Archaeologists discover pillars of bimah during excavation of Vilna synagogue
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Archaeologists discover pillars of bimah during excavation of Vilna synagogue

Historians expressed their delight this week in what they describe as “significant findings”, in what was once a hub of European Jewish life

  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
  • While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit  (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)
    While excavating the premises of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town, archaeologists have unveiled two out of four pillars that were surrounding the pulpit (Credit: Vilnius City Municipality.)

Archaeologists excavating the site of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Vilnius Old Town have discovered two out of four pillars that surrounded the pulpit, or Bimah.

The pillars, which once stood nine metres tall, were discovered alongside writing carved into the walls next to Bimah, a cellar containing 300 coins, a mikvah or ritual bath, and 16th-century tiles.

“The discovery of the pillars is a great moment for us because we have found one of the two most sacred parts of the building,” said Dr. Jon Seligman, head of the research team.

“They were located at a special place in the Synagogue, where rabbis stood during the service. They were recognised using photos of the synagogue. Although we had hoped to find them, we experienced great joy when we finally stumbled upon them.”

The Great Synagogue of Vilna was once one of the most important Jewish centres of religion and culture in the region, and was the principal prayer home to the city’s extensive Jewish community. Vilnius once boasted. Such was its thriving nature that scholars dubbed it the “Jerusalem of the North.”

Due to its reputation as a hub of European Jewry, historians expressed their delight this week in what they describe as “significant findings”.

The writing that archaeologists found refers to the Old Testament, including a citation from the Book of Genesis. Other writing recounts lines from hymns. The coins vary in age. Some date from the 17th century, while others were made around the time the synagogue was destroyed by the Soviets shortly after the Second World War.

Excavation work began in 2011 and last year two mikvot (ritual baths) were discovered, together with a significant fragment of a wall, floor, and a part of the Bimah. Archaeologists are still hoping to find the Aron Kodesh, the ark containing the synagogue’s Torah scrolls.

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