900-year-old mikveh, offers invited
THE BRISTOL Jewish community fears that a relic of the area’s ancient Jewish past is under threat because it is being put up for auction next month.
A mikveh, or ritual bath, which dates back to 1100 and is located half a mile from the city centre, is being sold by its current owner at a guide price of £120,000. Bristol Hebrew Congregation is appealing to the entire community to help save it. They are being backed by the Board of Deputies.
A spokesperson for the synagogue told the JC: “It would be a great shame from a historical and religious perspective if the building were to be knocked down or converted.
“We do not have the cash to bid for it and in an ideal world, the wider Jewish community would help us to preserve it. Having a fund for protecting Jewish history is maybe something the wider Jewish community should consider.”
Alex Goldberg, director of community issues at the Board, said: “This illustrates the need for a national strategy or trust fund for the preservation of Jewish heritage sites.
“At the Board, we are currently looking at heritage strategy. There are a number of ‘at risk’ sites around the country, of major archeological and historical importance, and there does not appear to be either a national capital fund for maintenance sites or a trust to purchase these Jewish sites.”
He added: “There are people doing great work in cataloguing Jewish heritage in the UK and Ireland and there is a concern over the need for a major review of the preservation of Jewish heritage in the UK.”
The 600 sq ft Jacob’s Well mikveh dates back to 1100, when a gradually increasing number of Jews settled in the area. They needed a hillside for a separate cemetery, together with two sources of water, one for washing the dead ( tahara) and the other for purification rituals ( mikveh). They came across two springs flowing from Clifton to Sandbrook and used one of them for the mikveh, where it remains today.
Owner Chris Ross presently uses it as a storage warehouse, but there are fears that the mikveh, which bears a Hebrew inscription, faces the risk of being turned into a Starbucks or shops.
The plot is not listed as an English Heritage site but is scheduled as an “ancient monument”. A spokesperson at English Heritage told the JC: “If the new owner wanted to change the site, then they could do so providing they received planning permission.”
Mr Ross, who has owned the site for the last six years, acknowledged the “historical and religious value” of the site. He told the JC: “Although the mikveh is not functioning, we do get people coming to pray here.”
The auction is due to take place on February 26.