Document Type


Publication Date



The Jewish presence in Spain in the Middle Ages has long been a subject of considerable interest and study in a variety of fields.[1] Remarkably, a handful of synagogues from this period survive to the present. Toledo, in particular, is home to two such structures: The El Transito synagogue of the 14th century and the Synagogue of Santa Maria La Blanca from the early 13th century.[2] Both were built under Christian kingship and are stylistically Mudéjar, meaning that while they were built after Toledo was reconquered and did not have Muslim patrons, the structures contain notably Islamic visual forms in their design and decoration. While Mudéjar certainly appeared in contemporary Christian and secular buildings, Toledo’s Jews used it with particular zeal and claimed it as their own visual language for holy places and community centers. Noted scholar Jerrilynn Dodds has convincingly argued that Spanish Jews of this period saw Islamic culture as their own, and by building in a visual style that reflected it they reaffirmed their own cultural traditions. [3] This paper seeks to further investigate this multilayered connection between Mudéjar style in the synagogues of Toledo and the Jews that constructed them. Ultimately, I will argue that, more than mere affirmation of their own culture, the specific Toledan Jewish use of Islamic visual forms separated Jews from the Christian culture that surrounded and overpowered them and, furthermore, subverted that power.

[1] Meir Ben-Dov, The Golden Age: Synagogues of Spain in History and Architecture, trans. Shmuel Himelstein (Jerusalem: Urim, 2009), 10-11.

[2] Rachel Wischnitzer, The Architecture of the European Synagogue (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1964), 19,30.

[3] Thomas F. Glick, Vivian B. Mann, and Jerrilynn D Dodds, “Mudéjar Tradition and the Synagogues of Medieval Spain: Cultural Identity and Cultural Hegemony,” in Convivencia: Jews, Muslims and Christians in Medieval Spain (New York, New York: George Braziller, 1992), pp. 113-131, 114-128.