Garnethill Synagogue

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Garnethill Synagogue
Garnethill synagogue.jpg
AffiliationOrthodox Judaism
RiteNusach Ashkenaz
Location129 Hill Street, Garnethill, Glasgow
Geographic coordinates55°52′1.81″N 4°16′3.94″W / 55.8671694°N 4.2677611°W / 55.8671694; -4.2677611
StyleRomanesque Revival (exterior), Byzantine Revival (interior)

Garnethill Synagogue is the historic 'cathedral synagogue' of Scotland.[1] It is located in Garnethill, Glasgow.


The synagogue was built in the period of 1879-81, it was designed by John McLeod of Dumbarton, in conjunction with London-based architect Nathan Solomon Joseph of the United Synagogue. McLeod designed a number of churches and public buildings in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, including the Women’s Christian Association in Bath Street, Glasgow.[2]

The building's exterior is Romanesque revival; the basilica-form, orientalist style interior features Byzantine revival detail. As the main building stands between east and west, the apse in the interior stands towards the east facing Garnet Street; this accords with customs within Jewish religion to face Jerusalem in the east whilst praying. Likewise, the Torah ark is positioned at the east end of the synagogue, which is faced whilst praying. Particularly notable is the splendid Torah Ark, designed by Nathan S. Joseph, it closely resembles the Ark he designed for London's New West End Synagogue. Both Arks are raised on platforms, approached by a series of circular, marble steps and project into the room in the form is a multi-domed and arched building.[3]

The main entrance doorway is eight feet wide. Carved in the stone above in Hebrew, is Devarim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 32, verse 12;[4] the English translation is "God alone let him, and there was no strange God with him". The numerical value of the Hebrew letters used in this verse adds up to the date of the foundation of the building.

The area of the building set apart for men accommodates 362 worshippers; the gallery set apart for ladies 218, giving a total of 580 seats.

Garnethill Synagogue Interior - Including: seating galleries, apse, and Torah-Ark.

Garnethill Synagogue has been described as the finest example of high Victorian synagogue architecture north of Liverpool,[5] it is also included within the top ten of historic synagogues in the UK by Jewish Heritage UK.[6] It also features as a Glasgow City Council listed heritage building, described as the ‘Mother Synagogue of Glasgow'.[7] In 1995, Garnethill Synagogue was granted a Heritage Lottery Grant of £59,150 towards repairs of the building, reflecting its architectural importance in Scotland.[8]


The first Jewish community in Glasgow can be traced back to circa 1823. By the 1870s, the community numbered around 1,000 and looked to build a permanent synagogue for the first time in Scotland as the converted synagogue in George Street (opened 1878) was full; this decision to build the synagogue was decided by the Special General Meeting in October 1875 and the site at the corner of Garnet Street and Hill Street was decided by a majority of votes as the location for the new Synagogue. It was believed that this location was popular because many of the Jewish community were moving to the West of the city, especially many of the leading figures of the community such as Benjamin and Michael Simons.[9] Archive records show that money began coming in through donations to help fund the building of the Synagogue on 24 November 1875; the foundation stone was set by Benjamin Simons two years later in March. Benjamin Simon was one of the trustees; the finished synagogue was officially opened on 9 September 1879 with Rabbi Hermann Adler consecrating the opening. The first service was also held on this date.[10]

From the 1880s, a new wave of immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe, fleeing poverty and persecution, settled in Glasgow - mostly in the Gorbals area south of the river. In time, this community became the majority in Glasgow Jewry.[11]

The congregation has been led over the years by a number of men, including Rev Eleazar Philip Phillips, son of Rev. Philip Phillips, and Rev Dr I. K. Cosgrove.[12][13][14][15] Aharon Soudry was the last serving minister of Garenthill synagogue who served until 2010.[16] Services have been led by lay members of the congregation since Soudry and to the present day; this is not unfamiliar practice within Synagogues and reflects the Jewish community focus and collectiveness. From its opening up until present day it has always been an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue.[17]

The synagogue has historically led the way in welfare activities for the Jewish community in Glasgow; the first Jewish welfare charities in the city were founded at Garnethill.[18] More recently, the congregation operated a refugee hostel in its grounds in the 1930s/1940s - the Boys' Hostel [19]

The synagogue was listed as Category B in 1979, and upgraded to a Category A listed building in 2004.[20]


The Shabbat service is delivered on Saturday mornings. There are also extra services conducted throughout the year, such as Passover celebrations. Services are delivered in Hebrew and English. Garnethill Synagogue is welcoming to families, students, and visitors.[21] Garnethill Synagogue is still a venue for weddings, priding itself in allowing couples to marry under a chuppah that has been part of the synagogue for over a hundred years.[22]

Outreach Work[edit]

Garnethill Synagogue engages in the overall civic life of Glasgow, through various partnership arrangements with statutory and third sector bodies via providing information and resources into activities such as arts festivals and other forms of community engagement. For example, it is a part of the City’s "Open Doors" scheme whereby a lot of Glasgow’s most important buildings in public and private ownership, and of historical interest, are open to the general public at least once a year.[23]

The Synagogue is also open for visiting by the general public by special arrangement, from university students on project work, school parties, ladies guilds and other organisations of all denominations.

As part of its outreach work, the synagogue is involved in a number of community projects such as, "Stepping into Diversity" - an interfaith themed youth film making project, in partnership with the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council and Interfaith Glasgow.[24]

Due to its location within the city centre of Glasgow it is close to the prime tourist locations of the Glasgow School of Art and The Tenement House; the synagogue also features well in the St Mungo Museum of Comparative Religion.

Scottish Jewish Archive Centre[edit]

The synagogue also houses The Scottish Jewish Archives Centre (SJAC) which was formed in 1987,[25] it collects and preserves a wide range of material illustrating the Jewish experience in Scotland since the 18th Century. It provides information to the researchers and encourages the study of Jews in Scotland, and has worked in partnership with the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.[26]

The SJAC is also home to A New Life in Scotland – an exhibition featuring a timeline of Jewish history in Scotland, works by Scottish Jewish artists, themed display cases and a display on Jewish immigration to Scotland over the past 200 years.[27]

The SJAC has the minutes of the Glasgow Hebrew Congregation for the period leading up to the building of the synagogue and also the cash book of the building fund; this provides useful primary sources to understand all aspects that pertain to the construction of the synagogue including decisions made, dealings with architects, suppliers, manufacturers of stained glass, wood, metalwork etc.[28]

Academic Links[edit]

Garnethill Synagogue has historic and contemporary links to the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh via alumni from the synagogue's congregation. Members of the congregation have graduated from the University of Glasgow, including Asher Asher, the first Glasgow born Jewish student to complete a medical degree at the University of Glasgow in 1856[29] and the former cantor Rev. Isaac Hirshow.[30] Asher was involved in a number of humanitarian programs including providing medical provision to impoverished Jews of London's east end and general advice work on the welfare of Jewish immigrants.[31] A memorial plaque dedicated to Asher Asher stands at the entrance of the synagogue and an academic prize at the University of Glasgow is named after him.[32] Isaac Hirshow was the first person to receive a Bachelor of Music at the University of Glasgow in October 1939.[33]

The Scottish Jewish Archives Centre also has links with Glasgow and Edinburgh universities departments of Jewish Studies as part of the Research Network of Jewish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jewish Heritage in England : An Architectural Guide, English Heritage, 2006, pp. 195-6
  2. ^ Dictionary of Scottish Architects, John Mcleod entry, , last accessed: 02/03/2014
  3. ^ Jewish Heritage in England : An Architectural Guide, English Heritage, 2006, pp. 195-6
  4. ^ The Complete Jewish Bible, Deuteronomy 32:12, , last accessed: 2/03/2014
  5. ^ Jewish Heritage UK, , Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  6. ^ Garnethill Synagogue website, History Section,[permanent dead link] , Last accessed 02/03/2014
  7. ^ Garnethill Synagogue website, History Section,[permanent dead link] , Last accessed 02/03/2014
  8. ^ Black, D (1995). Scottish projects benefit in lottery handout, Herald Scotland Website,, Last accessed: 03/03/2014
  9. ^ Collins, K (1990). Second City Jewry: Jews of Glasgow in the Age of Expansion 1790-1919, pg 38
  10. ^ Collins, K (1990). Second City Jewry: Jews of Glasgow in the Age of Expansion 1790-1919, pp38-40
  11. ^ Kaplan, H L (2006). The Gorbals Jewish Community in 1901, p8
  12. ^ Garnethill Synagogue,
  13. ^ The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History, page 324 - edited by William D. Rubinstein, Michael Jolles, Hilary L. Rubinstein. Under heading of 'GLASGOW'(starts page 323), extract: In 1879 the community's first purpose-built synagogue, in Garenthill, was established, with Rev. Eleazar P. Phillips as minister.
  14. ^ "Obituary of The Rev. Philip Phillips". The Jewish Chronicle. 25 January 1918. p. 17. One of his sons, the Rev. Eleazar P. Phillips, the esteemed Minister of the Garnethill Synagogue, Glasgow, worthily carries on the traditions of his beloved father
  15. ^ Glasgow Ecclesiastical Directory (1903), page 705: JEWISH SYNAGOGUE. Garnethill, Hill street, Eleazar Philip Phillips, rabbi
  16. ^ Brickman, Stephanie (2010). "Outspoken minister outed". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  17. ^ Garnethill Synagogue website, History Section,
  18. ^ Collins, K (1990). Second City Jewry: Jews of Glasgow in the Age of Expansion 1790-1919, p22
  19. ^ Sacharin, Rosa M. Sarok-a history of the Kindertransport-Scotland, p16
  20. ^ "129 HILL STREET AND 29 GARNET STREET, HILL STREET SYNAGOGUE". Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  21. ^ Garnethill Synagogue website, Services and Festivals section,[permanent dead link], Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  22. ^ Garnethill Synagogue website, venue hire section, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 2 March 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) , Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  23. ^ Glasgow's Built Heritage Festival website, Doors Open Day - Garnethill Synagogue entry, Archived 4 March 2014 at , Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  24. ^ Interfaith Glasgow website, Stepping into Diversity entry,, Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  25. ^ The Scottish Jewish Archives Website, , Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  26. ^ Edinburgh University Research Network in Jewish Studies website, , Last accessed 03/03/2014
  27. ^ The Scottish Jewish Archives Website, , Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  28. ^ The Scottish Jewish Archives Website, , Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  29. ^ University of Glasgow Story website, Entry: Asher Asher, , Last accessed 02/03/2014
  30. ^ Haruth Communications, Garnethill Synagogue - some notable Glasgow Jews,, Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  31. ^ University of Glasgow Story website, Entry: Asher Asher, , Last accessed 02/03/2014
  32. ^ University of Glasgow Story website, Entry: Asher Asher, , Last accessed 02/03/2014
  33. ^ Haruth Communications, Garnethill Synagogue - some notable Glasgow Jews,, Last accessed: 02/03/2014
  34. ^ Research Network in Jewish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, , Last accessed: 02/03/2014

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°52′1.81″N 4°16′3.94″W / 55.8671694°N 4.2677611°W / 55.8671694; -4.2677611