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Bevis Marks Synagogue
Photograph: Karniewska/Shutterstock

A campaign to save the oldest synagogue in the UK is underway

Bevis Marks, open since 1701, is at risk from a looming skyscraper development in the City of London

Written by
Noah Barnett
Leonie Cooper

Following threats that Bevis Marks synagogue – the only non-Christian place of worship in the City of London – may have to close due to a new office development, hope has come in the shape of a campaign opposing the planned buildings

Over 1,700 objections to the 48-storey block have been lodged with the City of London Corporation, with support for the campaign coming from across the world. Opponents to the new development say that it will overshadow the Grade I-listed building, which already has light levels that are ‘dangerously low’, is currently illuminated by 240 candles that take nearly an hour to light. These are accompanied by restricted electric lighting, which was added to the 320-year-old building in 1928. However, no further lighting can be added owing to the building’s listed status.

Historian Sir Simon Schama said: ‘The breathtakingly beautiful synagogue has been light-filled for centuries; lit by memory, worship and the flow of our nation’s history. Its preservation should be as critical a matter as if, for instance, a Hawksmoor or Wren church were similarly threatened and darkened by commercial high-rise development.’

Bevis Marks was unscathed by both world wars and also survived two IRA bombings. Nowadays, it remains a proud heritage site welcoming weekday tours, weekly services and lectures whilst also proving a popular choice of venue for weddings and concerts. Concerns have also been raised by the congregation about the possibility of damaging the foundations of the building due to deep drilling, with construction noise disrupting the many events that occur there.

Rabbi Shalom Morris, who runs proceedings at Bevis Marks, explained that if the building became less hospitable it would have a knock-on effect for the viability of events to take place there, which effectively keeps the lights on – or candles lit in this case.

A final planning decision will be made later this week.

Bevis Marks Synagogue, Bevis Marks, EC3A 7LH.

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