Mondovì, Synagogue 18th century, Piedmont

Jews first settled in Mondovi in 1580, after expulsions from Spain and southern France.

Jewish moneylenders were vital to the local economy. Because of this, the Savoy did not establish a ghetto in Mondovì until 1720.

After the Edict of Emancipation on April 2, 1848, Fortuna Estella Levi organized Jewish and Catholic women jointly to donate clothing and goods to families of Piedmont’s soldiers fighting for Italian unification. At the time, the community was small counting less than 200 individuals.  

The last Jewish resident of Mondovì was Marco Levi (1910 – 2000). His grandfather, Donato Levi founded the Mondovi Bank of Exchange and Discount in 1820 and the bank remained in family until 1972. Other Jewish businesses included: silk, ceramic, and an iron foundry established by engineer Giorgio Bassani, that supplied the Italian Air Force in WW I. Felice Momigliano (1886 – 1924), author and politician, bequeathed his extensive book collection to Mondovi’s municipal library.

The last rabbi, Ferrucio Servio, left Mondovi in 1905, when fewer than 10 families remained. The synagogue was last opened briefly for a wedding in 1924.

In 1980, Jewish youths from Turin assisted Israeli architect David Cassuto in cleaning and refurbishing the synagogue. A ketubbah (marriage contract) from 1750, pages of micrography and embossed Torah crowns in 17th century Baroque style were found in the benches of the sanctuary.

The synagogue, dating from the early 18th century, is on the third floor of an apartment building at 65 via Vico. It’s decorative style is unique to Piedmont synagogues and survives, besides Mondovì, only in Chieri, Carmangnola and Cherasco.

At the center of the main room an octagonal tevah (reader’s desk) is raised two steps above floor level. Six wood panels around the tevah are carved and decorated, leaving one face on either side open for entry. Eight pillars in trompe l’oeil marble paint support an airy wooden baldachin. The same technique created 14 purple-draped “windows” on three walls and two towering Corinthian pillars on the Ark wall. Biblical verses inscribed on panels above the windows are clues to the philosophy of Mondovi’s Jews.

The Heikhal is on the east wall, opposite the entrance. Wrought iron railings flank the low platform approaching the exceptional walk-in Ark. A large bronze hanukkia stands next to the Ark on the platform. The Ark doors are carved and gilded wood, centered between two helical columns painted with a climbing grapevine. A seven-branched menorah is carved on the upper part of the doors and its candles bear flames of red paint. The walk-in Ark juts into a rear porch that served as the heder. A direct hit by Allied bombs on the Turin synagogue in World War II destroyed the 13 Torah scrolls sent from Mondovi for safekeeping. One surviving scroll and other artifacts were safely hidden in Dr. Marco Levi’s home, one day before the Germans arrived.

A wooden charity box stands on a side table in the main sanctuary, sectioned for the poor, the school and Eretz Yisrael. In a corner of the entrance landing, a stone funnel collects rainwater to a stone basin for ritual hand washing. A short corridor leads to a matroneo (women’s section) containing three rows of wooden benches. The women viewed the sanctuary proceedings through open windows, rather than latticed shutters.