In the Spanish city Toledo, many religions have lived together for centuries. Toledo therefore has religious buildings of various kinds. When I visited the gorgeous city in 1994, the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca struck me as very beautiful.

It was the main synagogue (or as the Spaniards say Sinagoga Mayor) in Toledo, situated in the heart of the judería, the Jewish quarter. According to tradition, it was built in the late 12th century by a certain Ibrain, a favourite of Alfonso VIII, whose love affair with the Jewish girl Rachel became the subject of another cycle of legends. The Jews enjoyed such prosperity that evil and envious tongues began to wag, alleging that the synagogue was founded atop dirt that had been brought from Jerusalem. The situation worsened until at the beginning of the 15th century the building was burnt to the ground. The reason being, again according to tradition, the fiery sermons of catholic St. Vincent Ferrer, which also provoked a massacre in the judería.

The synagogue was later rebuilt and consecrated to Christian worship (!), being dedicated to Santa María la Blanca. Over the years it was put to a variety of uses: hermitage, military garrison and lumber warehouse. It was also turned into a shelter for repentant women in the 16th century, when three chapels were added to the sanctuary.

The building has now been carefully restored. The outside is of no special interest, except for the peacefulness of the garden through which you enter. I was there in mid-Summer though and the plants were all (nearly) dead. Inside you get plunged into an almost unreal play of backlighting and the stunningly white and strange aura it produces. The five naves are separated by Moorish mudejar arches on pillars with stylised capitals. The plasterwork is extremely white and light which made the synagogue look very beautiful in my eyes. The round mudejar style is exceptional as well. Unfortunately the whiteness turned into some kind of grey on the photographs. The plasterwork bears no inscriptions, for this custom came later.

In the sanctuary, where the holy scriptures used to be read, you can see the three chapels added in the 16th century. The main chapel houses an excellent retable carved by Bautista Vázquez.

The synagogue is opened all days from 10 to 14 and from 15.30 to 19. When we visited the synagogue, the entrance fee was 100 Pesetas (I was visitor number 097631 according to the ticket). The address is Calle de los Reyes Católicos 4.

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