Synagogue from Wolpa

The synagogue from Wolpa in Belarus, about 40 kilometres from Grodno, was built in 1648. In 1781 the roof was renovated. It was considered the most beautiful wooden synagogue in this part of Europe. During the Second World War, in 19441, the temple was burned by the Germans.

The reconstruction may take place due to the inventory of the synagogue in 1930s, as part of the inventory action of wooden synagogues in Poland, thanks to Professor Oskar Sosnowski from the Warsaw Technical University as well as Szymon Zajczyk, the historian of art and Jewish sculpture.  Most likely, he was the creator of photographic and technical documentation of Wolpa’s synagogue which the project of Bilgoraj was based on. The documentation related to both the interior and the shape of the synagogue itself. In reality, this meant that the object was unique in the whole Europe. Detailed documentation of architecture, conservation, inventory notes and detailed descriptions and photographs allowed for the restoration of site documentation.

The synagogue, is generally speaking, impressive. It captivates with its beauty, its proportions and carpenter’s details that have been restored with great attention. The Foundation applies for EU grants in order to finish the interior: polychrome, bimah (the platform for reading Torah) and Aron ha-kodesz (The cabinet for storing Torah) among other things as well as its remaining equipment. The primary goal is to reproduce the entire interior intended to be the Jewish Museum of Bilgoraj.

We face an extraordinary job

We plan to restore the art doomed to oblivion. After a Second World War not even a single wooden synagogue survived in Poland. They were burned down along with centuries of the presence of Jewish community in the Republic of Poland together with their beautiful interiors, ardent and absorbed in prayer. With only a few black and white photographs, drawings, plans and descriptions and residual inventory of graphics, today we can learn about the polychrome of wooden synagogues from the area of old Poland. The architects Maria and Kazimierz Piechotek performed a great work showing the synagogues’ wealth. They created a book-album ‘The geates of heaven. The wooden synagogues’ which was released twenty years ago. It is an invaluable inspiration and help for us in the creation of our project. Bilgoraj XXI Foundation under the programme of ‘The village on the trail of cultures of the borderland’ gives us a chance to revive the synagogue paintings. The reconstructed synagogue from Wolpa, a small village on the area of today’s Belarus, is already waiting for paintings.

Wolpa, until the last war, remained within the borders of the Second Polish Republic – in Bialystok region and in the district of Grodno. Wolpa was made famous by the wooden synagogue, considered the most beautiful in our part of Europe. Mr and Mrs Piechotek write: ‘it was considered the greatest in the European scale’. The Vault and the paintings were especially admired. Bilgoraj gives Wolpa a new life. We can make it even more complete.

The wooden synagogues from the territories of former Republic, with both architectural form as well as wealth of polychrome, were to evoke the memory of the Lord’s Tabernacle, with the vaults presenting the circles of heaven piling up endlessly. The echoes of Sarmatian tents, initially imported from Turkey and eventually produced in Poland, also resonate in the shape of these synagogues. Jewish artists and craftsmen were among the tents’ creators. The paintings were of a very high artistic level. They were characterized by stylistic consistency. This indicates the existence of  centers – a kind of ‘school’ of synagogical paintings. Experts locate them around Lviv. Let us follow the footsteps of the local masters. As in the prototypes (including the synagogue of Jablonow, Kamionka Strumilowska, Gwozdziec, Polaniec, Mohylew, Chyrow and Chodorow) the polychrome composition of the reconstructed synagogue in Bilgoraj will be adjusted to its architectural form. We will take into account the composite and colour rules as well as the approach to ornament and symbolism developed by old masters. In terms of colour we would incline to slightly patinated colour version: fiery red, blue, green and yellow. Patination would suggest the passage of time and it would give the paintings the significant character. We are going to use silicate Kaim paints, specifically a special series for wood surfaces. This type of paint provides a noble matt surface, durability and good quality pigments. We will make every effort to restore the paintings reliably and at a high artistic level.