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France: Major exhibition in Rouen on Medieval Jews; renovation of “Maison Sublime” (oldest Jewish building in France) under way

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A major exhibition on medieval Jewish life and culture in northern Europe is under way at the Musée des Antiquités in Rouen, France. Called Savants e Croyants: Les Juifs d’Europe du Nord au Moyen Age (Scholars and Believers: Jews of Northern Europe in the Middle Ages), the exhibit opened May 25 and will run until September 16.

Described as the most important exhibit to date to be held in Europe on medieval Jews, the exhibit brings together archival documents, manuscripts, ritual objects, Torah scrolls, furniture, household items, art objects, archaeological finds, gravestones, and other material from France, England, Germany and Italy.

The exhibition was supposed to have coincided with the reopening after renovation of the so-called Maison Sublime in Rouen, a building dating from around 1100 and discovered by chance in 1976 under the courtyard of the Rouen courthouse. It  is believed to be the oldest Jewish building in France, though scholars are divided as to what its original function was — a private residence, synagogue, or yeshiva.

The renovation process was delayed and got under way only in February. The building is now due to be opened to the public in October.

The approximately €700,000 renovation of the Maison Sublime, funded by €460,000 in grants from state and regional authorities as well as from private and foundation donors (including €100,000 from the Safra Foundation) includes, according to the Maison Sublime web site,  a restoration of the structure of the building as well as:

  • improvement of the insulation and reduction of the humidity by creating an airlock at the entrance and ventilation system.
  • installation of a lift for disabled persons

  • creation of a tour route that will allow visitors to place the monument in historical context

The Savants and Croyants exhibit is divided into two thematic parts: “implementation and development of Judaism in Normandy in medieval England” and “education and intellectual life.”

Among the items on display is the medieval Torah scroll from Biella, Italy, which has been dated to around 1250 and is regarded as the oldest Torah scroll still in use by a Jewish community.

A symposium associated with the exhibit will be held in September.

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