterior work on the Ludza synagogue. Photo courtesy of the Jews in Latvia Museum

Exterior work on the Ludza synagogue. Photo courtesy of the Jews in Latvia Museum

Lensky reports that as part of the restoration, experts have carried out a dendrochronological analysis of the logs used in building the synagogue, “and they date back to around 1780, possibly originating not from Ludza area, but a bit to southeast. So 1800/01 is the latest possible dating, maybe it’s even earlier, although it has not been reflected in the sources.”

The synagogue was granted the status of national monument in November 2013, and preliminary work on the restoration project started at that time.  The funding was obtained from the EEA Grants/Norway Grants program.

As we reported in February 2015, the building will become a museum, with its main sanctuary an exhibition hall. On the ground floor there will be an exhibition dedicated to the  Latvian-Israeli documentary film director Herz Frank and his father, the pre-World War II  Ludza photographer Wulf Frank. The former women’s gallery will house a permanent exhibition on the history of the Ludza Jewish community, dating back to 18th century, and the Holocaust.

Photo courtesy of the Jews in Latvia Museum

Photo courtesy of the Jews in Latvia Museum

 

During the Nazi occupation one of the walls of the synagogue was partially destroyed, but it was restored after the WWII. The current interior design and furnishing, including the Ark, probably date to post-war times. During the 1990s the synagogue became derelict, and homeless people found shelter there. Due to lack of maintenance, the wooden structures of the synagogue, standing close on the shore of the lake, were subject to spring floods and started to rot. A new roof was installed in the early 2000s; funding for this was raised by several former residents of the city.

The building was nationalized in 1940 by the Soviets and its restitution to the Jewish community was completed only recently. The community then decided to pass the property to the local municipality.

 See our February post about the restoration, with “before” pictures

 

 

 

One thought on “Latvia: Ludza Great Synagogue restoration nears completion

  1. We visited Ludza in 2001.
    To our amazing surprise, we stumbled on this little Shul in Ludza and managed to enter through the back door. What we found was simply amazing, lots of books and religious artifacts strewn around. .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *