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ShUM sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz

Date of Submission: 15/01/2015
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Germany to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Ref.: 5975
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The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1. Speyer


UTM Zone 32 N: 459265 / 5462759



UTM Zone 32 N: 458715 / 5463418

2. Worms


UTM Zone 32 N: 454240 / 5498090


Friedhof Heiliger Sand:

UTM Zone 32 N: 453457 / 5497647

3. Mainz

Jüdischer Friedhof:

UTM Zone 32 N: 446264 / 5539489

The communities (kehillot) Jews established in the Middle Rhine cities of Mainz, Worms und Speyer from the 10th century onwards are among the earliest documented in Central and Eastern Europe. Together, they formed a unique cluster that significantly influenced the culture, religion and administration of justice in the Ashkenazi diaspora.

The intensity of their interrelations is also reflected in the acronym used to refer to them: the ShUM communities (kehillot ShUM), coined on the basis of the initial letters of Speyer, Worms and Mainz in Hebrew. The joint legal statutes of the three reaffirming them at another assembly in 1223, have survived to this day.

The kehillot ShUM played a major role in establishing the specific principles underpinning Jewish life north of the Alps by adapting key aspects of Jewish cultural traditions from Babylon, the Holy Land, the western Mediterranean area and northern France – some of them stretching back to Antiquity – to the specific conditions of their living environment north of the Alps. Indeed, their influence even extended to how such principles were physically handed down from generation to generation. This novel development of Jewish ways of life and traditions, partially coloured by the Jews' close contact with a Christian environment, became characteristic of Ashkenazi Judaism, which in the modern era assumed lasting importance in the New World and in the state of Israel. For many of the legal decisions and traditions, rites and customs (minhagim) passed down by scholars in the Rhine region remain binding for Orthodox Jews to this very day.

The significance and diversity of the unique architectural and cultural heritage of the ShUM communities, dating back to the 11th century, are of universal value: the synagogues and ritual baths (mikvahot) in Speyer and Worms attest to new, trend-setting architectural forms. The Jewish cemetery in Mainz is home to the oldest known gravestones north of the Alps. The memorial cemetery opened there in 1926 is the only example of a monumental cemetery on its original, authentic site. Meanwhile, the sheer age, size and relatively intact condition of the cemetery in Worms make it unique in the world, as does its constant use for almost 1,000 years and the distinguished status of the prominent Jews buried there, making it an important place of remembrance for Jews worldwide. In addition, many other significant physical reminders, mainly archaeological artefacts, are to be found in the three cities' museums.

Despite the material damage inflicted mainly by waves of persecution and forced expulsions, the overall Jewish legacy left by these different kinds of testimony to the past forms an ensemble that is unique in the world for the cultural heritage of Judaism, which ranks alongside Christianity as one of the bedrocks of European culture.

The buildings and cemeteries in the ShUM communities

The Speyer community's buildings

In 1084, Rüdiger, Bishop of Speyer (1074-1090), awarded a privilege enabling the foundation of a Jewish community in the city. In the centre of the Jewish settlement near the cathedral and the market square stood the synagogue, inaugurated in 1104, the ritual bath, dating from slightly later, and the women's synagogue built in around 1250.

The Romanesque masonry on the east and west façades of the synagogue, which – characteristically – cannot be seen from the street, reaches up to the roof, some six metres above the ground, making it the oldest visible remains of a synagogue north of the Alps. The end walls of the single-nave structure were distinguished by a characteristic group of windows consisting of two window embrasures encompassing a central round window, or oculus. The Gothic renovation (after 1250) retains this layout, which became typical of 13th and 14th-century synagogues. The oculus high above the Torah shrine also became a typical element of synagogue design.

While a single nave design is also commonly used in Christian architecture (e.g. for refectories and town halls), the special composition of the windows is distinct from that of Christian buildings dating from the same period. Furthermore, the characteristic ratio of the synagogue's window surface area to the volume of the building, as well as its substantial height for a one-storey building mean that even its exterior marks it out as a specific structural style of its own.

The interior has its own characteristic layout and design, with a Torah niche and light cornice in the east and a raised lectern for reading the Torah (bima) in the centre.

In around 1250, a women's synagogue, which was only slightly smaller, was built along the south face of the synagogue. The only documented women's synagogue dating from earlier (1212-13) is in Worms. So the two women's synagogues in the ShUM communities of Worms and Speyer are the oldest known examples of this type of building.

A door and rectangular windows in the south wall of the synagogue opened it up to the women's synagogue, allowing women to follow services.

Trend-setting new solutions and forms were also used for the construction of the technically highly demanding monumental ritual bath (mikvah) in Speyer in approximately 1120.

Tradition dictates that only water from a natural source may be used for the ritual bath. The monumental ritual baths in Speyer and later in Worms (1185-86) met this requirement by drawing groundwater. In Speyer the master builders were faced with the major technical challenge of having to lay out a virtually square shaft, almost four metres wide, more than nine metres underground to feed the water basin.

Surviving bath tiles indicate that a hot bath was built above the ritual bath in the second half of the 14th century. Documentary evidence suggests that a bath-house, a bakehouse and the hospital were already in existence before 1349.

The courtyard next to the synagogue served as a place for consultations and decisions about the community's affairs. Today, an essentially Baroque residential building, which has housed the SchPIRA Museum since 2010, stands on this spot. The museum relates the history of Speyer's Jewish population, and exhibits gravestones, other remnants and the Lingenfeld Treasure (ca. 1340–1349).

The Worms' community's buildings

A Jewish community is believed to have existed in Worms as early as the 10th century. A first synagogue of the community that settled close to the city's northern wall, close to its commercial centre, is known to have existed in 1034. The synagogue dating from 1174-75, the women's synagogue from 1213, the ritual bath from 1185-86 which has survived largely in its original form, and the Rashi college (yeshiva), often called the Rashi chapel, dating from 1623-24 have been preserved. Above the cellars of the mediaeval dancing house, the Rashi House was built in 1980-82, accommodating the Jewish Museum and the city archives. The foundations of other municipal buildings dating back to the Middle Ages – a bakehouse, a hot bath and a hospital – have not yet been excavated.

A preserved original inscription provides information about the completion of the first documented synagogue in the early autumn of 1034. In 1174-75, a new building was constructed partly on the synagogue's foundations, still in place after the destruction during the Crusades. While its interior dates back to the Romanesque period, the exterior underwent a Gothic transformation. The design of the walls, featuring two high-up Gothic lancet windows and oculi arranged below them, dates back to the restoration work after the pogrom of 1349 and is typical of synagogue construction of that period.

A new element – which was characteristic of synagogue construction after 1174-75 – is the twin-nave design already evident in a Christian context (in town halls or areas inside cloister buildings), which was taken up in synagogues built at a later date, e.g. in Regensburg (1210-20), Prague (1260s), Vienna (before 1294) and Nuremberg (1296). Accordingly, the twin-nave layout, along with the construction of a room for Jewish worship, thus appears to have become a preferred design in Jewish religious buildings earlier than in the construction of Christian churches, where the twin-nave model only became established with the mendicant orders' churches in the 13th century.

It is highly probable that craftsmen working on the cathedral were also involved in the synagogue's construction. In particular, the quality of the two central pillars with their intricately sculpted capitals, which dominate the six-vault interior, lends weight to this hypothesis.

In 1212-13, the synagogue was extended on the north side with the women's synagogue, a slightly lower building that could be entered through its own gate. Worms' women's synagogue, with its inscribed construction date, is the oldest known example of its kind. As in Speyer, women could follow the service going on in the men's synagogue through listening windows. When the synagogue was modified in 1841-42, the dividing wall between the two previously distinct spaces was removed.

The shape of the largely intact Romanesque mikvah dating from 1185-86 follows its predecessor in Speyer. Two steep staircases lead down to the water basin, which is some seven metres below ground level.

The synagogue complex was set on fire and destroyed on 10 November 1938. Until its destruction, the synagogue, which until then had been in constant use, was one of the oldest and most important synagogues in Europe. The foundation walls and most of the construction material were preserved. The reconstruction of 1956-61 was based on rescued remnants of its architecture, old photographs and pictures of the building, and by applying established archaeological principles.

The Mainz community's buildings

Mainz, the oldest of the ShUM communities, was home to the biggest Jewish community north of the Alps until the 11th century.

The centre of the community, stretching back to the 10th century, was not far from the cathedral and the market square. Written sources attest to the existence of a synagogue, a ritual bath, a bakehouse, a dancing house and a hospital. These buildings are no longer in existence but their approximate position has been established. Valuable original artefacts, including the oldest datable Jewish gravestone in central Europe (from 1049) can be found in the Mainz State Museum's Judaica collection.

Mainz's cemeteries and gravestones

The mediaeval Judensand cemetery in Mainz attests to the outstanding importance of the Jewish community in Mainz. It was defiled in pogroms and after forced expulsions, and some of its gravestones were used as building material, but topological data document the cemetery's expansion. Apart from a few peripheral areas partly built on in modern times, the graves have been preserved. The northeastern sector served as a burial ground until the end of the 19th century, with around 1,500 gravestones standing on it dating from the late 17th century. The ‘memorial cemetery' has been located on a part of the old site since 1926. Here, around 210 mediaeval gravestones that were recovered in the 19th and 20th centuries have been re-erected. In 2007, another 29 gravestones and fragments were uncovered and put in safe keeping. The eight gravestones with inscriptions from the 11th century are among the oldest in Ashkenaz, the region encompassing Germany, northern France, northern Italy, and later also Eastern Europe. Many of the rediscovered gravestones and memorial stones commemorate martyrs and scholars, including Gershom ben Judah (ca. 960–1028-40), one of the first scholars active in Mainz, venerated to this day as the ‘Light of the Exile'.

Worms' cemeteries and gravestones

The cemetery of the Jewish community in Worms that was situated immediately adjacent to the southwest of the city wall and established at the latest in the early 11th century – although plundered and destroyed on many occasions – served continuously until the creation of the new Jewish cemetery in 1911 as a ‘House of Eternity' and a ‘House of Life'. Of the 1,300 gravestones on the original site, around 600 are from the Middle Ages, with the oldest dating from 1058-59. On the adjacent site to the west are 1,200 more gravestones dating from the 18th century to the early 20th century. The systematic surveying and exploration of the site of the cemetery in Worms and its gravestones, which was resumed several years ago, has unearthed some significant new findings, including details about the community's buildings. Indeed, to this day the cemetery in Worms is visited by Jews from all over the world because of the prominent Jews buried there.

Speyer's cemeteries and gravestones

In Speyer, where a Jewish settlement was established no later than 1084, so far about 50 of the gravestones in the cemetery that stopped being used in the 16th century have been recovered. Some of them are exhibited in the SchPIRA Museum.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (ii): In the centres of Speyer and Worms, some unique Jewish buildings of outstanding universal value have survived. They document in unique detail the creation and emergence of exemplary structural forms that influenced the architecture of the Jewish communities of mediaeval cities for several centuries.

The synagogues, women's synagogues and ritual baths are outstanding early examples of architectural styles that were recreated in Jewish ritual buildings in Central and Eastern Europe for several hundred years and which reflect the changing needs and ideas of the Jewish minority in Germany (e.g. notions of cleanliness and uncleanliness and of gender segregation or integration). The synagogue in Speyer is a prominent example of how these newly developed principles were applied in practice. Its outstanding universal value also lies in its evidential value in terms of the various phases of development of synagogue architecture from the start of the 12th century to the mid-15th century.

The monumental ritual baths in Speyer and Worms are the oldest remaining examples of a structural form that was unknown in Europe until that time. Moreover, they represent innovative and outstanding technical solutions for their age. Furthermore, the ShUM communities of Worms and Speyer were the first to build dedicated synagogues for women.

Criterion (iii): The universal value of the Jewish cultural heritage of the ShUM communities is based on the direct link between the surviving monuments and the outstanding importance of the ShUM communities in the Middle Ages, and the effects on religion, law, scholarship, poetry, customs and other areas of Jewish culture that radiated from them and have persisted for over a thousand years. The monuments that have survived to this day bear unique witness to the creative struggles lasting for centuries experienced by a Jewish minority grappling both with its own traditions and with the culture of the Christian environment surrounding it.

The importance of the synagogues and the other buildings as religious, social and political centres of the Ashkenazi communities can be clearly seen in Worms und Speyer. To this day the cemetery in Worms, largely preserved in its original state, is a site that is also visited by many Jews from all over the world for individual and collective remembrance at the graves and epitaphs of scholars, martyrs and other distinguished figures and is therefore a place of living Jewish tradition of universal significance. It is also sought out by many Christians who are aware of the extensive similarities between Judaism and Christianity. The same goes, but to a more limited extent, for the memorial cemetery in Mainz.

Despite the massive and irreversible disruption caused by the Holocaust, the legal principles and traditions of the kehillot ShUM remain evident to this day in many parts of the world and are gaining new importance even in the 21st century in the ShUM sites. In the New Synagogue in Mainz (‘Light of the Diaspora', 2010) the architect Manuel Herz creatively took up ShUM traditions and adapted them to the contemporary era.

Criterion (vi):  The ShUM communities were the cradle of Ashkenazi Judaism, the influence of which can be seen worldwide to this day. Since the 10th century, the colleges established in the kehillot ShUM have attracted teachers and learners from afar.

The ShUM sites can be regarded in many respects as exemplary of the whole of Judaism in the Christian diaspora. For many fruitful years characterised by positive tolerance, Judaism flourished. The most important scholars since the Talmud was written studied and taught here. The global influence these distinguished Jewish figures have had on Judaism to this day can be illustrated with a selection of examples:

The famous scholar Rabbi Gershom Me'or Hagola (‘the Light of the Exile' - ca. 960-1040, Mainz) has enjoyed global recognition and his takkanot (religious enactments) still apply to this day. For example, not only did he introduce the principle of the privacy of correspondence, but the ban on polygamy in the Jewish faith can also be traced back to him and continues to hold true today. His memorial stone still stands in the Jewish cemetery in Mainz.

To this day, in their religious education all Jewish children grow up with probably the most famous Torah und Talmud commentator Rashi (1040-1105), who studied and taught for many years in Worms und Mainz. But for seasoned scholars, too, his preeminent teachings continue to be an invaluable source of knowledge. His legacy was borne out of the then still new Ashkenazi ShUM tradition, a tradition he ultimately went on to shape. To this day, he is considered the most important Bible and Talmud commentator. The tomb of his teacher Jakob ha-Jakar can be found in the old Jewish cemetery in Mainz.

Similarly, the grave of the famous Tossafist and Talmudist Rabbi Meir ben Baruch – MaHaRaM – (ca. 1215-1293) is one of the most popular sites for visitors to the Jewish cemetery in Worms. This important scholar died in captivity due to his refusal to be freed in return for payment of a ransom by the Jewish community.

Rabbi Yaakov haLevi – MaHaRiL – (born in Mainz in 1375 and died in Worms in 1427) was a famous Talmudist and Halakhist (scholar of Jewish law). His Sefer Haminhagim (Book of Customs) laid down Ashkenazi customs for the first time in the Halakhah and so formed the basis for all subsequent legal rulings pertaining to Jews in central Europe.

The religious liturgical compositions (piyyutim) of the ShUM sites are used to this day worldwide for Jewish prayers on Jewish holy days. While the famous elegies of mourning (kinnot), which were mostly written in connection with and under the influence of pogroms, are still recited worldwide to this day on Tisha B'Av (the Jewish day of mourning in commemoration of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem) and the High Holy Days, happy and uplifting verses are also commonplace in almost all Ashkenazi communities. Many of these piyyutim arose in ShUM. Among the most famous writers are Kalonymos ben Yehuda, Eliezer ben Nathan, Baruch ben Samuel and Simon ben Abbun (Mainz) and Rabbi Meir bar Yitzchak (Worms).

The most prominent representatives of the mystic and ascetic Hasidic Ashkenaz movement included Speyer's Rabbi Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg (1140-1217) and Worms Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah ben Kalonymos, also known as Eleazar Roke'ah, (1176-1238).

All the ShUM communities were continually plagued by pogroms, expulsions, damage and destruction. This makes the retention and preservation of the relics of Jewish life, some of which are over a thousand years old, even more important. Aside from their literary legacy of prayers, writings and exegeses that continue to be observed worldwide and to have an active influence on the everyday life of religious Jews, it is the buildings they used which provide the most vivid insight into the vicissitudes of the communities' history. The synagogues destroyed and rebuilt on their old foundations and the gravestones stolen and used for purposes other than those intended, and later reassembled in a memorial cemetery are living proof of the extremely changeable circumstances in which Jews lived – Jews who, despite all this ongoing upheaval and change, nevertheless managed to develop and refine a sophisticated system of laws and values that is still applicable and significant to this day.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

In Speyer the basic Romanesque fabric of the ritual bath has been preserved virtually unaltered. The main parts of the synagogue have survived through the centuries despite the radical alterations made to the building since its time as an armoury serving the city and surrounding area (1490). The Gothic conversion that took place around 1250 is clearly recognisable in the preserved basic structure of the building.

In Worms the mediaeval cemetery stands out as an unusually complete burial site. The vast majority of the gravestones continue to stand in their original position, and on the newer site the modern burial plots with their memorial stones or 'steles' have survived almost without exception. The ritual bath has largely remained as it was in the Middle Ages. The Worms synagogue complex which was in constant use as a place of worship for more than 900 years and burnt down in 1938 was reconstructed after the Second World War, building on the remains of the historical masonry and reusing the original stones and rescued architectural components.

In Mainz the graves in the mediaeval cemetery have survived. The recovered gravestones there, some of which had previously been used for purposes other than those intended, have been put back in place. In the modern part of the cemetery, many of the graves with their steles have been preserved.

Comparison with other similar properties

To date, Jewish cultural heritage has only been recognised insofar as it forms part of the historic value of old cities that have been awarded World Cultural Heritage Site status, e.g. in Regensburg, Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Córdoba, Toledo and Granada. In Třebíč in the Czech Republic this status has been awarded to the Jewish quarter that has been documented since the late Middle Ages along with St Procopius Basilica in special recognition of the ties existing between Jews and Christians for many centuries, i.e. not primarily because of its value as a place of Jewish heritage in its own right. On other continents too, Jewish heritage has not been recognised in its own right under the World Heritage Convention and has also only rarely appeared in the Tentative Lists from UNESCO's Member States.

Accordingly, with its focus on Jewish heritage the application for recognition of the ShUM communities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz represents a departure from the norm. The triad of the three nearby Jewish communities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz which have shaped Ashkenazi Jewish education through the centuries is a particularity that has not been replicated in this form anywhere else in the world.

The lasting influence of the ShUM communities on Ashkenazi Judaism is attested to this day by major monuments – e.g. the excellently preserved religious buildings (the synagogue and the ritual bath) in Erfurt and the mediaeval Jewish monuments in Regensburg, Vienna and Andernach.

The monuments which survive today in the ShUM sites are living testament to the outstanding collective significance of Speyer, Worms and Mainz , a unique and universal significance for which this application is seeking to secure recognition under the World Heritage Convention.