The Grade II-listed Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue – the oldest surviving purpose-built synagogue in Wales – has recently been completely recorded, down to millimetre accuracy, preserving its current form before it is redeveloped into the Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre.
The recording was carried out by Wessex Archaeology and commissioned by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) in partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Heritage. This work was deemed particularly important, as the building had been identified as one of the 16 most important synagogues at risk in Europe.
To digitally preserve the building, a team from Wessex completed a comprehensive laser scan of both the exterior and interior of the building, creating 3D measurements of every part of the synagogue and its surrounding environment. This data was then used to create plan and elevation drawings, which will be kept alongside the scan survey in the RCAHMW’s National Monuments Record of Wales as a permanent record of the synagogue. It is hoped this technology will also be used to virtually recreate the synagogue as it may have looked when it was used for active worship.
The Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue is unique in appearance. It was built in 1877 by the Merthyr Tydfil Hebrew Congregation in the Gothic Revival style, in stark contrast to many of the other synagogues built in the UK at this time, which tended to use Oriental or Byzantine styles. The gable of the building is also decorated with a Welsh dragon, making this perhaps the only synagogue in the world to feature such a design. By the 1950s, the congregation had dwindled and the synagogue closed in 1983.
Susan Fielding, Senior Investigator for Historic Buildings at RCAHMW, said: ‘The Merthyr Tydfil Synagogue is one of the most historically and architecturally important faith buildings in Wales. After many years of the building being at risk, we are very pleased to be working with the Foundation for Jewish Heritage and Wessex Archaeology on this survey, as an exciting step on the road to bringing the building back to life and telling the story of the rich heritage of Jewish communities in Wales.’