About Santa María la Blanca Synagogue
Santa María la Blanca Synagogue in Toledo, Spain, is unique in having originally been a Moorish construction built as a Jewish synagogue which was later converted into a Christian church in the 15th century. Santa María la Blanca Synagogue literally translates into Synagogue of Saint Mary the White, and today is open to view.
Santa María la Blanca Synagogue history
Santa María la Blanca Synagogue was first constructed in 1180 and completed in the early 13th century. The synagogue was constructed under the Christian Kingdom of Castile by Islamic architects for the Jewish population of Toledo, and was originally called Ibn Shushan Synagogue. The design is a Mudejar construction, and the plain white interiors and use of brick and pillars rather than columns were characteristic of Alomahad architecture that thrived in the 12th century under the Iberian Caliphate.
The synagogue’s design also had nuances. Despite being constructed as a synagogue, the lack of a women’s gallery is similar to a mosque. Between 1405 and 1411, the synagogue was repurposed as a church, taking the name of Saint Mary to remove the ‘darkness’ of its Jewish past. At the time, the Kingdom of Toledo was part of the ongoing Reconquista, and the 14th and 15th centuries saw forced conversions, mass murder and rioting against the Toledo’s Jewish population.
According to the Catholic church, the synagogue was turned into a church after a Dominican priest, Vincente Ferrer, converted the Jewish population. The church later became a monastery in 1550, the monks seeking to purify the building of its Jewish past. By 1856, the building was declared a national memorial site and so was restored.
In 2013, the Jewish community in Toledo asked the Archbishop to return the building to them. However, there has been no response.
Santa María la Blanca Synagogue today
After a long spiritual history, the synagogue is no longer used for ceremonies but is instead a museum owned by the Catholic Church. You can walk beneath the impressive horse-shoe shaped arches and glance up at the coffered wooden ceiling, admire the altars and take in the peaceful atmosphere.
This incredible building is open all day Monday through Saturday to visit, and the tickets only cost €2,80. The Santa María la Blanca Synagogue remains one of Toledo’s oldest monuments.
Getting to Santa María la Blanca Synagogue
Located within Toledo’s Old Town surrounded by other historic treasures, the easiest way to find the synagogue is via public transport. Catch the L2 or L12 buses to Plaza Barrio Nuevo at Junto Plaza, a 200m walk away.