Synagogue, Chmielnik
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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Having witnessed the tragic events of World War II, this old synagogue has managed to survive intact, its most distinctive feature being the intriguing sail vaults of its prayer hall, supported by structural arches. One of the largest surviving synagogues in the Świętokrzyskie region.

History

To a large extent, the history of the brick and stone synagogue in Chmielnik remains shrouded in mystery. It used to be thought that it was constructed after 1630, when Krzysztof Gołuchowski, the erstwhile owner of the town, issued a document which allowed Jews to settle in Chmielnik, conferring a wide range of rights upon them – including the right to build a synagogue. However, the alleged 17th-century origins of the building have recently been called into question due to the low population and relative poverty of the Jewish community in Chmielnik at the time. In addition, mentions of a different, wooden synagogue have been found in the documentation prepared during the bishop’s inspection visit to the Chmielnik parish in 1748. The proponents of the more recent theory concerning the origins of the synagogue have advanced the view that its construction took place after 1748. The scarcity of references to this buildings in subsequent sources has meant that so far, researchers were able to learn very little of its later history. It has been determined that the synagogue sustained damage during the great fire which swept across the Jewish district in 1849; it is believed that both the roof and the interior fixtures and fittings were lost to the blaze, although the vaulted ceilings may have also collapsed during that time. In the second half of the 19th century, the synagogue was rebuilt; it now featured a low hip roof which replaced the earlier roof structure; there are reasons to believe that, before the fire, the building came equipped with a butterfly roof. The vaulted ceilings inside the synagogue were either repaired or reconstructed, while the interiors were now adorned with stucco decorations designed in the eclectic style. A new staircase leading into the matroneum now adjoined the western façade of the structure. Somewhere between the late 19th and the early 20th century, a pair of annexes adjoining the northern wall were built; at some point, these have served as a Jewish school (cheder). In addition, the main prayer hall was now graced by new painted decorations. In 1942, the Germans destroyed all interior fixtures and fittings and divided the prayer hall into two separate storeys, with the upper storey being supported by wooden pillars. They have also dismantled the balustrade of the western gallery, converting the entire building into a granary. In 1978, an inventory of the building was prepared under the supervision of a monument inspector. Subsequent inventories were prepared in 2009, in connection with the plan to adapt the synagogue as a museum space. In 2011, a series of archaeological surveys took place on the site. In years 2011-1013, a set of comprehensive conservation and renovation works took place inside the synagogue and in its immediate surroundings. Today, the synagogue serves as the “Świętokrzyski Sztetl” (Shtetl of the Świętokrzyskie Region) Museum and Educational Centre, with the prayer hall containing the permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of the Jewish community of Chmielnik. A monument known as the House of Shadows was erected in the former Jewish cemetery, commemorating the now-vanished local Jewish community.

Description

The monumental, cuboid silhouette of the synagogue, erected using brick and split stone, rises at the intersection of Sienkiewicza and Wspólna streets, about 300 metres away from the north-eastern corner of the Market Square, in the northern part of the town, which used to serve as the Jewish district. The site of the former Jewish cemetery stretches on the northern side of the building. The main body of the building, designed on a rectangular plan, is covered with a hip roof, with the western and northern annexes (the staircase annex and the former cheder) featuring a gable roof and a mono-pitched roof respectively. The southern façade, which incorporates the main entrance, is adorned by simple framework decorations consisting of lesenes positioned between the four windows of the synagogue, topped with basket-handle arches. The rectangular entrance door is framed with small pilasters with composite capitals and a decorative cornice. The eastern wall is pierced by a pair of identical windows; a broad lesene positioned in the middle of the eastern façade features a wide bottom section which flares out in a buttress-like manner. All façades feature a tall wall base and moulded entablature. The interior follows a tripartite layout. The vestibule and the former rabbinate council assembly hall are located on the western side of the building. Both of these rooms are covered with double barrel vaults. Above them, on the second storey, there is a spacious gallery – the former matroneum – opening up towards the main prayer hall. In the course of archaeological surveys conducted in 2011, an intriguing heating system was discovered, comprising a stove fitted inside the thick middle wall and providing heat to both the rabbinate hall and the gallery. The entire eastern part of the main body is taken up by the spacious, two-storey main prayer hall with a rather interesting sail vault supported by double arches which in turn rest upon a pronounced, profiled cornice; the vaulted ceiling above is adorned with plasterwork decorations incorporating both geometric and foliate motifs typical of the eclectic style. The walls of the synagogue had once been graced by a plethora of painted decorations; surviving fragments of these decorations were subjected to conservation works in the years 2011-2013. Beneath the new flooring lie the remnants of the foundations of the bema, the Torah Ark (Aron Ha-Kodesh) along the eastern wall as well as the former base of the so-called eternal light (Ner Tamid), the latter positioned between the Torah Ark and the bema. All of these vestigial remnants have been discovered in the course of archaeological surveys of the structure. Today, the interior of the prayer hall is divided into two storeys, with the lower one being used as a permanent museum exhibition, while the upper one is used for various temporary exhibitions and cultural events.

The site is accessible to visitors during the opening hours of the “Świętokrzyski Sztetl” Museum and Educational Centre.

Compiled by Aleksandra Ziółkowska, 08-12-2015

Bibliography

  • Record sheet of monuments of architecture, Chmielnik, Synagoga (Chmielnik, synagogue), prepared by P. Mras, 1986, Archive of the Regional Monuments Protection Office in Kielce.
  • Baranowski J., Synagoga w Chmielniku, Warsaw 1960, typescript available at the Archive of the Regional Monuments Protection Office in Kielce.
  • Bałaban M., Zabytki historyczne Żydów w Polsce, Warsaw 1929.
  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, vol. III, issue 1, Warsaw 1957.
  • Maciągowski M., Krawczyk P., The story of Jewish Chmielnik, Kielce 2007.
  • M. and K. Piechotka, Bramy nieba. Bóżnice murowane na ziemiach dawnej Rzeczypospolitej, place of issue not stated, 1999.

General information

  • Type: synagogue
  • Chronology: 1748 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Wspólna 14, Chmielnik
  • Location: Voivodeship świętokrzyskie, district kielecki, commune Chmielnik - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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