Heiliger Sand - History and Facts | History Hit

Heiliger Sand

Worms, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Heiliger Sand in Worms in Germany is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe.

Antara Bate

24 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Heiliger Sand

Heiliger Sand, meaning Holy Sands, is the Worms Jewish Cemetery. With its oldest gravestone dating back to 1076, Heiliger Sand is Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery.

Heiliger Sand History

The oldest gravestone at the site dates from 1058. The Heiliger Sand is the oldest in situ preserved Jewish cemetery in Europe.

One story about the cemetery’s name, Holy Sand, tells of pilgrims depositing sand brought back from Jerusalem in the cemetery. Many old graves remain buried underground in sand.

In around 1260, a perimeter was built around the site. Around the Middle Ages and Early Modern times, the cemetery was repeatedly exposed to potential attacks on the part of the city.  A comprehensive restoration of the cemetery was done in 1625, including additions such as an inscribed prayer for the dead in the entrance area. By the 19th century, the gravestones began to stylistically resemble those of Christian cemeteries and inscriptions were written bilingually in Hebrew and German.

From the younger part of the cemetery, there is an impressive view of the cathedral. This particular vista was described by religious philosopher Martin Buber in 1933 in communication with Protestant theologian Karl Ludwig Schmidt. Because of this, this view is now referred to as the “Buber view” or “Buber-Blick.” The old Jewish cemetery survived the bombing raids of World War Two and post-war reconstruction.

Heiliger Sand Today

Today, the cemetery is maintained by the Jewish Congregation of Mainz. A key destination for thousands of Jewish pilgrims from around the world, the cemetery is a significant historical and cultural landmark for the city of Worms. The cemetery is no longer in use, the last burial having occurred in 1940. In 2019 the site was included on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative list, with an application in progress to make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site permanently.

The cemetery is closed on Jewish public holidays and Saturdays. Male visitors must wear a head covering.

Getting to Heiliger Sand

With regional trains, Worms is about 30 minutes from Mannheim and about 80 minutes from Frankfurt am Main (via Mainz or Mannheim). The Jewish cemetery is a ten-minute walk from Worms Hauptbahnhof or main train station.