City Faith – Shylock’s Synagogue, Venice Ghetto
Inside Shakespeare’s temple.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
More than four centuries ago, he must have stood week after week under this same chandelier to pray within these same walls. His unfaithful daughter must have stood in the women’s gallery upstairs.
This is Shylock’s synagogue.
The Delhi Walla is in the Jewish ghetto of Venice, Italy. The world’s first ghetto is marking its 500th anniversary this year. This is also the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare whose character Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, is probably the world’s most famous Venetian.
The fact-checkers might object that Shylock never really existed, and that the playwright of The Merchant of Venice never ever visited Venice. But then they forgot to check the power of fiction.
If Shylock really existed, he would have been a regular in this Jewish temple. The Grand German Synagogue, built in 1528, is the oldest of the five synagogues of Venice, all of which are in this historic ghetto. Since, traditionally only German Jews were permitted by the city’s Christian authorities to be moneylenders, it is for certain that Shylock, if he were to be real, would have belonged to this German synagogue.
The lavishly decorated temple has scores of glittering chandeliers hanging from the roof. The 500-year-old wood of the walnut pews is particularly notable—it looks dark and polished and seems to contain secrets of the previous centuries. The Ten Commandments run over the walls in gold letters. The gold-plated pulpit stands at one corner.
All these sacred objects are mute witnesses to horrors of the past; they must have also witnessed the presence of Shylock, who, of course, never existed. Even so, he is strongly felt in Venice, especially so in the ghetto, and more so in this synagogue.
The house of God