This Day in Jewish History

1701: The Oldest Synagogue in Britain Is Dedicated

`After being expelled from the U.K. in 1290 and again from Spain during the Inquistion, Spanish-Portugese Jews finally returned to London where, on this day in 1701, they dedicated the still-active Bevis Marks Synagogue.

bevis marks
The festive opening of the Bevis Marks synagogue in central London took place on Elul 27, the eve of Rosh Hashana, 5462. Deror avi

On this day in 1701, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London was dedicated by the city's Spanish-Portugese community. Named for the street where it stands, it is the United Kingdom’s oldest functioning synagogue.

Jews had been expelled from the kingdom by King Edward I in 1290. By 1655, Marrano Jews, whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition, petitioned Oliver Cromwell to officially readmit the Jews to England. Permission was only granted the following year, after the start of the English-Spanish War. When the property of Spanish citizens living in England was seized, crypto-Jews residing there claimed that they had become Spaniards under duress, and were actually Jews. By 1690, 400 Jews had resettled in England.

A synagogue for the Sephardi community was established in an upper floor of a building on Creechurch Lane in 1657. Its congregants acquired a piece of land on nearby Bevis Marks St. in 1699 to build a permanent home, which was constructed by Joseph Avis, a Quaker who is said to have refused any profit from the project. The festive opening of the new synagogue took place on Elul 27, the eve of Rosh Hashana, 5462.

By the 1960s, the movement of Jews out of the East End and central London meant the congregation was struggling, at one point contemplating selling or closing its Bevis Marks home. But the expansion and development of London as a world financial center brought many observant Jews to the area who attended midweek morning services.  Soon the synagogue was thriving again. Today, it is one of three Spanish-Portuguese synagogues in London, holding services both on weekdays and Shabbat.