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Building Types

Art & Symbolism

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Synagogues, Menorah

Symbols derived from the Biblical TabernacleGlossary Term and Temple are found in the art and architecture of the synagogue. Commonly encountered symbols include: -

The Menorah and Hanukiah

The Menorah is the seven-branched solid gold candelabrum of the TabernacleGlossary Term and Jerusalem Temple, first described in the Book of Exodus. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, it was forbidden to reproduce the Temple Menorah. This prohibition is still widely observed in synagogue art today. Instead, a nine-branch lamp is used - correctly called the Hanukiah.

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St Peter's, Rome

Yahin and Boaz

Yahin and Boaz are the pair of columns which stood at the entrance to Solomon's Temple as described in the Book of Kings (Kings 1, 7: 15-22). In synagogue architecture the columns can be treated in a number of ways. Often they have classicalGlossary Term CorinthianGlossary Term capitals and/or fluted shafts, are sometimes paired (i.e. two columns on each side) and topped by a broken BaroqueGlossary Term pedimentGlossary Term. In the synagogue such columns may be found in several locations:

  • Externally, flanking the main entrance - closest to the position described in Solomon's Temple
  • Externally, interpreted as turrets - especially on the facades of European synagogues from the mid 19th century onwards
  • Internally, flanking the ArkGlossary Term

The Star of David or Magen David

The six-pointed star or hexagram, correctly termed the Shield of David, popularly called the Star of David, is perhaps the most widely recognised Jewish symbol today. It is found in synagogue decoration worldwide. Nevertheless, the star is not an exclusively Jewish symbol and appears in Oriental, Islamic and Christian art.

The Jewish community of Prague adopted the star on their banner granted in the 14th century. But the widespread use of the Magen David by Jews in modern times is associated with the rise of political Zionism, the Jewish national movement, in the late 19th century. The Star of David was incorporated into the blue and white Zionist flag in the 1890s and today it adorns the flag of the State of Israel.

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Synagogues, The Ark (ehal)

The Luhot, "Tablets of the Law" or Decalogue

The symbol of the Luhot or round-headedGlossary Term "Tablets of the Law" expresses the Jewish attachment to the Law (Torah). The first firmly established appearance of the Luhot in a Jewish architectural context was on the ArkGlossary Term at the Spanish & Portuguese Great Synagogue in Amsterdam (1675). This was copied at London's Bevis Marks (1701) and in a great many later buildings. In the 19th century this symbol began to appear on the facades of synagogues where, on a church, you would expect to find a cross.

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London, St Martin Ludgate, reredos

In the 17th century, "Tablets of the Law" appeared on the reredosGlossary Term [altar screenGlossary Term] of churches built by Sir Christopher Wren in London after the Great Fire.

Ironically, as with the Star of David, the history of this symbol goes back to the Middle Ages. Jews in Medieval England were forced to wear a discriminatory badge in the shape of the Luhot rather than a circle, as on the Continent. This badge was called Tabula in Latin. The falling "Tablets of the Law" was one of the attributes of vanquished Synagoga in GothicGlossary Term art - in the allegorical pair of female figures known as Synagoga and Ecclesia (Latin for "Synagogue" and "Church"). Famous examples are at the cathedrals of Strasbourg and Bamberg. The only known example of a three-dimensional sculpture of "Synagoga and Ecclesia" in Britain is at Rochester Cathedral in Kent.



Chest or cupboard housing the tables of Jewish law in a synagogue.


The term, originally derogatory, for a style at its peak in 17th- and early 18th-century Europe, which developed the classical architecture of the Renaissance towards greater extravagance and drama. Its innovations included greater freedom from the conventions of the orders, much interplay of concave and convex forms, and a preference for the single visual sweep. The revival of the style in early 20th-century Britain, often termed Edwardian Baroque or Neo-Baroque, drew more on English prototypes than on the more expansive variants of the Continent.


A term used for the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome, revived at the Renaissance and subsequently imitated around the Western world. It uses a range of conventional forms, the roots of which are the orders, or types of column each with its fixed proportions and ornaments (especially Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). Classical buildings tend also to be symmetrical, both externally and on plan. Classical architecture in England began c. 1530 with applied ornamental motifs, followed within a few decades by fully-fledged new buildings.


The most slender and ornate of the three main classical orders. It has a basket-shaped capital ornamented with acanthus foliage.


The style of the Middle Ages from the later 12th century to the Renaissance, with which it co-existed in certain forms into the 17th century. Characterized in its full development by the pointed arch, the rib-vault and an often skeletal masonry structure for churches, combined with large glazed windows. The term was originally associated with the concept of the barbarian Goths as assailants of classical civilization.


A formalized gable derived from that of a classical temple; also used over doors, windows etc. A broken pediment has its apex omitted. An open pediment has the centre of the base omitted. A broken pediment with double-curved sides is called a swan-neck pediment.


Painted and/or sculpted screen behind and above an altar.


(Scots): A rounded bartizan or turret, usually roofless. An angle round is set at a corner.


In a medieval church, usually set at the entry to the chancel. A parclose screen separates a chapel from the rest of the church. A rood screen was placed below a representation of the Crucifixion (called a rood).


Canopied structure in a church or chapel to contain the reserved sacrament or a relic. Also an architectural frame for an image or statue.