Golden Rose Synagogue


Ukraine’s Jewish community is fighting to restore the remains of a historical treasure in Lviv.

The "Golden Rose” is the oldest synagogue in Ukraine and one of the oldest and most beautiful synagogues in Europe. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Also known as Turei Zahav, the Golden Rose synagogue was built In 1582. It was one of the most spectacular late-sixteenth-century Renaissance architectural landmarks of the city. For centuries it was a center of culture and learning for local Jews.

The synagogue was initially built as a private synagogue for Yitzhak Nachmanovych. He was a senior of the Jewish Assembly in Lviv and one of the richest city residents. He commissioned Pavlo Shchaslyvyi, one of the city’s most renowned architects, to design the structure.

In 1603 the Polish king granted the lands on which the synagogue stood to the Jesuits, and after extensive court proceedings, the building was transferred to the Jesuits in 1606.

But in 1609, the synagogue was returned to the Jewish community — upon payment of a ransom of 20,600 guilders.

Legend has it that the synagogue was saved by Nachmanovych’s daughter-in-law, Rosa, who sacrificed herself to the Roman Catholic Bishop.

Rosa had been known as the Golden Rose due to her great kindness This woman, who saw and felt her people's pain, offered her entire fortune as ransom for the synagogue. However, the Roman Catholic Church authorities would not hear of it. – Let her bring the money herself, – was the Bishop's final word. A woman of great beauty and charm, Rosa understood what that meant. She delivered the money to the Bishop and remained with him. In return, the bishop returned the synagogue to her brothers. The community was overjoyed. Once again light shone from the windows of the synagogue, and it could be seen all the way to the Bishop's residence. Rose saw the lights and, having fulfilled her mission, committed suicide.

From 1654-67 the Jewish scholar Rabbi David Ha-Levi Segal prayed in this synagogue. Known for his writingson Judaic religious law, particularly the famous "Turei Zahav”, the synagogue also became known as Turei Zahav (The Golden Lines). Rabbi Segal's descendants produced 33 rabbis over several generations. Sadly, like many other Jewish sacred sites, his grave has been desecrated. Instead of a monument or headstone, a market stands on his gravesite.

For centuries the Golden Rose Synagogue was a centre for Jewish culture and learning in Lviv.  

But WWII brought the destruction of the synagogue as well as most of Ukraine’s Jews. In 1941, the Golden Rose Synagogue was completely looted, then later demolished with explosives by the Nazis. All that survives is part of the structure’s northern wall. It bears a plaque written in English, Hebrew and Ukrainian.

During the Soviet period the building lay in ruins. In the late 1980s, the municipal authorities carried out some conservation work, and in the 1990s, architectural historian Sergеу R. Kravtsov made a computer simulation showing the synagogue at all stages of its history. In 1998 the United Nations, designated the Golden Rose a Unesco world heritage site.

Despite the designation, and Ukraine's laws designed to preserve historic sites, in 2011 authorities in Lviv agreed to allow a private developer to demolish remnants of the synagogue in order to build a hotel for the EUFA Cup. Reacting to international pressure as well as pressure from the Ukrainian president's office in Kyiv, city authorities ordered a halt to the hotel work. The mayor of Lviv also hastily announced the city would proceed with long-delayed plans to build a Holocaust memorial near the Golden Rose synagogue.

As well there is a Program for the Regeneration of the Jewish Quarter of Lviv. The Program is grounded on rigorous archaeological, historical and architectural research conducted by Ukrainian scientists. They suggest a gradual restoration of the Golden Rose synagogue to its original state in the 16 century. But the first priority is preservation of the existing ruins.