Fondazione De Benedetti - Cherasco 1547
Jewish Cherasco /Synagogue
The synagogue is a fascinating testimonial to the determination with which a small oppressed community, forcibly brought together in a restricted and congested space, expressed its aspiration for dignity and the strength of its faith. For the fulfillment of this aspiration, the community set aside a cluster of the best rooms in the crowded complex, devoting the most solicitous care and unstinting means to its embellishment.
As in all the synagogues built before the Emancipation, the one in Cherasco does not have a façade visible on the street. It is located inside an 18th century edifice, in the area of the ancient ghetto, on the top floor, in keeping with an ancient precept that a synagogue should not be surmounted by any other structure. It is accessed through an unidentified wooden door, and is located at the top of a plain staircase.
The vestibule features a washbasin, dominated by a marble stone that records the donation made by the De Benedetti brothers in 1792-3. Next to the entrance door is an alms box.
A staircase leads to the small women's gallery, which is fenced by a simple wooden grating.
The quadrangular prayer hall is illuminated by four wide vertical windows, two each on the south and east walls. The windows, originally meant to be screened by curtains, are surmounted along the entire perimeter of the walls by frescoed Hebrew inscriptions framed in floral decorations. Notable also is the presence of four mirror sconces from the 18th century, aimed at amplifying the light of the candles. The wooden chandeliers are also from the 18th century.
Wooden benches, possibly of the 17th century, line the walls.
The floor is paved with square duotone white and black tiles, while the ceiling is in white and blue plaster.
At the center of the hall, in keeping with tradition, stands the tevah, in octagonal shape, with a canopy in sculpted and painted wood. The tevah in Cherasco is of a down-home ornateness; the canopy, sustained by slender and simple twisted columns with Corinthian-like capitals, does not present exceptional decorative features.
Positioned at the center of the east wall, the wooden Aron has a more complex form: the decoration of the cabinet's shutters consists of three twisted half-columns, which frame the two Tablets of the Law, while on the sides, candleholders protrude from two sculpted twisted half-columns. The whole is surmounted by a small porthole window of colored glass.
In traditional (non-Reform) synagogues, the prayer area for women is separated from that of the men. Often the women's section is in a raised gallery, but the two areas may also be contiguous, separated by a grating called mechitzah (literally, a partition). The women's gallery in Cherasco is indeed a raised gallery and is set apart by a simple wooden balustrade.
The restoration of the synagogue, under the direction of architect Deborah Gutowitz, and sponsored by the De Benedetti Foundation, took three years to complete.
The Foundation is grateful to the Jewish Community of Turin, the Piedmont Region, the foundations of the Compagnia di San Paolo, Cassa di Risparmio di Torino, Cassa di Risparmio di Cuneo, and to the generous support of the Calabi family.