In 1996, while renovating the Brunngasse property, a remarkable discovery was made: eight medieval wall paintings from the 14th century. These exquisite murals not only provide a unique glimpse into the lives of a privileged Jewish family in medieval Zurich but also illuminate the broader history of Zurich’s Jewish community during the Middle Ages. Their significance extends beyond local history, contributing to the cultural tapestry of Jews in Europe.
This splendid residence, known as the “Brunnenhof,” or fountain court, was once the home of a wealthy and distinguished Jewish family. Frau Minne, along with her two sons, Moses and Mordechai ben Menachem, resided in the heart of Zurich’s old town.
Fast forward to November 2020, when the “Schauplatz Brunngasse” Museum opened its doors to the public, inviting them to explore this historic residence and marvel at its captivating wall murals. This opportunity allows us to delve deeper into the lives of Frau Minne and her sons, offering a vivid window into the past and enriching our understanding of Jewish heritage in Switzerland.
When viewed in its original context, this artwork offers a truly unique perspective on the daily life of the medieval Jewish community in Zurich. These murals depict both men and women alongside nobility adorned in splendid attire and bearing arms. What sets these paintings apart are the Hebrew inscriptions adorning the banners placed over the coats of arms. However, the most distinguishing feature is the frieze featuring symbols of influential noble families of that era, all inscribed in Hebrew.
An article in the “Schauplatz Brunngasse” highlights the significance of this discovery. When Ms. Lachman, the individual who stumbled upon these murals shortly after moving into the building, found them, she adamantly refused to allow the city of Zurich to conceal them for preservation.
Ms. Lachman’s motivation stemmed from the artwork’s aesthetic value, as she wished to keep it visible rather than hidden from view. She wanted it to be a part of her everyday life, as Mr. Gamm, the executive director of the museum, said. Nevertheless, the city authorities decided that restoration was the best course of action, allocating 20,000 Swiss francs for the purpose of preventing any inadvertent damage. Mr. Gamm further explained, “The restoration process is carried out by a professional who sterilizes the entire surface.”
Regrettably, the identity of the original artist remains unknown, as this piece of art hails from the 14th century, a period during which only a few artists signed their own creations, adding another layer of mystery to this remarkable historical find.
The museum welcomes approximately 4,500 visitors each year, averaging around 30 visits per day, with individuals coming from various countries. While a significant portion of the visitors are local to Zurich, there is also a diverse international presence, with guests hailing from Germany, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and Israel, among other places.
Additionally, on the exterior wall of the synagogue, a memorial plate has been thoughtfully installed to pay homage to the synagogue and the Jewish study center, preserving their memory for generations to come.
For more information:
Fly Swiss at https://www.swiss.com/us/en/homepage.
Visit the Swiss Travel System at https://www.mystsnet.com/en/.
For more information, contact the museum’s managing director, Thomas Gamm, at email@example.com.
Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide, and New York Jewish Guide.com
The author took part in a press trip sponsored by Switzerland Tourism.