Santa María la Blanca (Toledo)( Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca )
The Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca (Spanish: Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca, lit. 'Synagogue of Saint Mary the White') or Ibn Shoshan Synagogue is a museum and former synagogue in Toledo, Spain. Erected in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, it is disputably considered the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing. The building was converted to a Catholic church in the early 15th century.
The synagogue is located in the former Jewish quarter of the city, between the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes and the Synagogue of El Transito. It is one of three preserved synagogues constructed by Jews in a Mudéjar or Moorish style under the rule of the Christian Kingdom of Castile.
The exact origins and original specifications of the synagogue prove difficult to place. Evidence points toward a construction date sometime in the late twelfth century or early thirteenth century CE. Supporting evidence for this dating is the structure's architectural style, which is close to that of Almohad monuments of the twelfth century, such as the Tinmal Mosque (1149) and Kutubiyya mosque (1147).
One commonly accepted opinion is that it was erected sometime around 1205, as documents from the time mention a "new", great synagogue located in Toledo. Another theory arises from a wooden tablet found in the area that describes a new structure, saying, "Its ruins were raised up in the year 4940" [CE 1180]. If this inscription indeed refers to the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, then the synagogue may in fact be a reconstruction of an existing building or a new building located on the same plot as a demolished one. One hypothesis that has been raised to explain the synagogue's layout is that may have been taken from a preexisting mosque located on the same site. Another former synagogue building in Segovia (destroyed after a fire in 1899) had a very similar layout, which suggests that more synagogues of this type may have once existed in the region.
Some historians, such as Leopoldo Torres Balbás, note similarities between the plaster work in the aisles of Santa María la Blanca and the convent Las Huelgas de Burgos, which is of a later date, around 1275. According to Carol Herselle Krinsky, however, the scale and proportion of the ornamentation, the blank canvas against which the ornamentation is placed, as well as the way in which light is used in the space all correspond more closely with the twelfth-century mosques and thus with an earlier construction date.
It is also somewhat unclear who might be the patron of the original synagogue, although there is some evidence for Joseph ben Meir ben Shoshan, or Yusef Abenxuxen, as the original patron. Joseph was the son of a finance minister to King Alfonso VIII of Castile and, upon his death in 1205, his epitaph mentions his having built a synagogue. Some theories suggest Joseph rebuilt the synagogue after a pogrom against Jews in Toledo. This may be the cause for the building's irregular floor plan and again points to a late-twelfth-century construction.Conversion to church
As a result of the pogroms of 1391 and the anti-Jewish preaching of Vicente Ferrer, the synagogue was sacked and then appropriated by the Catholic church. It was officially consecrated as a church in the early 15th century, though sources vary in stating the exact year: some cite 1401, 1405, 1410, or 1411. The church was given to the Order of Calatrava. Its present name, Santa Maria la Blanca ('Saint Mary the White') dates from this time and comes from an effigy of Mary that was kept inside. Between 1550 and 1556 three small apses were added to the back of the building to serve as chapels, still visible today. They are designed in a Renaissance style and are attributed to Alonso de Covarrubias.
The building was later used as a military barracks, a warehouse, and a dancehall. The building was eventually declared a national memorial site and restored in 1856. The government restored Santa María la Blanca to the care of the archdiocese through a local parish in 1929. Today it is a museum and tourist attraction.