The Synagogue in Bykhov

Bykhov

Churches, katolik churches, сathedral, monasteries

In the 17th century the town of Bykhov, which now belongs to Mogilev region, was a private territory and was ruled by the famous in Belarus family of the Sapiehas. Historians attribute the appearance of the Jews in the town to the beginning of the century. In the 1620-ies in the North-Western part of Bykhov appeared a new stone building. The town government was building a synagogue for a developing Jewish community.  

In that era every large community had a stone synagogue, and since that time Bykhov’s Jews also had a temple. Then sacred architecture of Belarus often used defensive features in the construction and design of buildings. Thus, not only worship services were held in the building, but it also served as a defensive fortress, which was supposed to protect the town in case of enemy attack.  In privately owned Bykhov such a role, apparently, was also given to the building of the synagogue. They had to protect the town from the building of the synagogue in the mid-17th - early 18th centuries.

The thickness of the walls of Bykhov’s synagogue is about 2 meters, the size of the centric building is 20х21 meters. One of the corners of the rectangular building is replaced by a cylindrical tower, it as if protrudes forward, beyond the boundaries of the main foundation. It means that the building might have been used as a fortress. Among the most recognizable features of defensive architecture are embrasure windows located on several tiers. The windows of Bykhov’s synagogue are set quite high from the ground level.  

In the 17th century synagogues similar from the architectural point of view were being built on Volyn land that was in the possession of the Sapiehas. This puts researchers onto an idea that the same architects were involved in the construction of these buildings and the synagogue in Bykhov.

The building of Bykhov’s synagogue is also considered as a construction of the castle type, thanks to the expressiveness and strictness of forms and volumes of the building. The walls look very simple, as for decorations there is only a barely noticeable embossed finish, which is cut with long rectangular arched windows. Expressiveness is given by a high parapet, built above a cornice, which is called attic in architecture. It covers the main façade and then goes to the tower, in the upper tier of which there are niches for loopholes.  It is assumed that attic was to be the main defensive area.

In spite of modest outward decorations, the synagogue inside looked very luxurious and rich.  In the old years its interiors were decorated with paintings and stuccos.

In the Old Bykhov the synagogue was in a separate square, located almost in the center of the town. It was possible to get quickly from here to the market square and the town shaft, on which stood Mogilev gate. Despite a challenging situation the Jewish community, which appeared only in the early 17th century, was gradually expanding. From the mid-18th century and to the late 19th it expanded more than by 2 thousand people and amounted to 3037 people, at that time it was almost a half of the entire population of the town. In 1880 in Bykhov were 10 synagogues, 10 of which were wooden. The main one was the stone synagogue, built in the early 1620-ies and preserved to our days.

Today the synagogue in the district center of Bykhov is easily recognisable: the stone building has no longer served either its purpose or any other purposes. The old unpainted walls, neglected facade and emptiness inside tell on the status of the building: it is abandoned. Bykhov’s synagogue belongs to the Baroque style and is considered a monument of architecture of the early 17th century.

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