Obj. ID: 8923
Jewish Architecture Wooden synagogue in Pakruojis - photos of 2004
To the main object: Wooden synagogue in Pakruojis, Lithuania
The wooden synagogue of Pakruojis was built in 1801 according to an inscription deciphered by Chackelis Lemchenas (Lemchenas, “Pakruojo medinė sinagoga,” p. 101). It was renovated in 1895, and metal rods were installed to prevent the structure from further deformation (Lemchenas, “Pakruojo medinė sinagoga,” p. 101).
Before the 1920s, the building included a prayer hall, a winter prayer room, a vestibule, a staircase, and a women’s gallery. In the 1920s, the winter prayer room was converted into a primary school and the vestibule lost its original function, as a new lobby was added at the northern side of the synagogue. This lobby protected the entrances to the prayer hall and the classroom from the outside elements. The women’s entrance was located on the south-western side of the building (Interview with Monti [Menachem] Kremer).
The synagogue is on the northern side of Kranto Street (in the Soviet period it was Aleksonio St.), on a high, southern bank of the Kruoja River. The pre-WWII appearance of the synagogue is known from a series of photographs taken by Chackelis Lemchenas and Stasys Vaitkus in 1938, and again by Berelzonas in 1940.
The synagogue is covered with a shingled mansard roof. The log walls, without weather-boarding, were reinforced by vertical posts and metal bolts. The building was lit by segment head windows. Six of the windows looked into the prayer hall (two on each of its south-western, south-eastern, and north-eastern sides), two other smaller windows of similar shape looked into the women’s gallery on southwest and northeast.
The women's gallery spanned the winter prayer room, vestibule, and the staircase, and jutted out into the prayer hall on its north-western side. The projection of the women’s gallery into the prayer hall was supported by two wooden Doric columns in the rear of the prayer hall. The whole interior space was spanned with a wooden cove dome, fitted into the roof construction. The dome and partition of the women’s gallery were painted in 1895 by an unknown local Jewish artist, who later emigrated to the United States (Lemchenas, “Pakruojo medinė sinagoga,” p. 101).
The painted subjects included trees inhabited by birds and animals (such as stork bringing a worm for its nestlings, and a peacock), a deer, a lion inscribed with a verse,
"ארי שאג מי לא ירא"
(“The lion hath roared, who will not fear,” Amos 3:8, Fig. 11), an open Torah ark containing Torah scrolls and with two Torah scrolls attached to the top, a train arriving at a two-story building between two trees, a table with books, vases of flowers, and at the center of the dome there was a Leviathan, holding its tail in its jaws, circling a town house.
On the partition of the women’s gallery appeared animals mentioned in the Mishna Avot 5:20: “Be strong as the leopard, swift as the eagle, fleet as the gazelle, and brave as the lion to do the will of thy Father which is in heaven.” There is a fifth animal, a camel, painted next to the image of the lion.
The Torah ark once occupied the center of the southeastern wall. Its three-tiered wooden construction was carved and painted by an anonymous Jewish craftsman (Lemchenas, “Pakruojo medinė sinagoga,” p. 101). Four steps flanked by panelled hand rails led from the floor to the landing in front of the ark. On the first tier, two composite columns were carved with wine scrolls and separated by imitation marble panels that stood on either side of the ark. The columns supported an entablature, which was inscribed with the verse:
"כי מציון תצא תורה"
(for out of Zion shall go forth the law, Is. 2:3).
On the second tier, two sculpted rampant griffons held the Tablets of the Law in front of four corinthian columns, surmounted by hands raised in priestly blessing. The entablature of this tier is inscribed:
"אתכם על כנפי נשרים ואבא אתכם אלי"
([I bare] you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself, Ex. 19:4).
On the third tier, the Doric aedicula, spanned with a Baroque pediment, included the Russian two-headed imperial eagle with its insignia: sceptre, orb, and crowns. Another, larger crown was attached to the pediment above the eagle. A second double-headed eagle inscribed with the Tetragrammaton was painted above the sculpted eagle. Two lions standing on their hind legs held a crown above the painted eagle.
The ark was flanked with delicate carved decoration. The top tier of the ark occupied a niche cut into the vault of the ceiling.
The octagonal wooden bimah was situated in the center of the hall. Two flights of stairs led to the platform from the southwest and northeast; benches were attached on the other six sides of its panelled base. The bimah was framed by a carved balustrade on the first tier, eight twisted Corinthianesque columns on the second, and carved pediments on the third.
The synagogue possessed a number of brass fixtures, including a hanging lamp dated 1803 and a Hanukkah lamp dated 1871.
The structure functioned as a synagogue and a school until 1941. From 1941 to 1954 it stood abandoned. In 1954 it was reconstructed as a cinema, which functioned until 1971. In later years it was used as a gym and a warehouse, and was finally abandoned.
Currently (2004 - 2006), the synagogue is a rectangular log structure, measuring 18.46 m by 13.75 m, and about 12 m high. Its interior is divided as a cinema into vestibule, manager’s office, ticket office and a projection unit on the western side, and a hall for the audience. Neither the layout of these rooms, nor the actual fenestration corresponds to the original ones. The level of humus grew around the building through decades causing water ingress into the log walls.
The building retains the original mansard roof, and its exterior is well preserved. The interior was not so lucky. In 1954, the painted wooden dome ceiling was replaced by a flat ceiling. Only the painted beam on the top of the women’s gallery partition is preserved and is presently in the attic. The roof is covered with asbestos sheets instead of the old shingles. Horizontal weather-boarding protects the log walls. The original paving inside and around the synagogue is lost.
In May of 2009, the synagogue building was damaged by fire.
(Text from Cohen-Mushlin, Aliza, Sergey Kravtsov, Vladimir Levin, Giedrė Mickūnaitė, Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė (eds.), Synagogues in Lithuania. A Catalogue, 2 vols. (Vilnius, 2010-12))
In October of 2010, conservation efforts began. Currently (2017), the building has been reconstructed to serve as a children's library, and to hold an exhibition about the Jewish community in the town. Its interior paintings have been recreated according to Lemchenas' photographs and surviving remnants.
| 8 Kranto St.
Cohen-Mushlin, Aliza, Sergey Kravtsov, Vladimir Levin, Giedrė Mickūnaitė, Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė (eds.), Synagogues in Lithuania. A Catalogue, 2 vols. (Vilnius: VIlnius Academy of Art Press, 2010-12)