Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Happy Birthday Irwin S. Chanin, Art Deco Hero

Irwin Chanin in 1927. Photo: Wikipedia.

New York, NY. 25 Central Park West (The Century). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. 115 Central Park West (The Majestic). Photo: Wikipedia/David Shankbone.
Happy Birthday Irwin S. Chanin, Art Deco Hero!

by Samuel D. Gruber

Today is the birthday of  Irwin Salmon Chanin, an architect and developer who helped promote the Art Deco skyscraper in New York City in the roaring jazzy 1920s. Born October 29, 1891 (died 24 February 1988), Chanin was the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and from Poltava, (now Ukraine). As an American architect and the head of a family construction company, he gained fame and fortune  building New York City Art Deco commercial and residential towers and Broadway theaters. He helped greatly transform the look of Manhattan in the 1920s. David Dunlap wrote in the New York Times at the time of his death that the Chanin family "built some of New York's most eye-catching structures in the late 1920's and early 30's. The Chanins helped make popular a streamlined, geometric, modernistic style of architecture."

Chanin and company designed and built the he Chanin Building on 42nd Street, and The Century and The Majestic apartment towers on Central Park West and t among many other projects.

New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Exterior, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Exterior, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Exterior, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

Irwin Chanin graduated from Cooper Union in 1915 with a degree in civil engineering, and in 1919, with his brother Henry, founded the Chanin Construction Company. Beginning in 1925, they built six theaters on Broadway. Irwin was President of Chanin Theatres Corporation, and his brother Henry I. Chanin was Treasurer. 

The Chanin Building, which Chanin designed in the Art Deco style with Sloan & Robertson and Jacques Delamarr, includes mural sculpture by Rene Paul Chambellan. The building was the tallest skyscraper in midtown when built, but was soon surpassed by the Chrysler building across the street. More important than its height was the rich skin of ornament that covered the lower parts of the building that were visible from the street.

Soon after, Chanin developed
The Majestic and The Century, with Jacques Delamarre at the head of the design team. These were among the first residential buildings to use what had been predominantly an office building style of architecture. Both Art Deco style buildings have 30 stories and are noteworthy for their twin towers, and since their erection have been landmarks on Central Park West, clearly visible form Central Park. The construction of the Century includes cantilevered floor slabs which allow the elimination of corner supports - and thus open the corners up for windows.

Other significant buildings include the Richard Rodgers Theater, the Lincoln Hotel (now Row NYC Hotel), the Beacon Hotel and Theater, and the World Apparel Center.

Chanin was one of several interwar Jewish architects, including Albert Buchman and Ely Jacques Kahn as well as developers like Abe N. Adelson, who favored the Art Deco style. Together, they brought to Manhattan a special American brand of modernism before the arrival beginning in the late 1930s of European refugee modern architects, some of whom would further change New York's skyline, turning it of a time from one of brick and stone to one of glass. 

 



New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Exterior, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Exterior, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Exterior, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012
New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Exterior relief sculpture, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
New York, NY. The Chanin Building. Lobby sculpture by Rene Paul Chambellan, 1928. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
According to Wikipedia, "Chanin was also known for developing the "Green Acres" section of Valley Stream, NY. Ground broke in 1936 but only Phase I (known as the "old section") was completed before World War II. After the war construction resumed and the "new section" was completed by 1959. This section included the balance of the residential homes, the Forest Road Elementary School, the Green Acres Shopping Center (now, the Green Acres Mall) and the Green Acres Garden Apartments.?"


In 1981, Cooper Union renamed its school of architecture for Irwin Chanin.

See: David W. Dunlap (February 26, 1988). "Irwin Chanin, Builder of Theaters And Art Deco Towers, Dies at 96 (Obituary)". The New York Times. Retrieved June 21, 2011.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A New "Lost" Mural from North Adams Masschusetts

North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019

A New "Lost" Mural from North Adams Massachusetts
by Samuel D. Gruber

As part of the ongoing project of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments to identify and document synagogue wall paintings, especially in North America, I was able to gain access to a remarkable mural in the attic of an apartment house in North Adams, Massachusetts, that was once a synagogue founded by Lithuanian Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century. I've known about this mural since 2014 and a small photo of it has been posted on the website of Congregation Beth Israel. I had no idea, however, of the size or quality of some of the detail, which seems to merge Jewish traditional art and New England folk art.

Similar to the mural of the former Chai Adam Synagogue in Burlington, Vermont, this is a large and important surviving fragment of the visual culture of turn-of-the-20th-century immigrant Jews, and its relatively early date (1898) makes it of special interest, and expands our corpus of American synagogue wall painting of the period of Eastern European immigration. Other examples in New England are Sons of Jacob, Providence, Rhode Island; Vilna Shul, Boston; and the Walnut Street Shul, Chelsea, MA.

My thanks go to champion Jewish genealogist Carol Clingan (who has also compiled the impressive index of over 500 Massachusetts congregations). Carol, who has wanted to save this mural for several years, arranged access from the building owner. It is hoped that from our visit, to which we invited some other experts, that these efforts will move forward.

The mural presents the Tablets of the Law flanked by two large colorful lions, which hold American flags in their front paws. The patriotic theme is continued higher up, where a seemingly American eagle with wings spread sits atop a tower of Jewish symbols: Decalogue, Star of David, priestly blessing hands, a wreath, and the Crown of Torah; all culminating in the eagle. The lions are entwined in tendrils. They spring forward from a stylized landscape that evoke Eretz Yisrael in its palm and cypress trees. 

The modest wood-frame building was the first permanent home of Congregation House of Israel, or Beth Israel. It is built on the hill overlooking the former active industrial town of North Adams, today most-widely known as the home of MassMOCA, the contemporary art museum founded in the 26 buildings of the former Sprague Electric Company factory, where once so many of the townspeople were employed. 

Based on newspaper and other accounts we surmise that in 1894 the congregation purchased a house for use as a synagogue and by 1898 the congregation enlarged and modified the building, which it then occupied until 1920. Since then, the building has seen many more changes. The sanctuary was turned into apartments and porches have been added.

Thanks to local newspaper articles, we know that part-time artist, Noah Levin, an immigrant from the Vilna gubernia, painted the mural. Carol Clingan has determined that the Levin family came from Traby, which is now in Belarus. The family name was changed in later generations to "Lavine".

The Decoration
North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
Above the various motifs, is written in Hebrew over the right-side lion, “Da Lifnei Mi Attah Omed, (Know Before Whom You Stand). This passage is the most common applied to  synagogue Arks or to the space above an Ark in a synagogue. There are several versions of this passage. In the plural it is found in the Talmud (B’rachot 28b).

Less common is the paired inscription above the left-hand lion. It is also written in Hebrew, and is the answer to the question on the right side. It quotes a well-known line from the Aleinu, the closing prayer of every synagogue service: Lifnei melech, malchei ham'lachim (Before the Ruler, the Ruler of Rulers).

Underneath the Decalogue and lions is written in Hebrew “Havurah Beit Yisrael.,” the name of the congregation.

North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
Above the Tablets,  is an abbreviation in Hebrew: הקכה
which is probably an abbreviation for the Hebrew phrase Ha - Kadosh Baruch hoo (the Holy One, blessed be He). Thank you, Elizabeth Berman, for pointing this out. 

The patriotic aspect of the mural--lions waving American flags, also suggests an 1898 date, since American Jews were strongly in favor of the American war against Spain. An article in The North Adams Transcript (30 Apr 1898) about the expansion of the synagogue even mentions this: 

"Among the Jewish population of the city are some 50 naturalized citizens who are hot for the war with Spain, as they have a bitter grudge of 400 years standing against that nation, growing out of the atrocities to which their people were subjected at the time of the inquisition. The terrible wrongs they suffered then have been remembered from generation, and today there is no love for Spain in the Jewish heart."
North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
There were certainly other instances of Jews using American flags to indicate allegiance to and support of American ideals, but the ones I can think of are from the period of World War I and later. When we think of Jews waving banners and flags at this time it is more common to find Jewish or Zionist banners, derived from the traditions of civic parades and Simchat Torah celebrations. In the early 1900s, New Years' cards depicted men and women with flags with Jewish Stars - proto-flags of the still-distant State of Israel.

Jewish New Year cards, ca. 1910.
The presence of three Jewish stars and the Holy Land landscape hints at a religious Zionism, in keeping with popular sentiment among recent immigrants reacting to pogroms. This was certainly the case at the Walnut Street Shul in Chelsea, Mass (which I visited the day after North Adams). Built in 1909 to replace an earlier shul destroyed by fire, the new Ark wall presents two large and prominent Stars of David - perhaps the largest I have seen in any synagogue of this period. Chelsea was a center of Zionist organization.  The magnificent Ark in Chelsea was built be another immigrant artist--Sam Katz (about whom I will write an another time).

Chelsea, MA. Walnut Street Shul, 1909, Art Wall. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019
The painted lions of the mural are mishpocheh to the lions found carved on many contemporary synagogue Arks and represented on various Judaica objects. We can assume from fragments known in Eastern Europe, where probably less than one percent of synagogue walls paintings have survived, and from also from America where  few immigrant "shuls"  survive, that there were also plenty of painted examples.

Ark lions from Scranton, Pennsylvania, ca. 1920. From Murray Zimiles, Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses, p. 130
The Bronx, NY. Green Pastures Baptist Church (former Chevra Linas Hazedek), Paul Lubroth, architect. 1928-32s. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
Catskills, New York. Painting in abandoned synagogue (location not given to protect the painting). 1920s?  Photo: ISJM 2017

The Artist

According to an article from two decades later in the The North Adams Transcript (06 Jun 1927), Levin worked as a vegetable salesman, with “a work-worn horse and a rickety wagon,”but he also was a traditional artist with paint and the art of paper cutting.
“Noah was not regarded as a brilliant business man but he did have a spark of genius with the brush and canvas, with scissors and paper. When his day’s work was done, he would bring out his paints and work on canvasses which, if they lacked technical merit, were at least pleasing to the eye. And with plain paper and shears be fashioned silhouettes that were sometimes humorous, sometimes quite serious with fine religious motifs. One of these symbolic of the giving of the Ten Commandments, is preserved under glass on the altar of the Hebrew Community building on Center street, with old Noah Levine’s name still inscribed upon it. In the old synagogue building off State street where the family worshiped here, there was, for many years, a striking mural painting, done by Noah, in clear bright colors, also descriptive of the Commandments, with tawny lions supporting the painting at eight side. It was preserved for many years until the old synagogue was given up, comparatively recently, and the larger building on Center street was taken.”

Noah and family apparently left North Adams for Brooklyn, New York, in 1899, soon after the completion of the mural. He had a famous grandson--Charles A. Levin--who in the 1920s was a millionaire industrialist and aviation pioneer. Because of Charles's fame, we learn more about the family history in the North Adams Transcript (June 6, 1927) article. In an interview, his son Isaac reports that before he came to America, Noah "was interested in handicrafts, having constructed, some forty years ago, a wooden model of Solomon’s Temple. At that time he traveled in various towns in Russia showing the model."

The Building and Its Expansion

North Adams,  MA. Former Beth Israel Synagogue. Historic photo, ca. 1900. 
North Adams,  MA. Former Beth Israel Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM 2019.

The congregation first acquired their synagogue building in 1894 and then 1898 expanded the space. An article of May 1898 in the North Adams Advocate describes the situation and provides some valuable information about the state of the congregation.
"Enlarged Synagogue / Hebrews of North Adams /Will Begin at Once on/Improvements /Will Ask Business Men to Help / Think They Are Deserving of Help Now/ Since They Never Ask Charity/ Rapid Growth of the Church
Plans are being drawn by A. G. Lindley of Williamstown for a material enlargement and improvement of the Jewish synagogue in this city near State street. The buildings is 40 feet long and 35 feet wide and it is proposed to build an addition of 24 feet on the east end, which will be when the work is done the front instead of the rear of the synagogue. Inside alterations will be made and the building maybe graced by a handsome tower,  this has not yet been fully decided upon.
The society, which is known as the Congregation of the House of Israel, has in its treasury $600 with which to begin and $300 more has been pledged. The work will cost about $1,500 and the business men of the city will be asked to aid. The members say their people never have to receive charity from the city and it is very seldom one is arrested.  They therefore feel that they are entitled to some consideration and worthy of aid in their efforts to provide suitable accommodation for their growing membership.
The synagogue was build [sic] five years ago, when the membership of the congregation was only 16. Now there are connected with the congregation 50 heads of families, and there are 35 more in the city who, the members feel, out to be so connected and probably will be in due time, so it is expected that at no  distant day the enlarged synagogue will have none too much room. The mortgage on the building is only $2,000, and with the means already on hand for the enlargement and the congregation growing steadily the society feels warranted in going ahead with the work, which will be begun about May 10 and be done by the day.
Among the Jewish population of the city are some 50 naturalized citizens who are hot for the war with Spain, as they have a bitter grudge of 400 years standing against that nation, growing out of the atrocities to which their people were subjected at the time of the inquisition. The terrible wrongs they suffered then have been remembered from generation, and today there is no love for Spain in the Jewish heart.
The president of the congregation of the House of Israel is J. H. Levin, who is working earnestly for the upbuilding of the synagogue and the welfare of the Jewish people in this city, and it is quite likely that aid will be given by the business men whose liberality in furthering every deserving cause is proverbial."
A North Adams Evening Transcript article from later in the year (September 2, 1898) describes the opening of the synagogue. Not much is said about the building, but the article implies the congregation renovated an existing building and that the new synagogue was "prettily decorated." Nothing is said of the mural, and an examination of the building and the style of the mural itself suggests that is of slightly later date.
Hebrew Dedication. New Synagogue Consecrated to Services of Worship. Prominent Speakers Present.Perpetual Light Lighted by President Levin and Eloquent Dedication. Sermon. Mayor Cady and Others Make Addresses
The perpetual light of the new Hebrew synagogue on Furnace street was lighted by President J. H. Levin last evening, and the house or worship was dedicated with impressive Hebrew ceremonies. There was a large audience present, and the enlarged building with its prettily decorated interior had a most attractive look. The Congregation House of Israel has reason to be proud of its growth and success as in the practically new building.
Mayor Cady and many of the leading men of the city were present, and some of the best Hebrew speakers of the country took part. The services were in charge of A, moss of Boston as master of ceremonies. The orchestra opened with a prelude, and Rev. Samuel Ratner, the rabbi chanted the opening invocation, with responses from the choir. A procession including Rabbi Ratner, Rev. David Blaustein of Providence and N. S. Roseneau of New York city. President J. H. Levin, M. L. Levin, Mayor Cady, City Solicitor Ashe, Commissioner Einigh, Tracey Potter and J. H. Mack then entered and took places
The key was delivered to President Levin by H. Kronick with a few words on the work, and Rev. Dr. Blaustein made the opening prayer. President Levin lighted the perpetual light and the new synagogue was formally dedicated.
After reading of the Tore [sic], there was an interesting program of music and addresses. Rev. Dr. Blaustein preached the consecration sermon, which was an eloquent statement of the Hebrew religion and an appeal for consecrated activity. Mayor H. t. Cady spoke, congratulating the congregation, saying that the only mistake they had made was in apparently not enlarging the house enough to accommodate the growth that seemed sure.
Congressman Lawrence was to have been present, but was unable to do so, and sent a letter of regret. In his place City solicitor Ashe spoke. Other addresses were by Mr. Roseneau and Mr. Mose, and the service closed with the benediction by Rabbi Blaustein.
The building committee consisted of J.H. Levin, I. Kropnick, M. L. Levin and L. Rudman; the reception committee was M. L. Levin, M. Prossin, H. H. Kronick and L. Silverman. The ushers were W. Phillipps, Jacob Cohen and Charles Kronick."
We do not know if the Levins mentioned in this article were related to Noah Levin, the mural painter. 


North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
An interior examination of the attic shows that the two building side walls are not equal, and the wall to the right of the mural is built on an angle. At the end of the main building mass a polygonal apse projects beyond the angled wall, and the mural is painted on a flat lathe and plaster surface just above this. The angled wall extension is not visible on the only known early photo of the building, which suggests it is part of the 1898 expansion. The interior wall decoration, of which very little survives, would then date from the expansion period, or soon after since the same stenciled decoration continuities around the top of the former sanctuary walls of the entire interior - both the original section, the expansion and the apse. Similarly, traces of three painted decorative roundels in the ceiling seem to indicate from where lighting fixtures must have hung.


North Adams,  MA. Mural in former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. This photo clearly shows the addition at the lower part of the slope, at the right of the picture.  Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. This photo clearly shows the polygonal apse behind the mural added in 1898.  Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019

North Adams,  MA. Former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Painted ceiling roundel.  Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Painted ceiling roundel.  Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
North Adams,  MA. Former Beth Israel Synagogue, now apartment house. Painted ceiling roundel.  Photo: Samuel Gruber/ISJM  2019
 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Venosa, Italy: Jewish Catacombs a Reminder of a Thriving Late Antique Community

Venosa, Italy. Entrance to the catacomb at the Collina della Maddalena today. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Print of the Collina della Maddalena in 1876.
Venosa, Italy. Jewish catacombs. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Venosa, Italy. Jewish catacombs. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

Venosa, Italy: Jewish Catacombs a Reminder of a Thriving Late Antique Community 

by Samuel D. Gruber

Earlier this summer I spent a day and night with my sister Ruth Ellen Gruber in the charming town of Venosa, Basilicata and we visited one set of Jewish Catacombs dug into the Collina della Maddalena, about a mile north-east of the ancient town. Ruth has already written about this.

Afterward, despite the incredible heat, we also located some of the Hebrew funerary inscriptions now in the walls of the "Imcompiuta" church which is included in the Roman-era archaeological park. Despite knowing of Venosa for more than a few decades, this was my first visit–-and hope not my last.

Jewish communities were common throughout Southern Italy from antiquity until the expulsions in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Researchers are just beginning to investigate this history and even to locate many of the sites of settlement. The Jewish catacombs of Venosa (ancient Venusia), however, have been known since at least 1853 when the first of these were discovered by local shepherds grazing flocks on what is now known to be a vast cemetery hill, riddled with Jewish and Christian catacombs and other burial chambers created and used from the 4th through 6th centuries of the Common Era.

Venosa, Italy. Jewish catacombs with inscribed and painted menorah. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
A print from 1876 (see above) shows a much wilder landscape than we see today. Even given Romantic license, it probably accurately reflects the seemingly remote and historically barren location.

The types of catacomb graves vary throughout the vast complex of thousands of known burial spots – with undoubtedly many more still hidden in the hill. In the part we visited the graves are grouped in separate vault-like sections with many graves cut into ground level. Hard to say who was buried where. Were these family groups, or just dug this way for convenience with burials on a first come- first served basis? Did one buy or reserve a spot, or did the community provide for all equally? These are very different from the Roman examples I'm more familiar with.

Margaret Williams maintains that the way in which burial space was utilized was:
“clearly Roman …while the poorer members of the community were interred in simple slots in the gallery walls (loculi), the rich and well-connected were laid to rest in impressive arched recesses (arcosolia). She writes "That these arcosolia were opened up only gradually along the galleries is to be inferred from what we know about Roman methods of developing catacombs: in general, these were not neat, preplanned affairs filled systematically from their innermost parts outwards but untidy, rambling complexes, which were extended from the entrance inwards (and particularly downwards) as need arose....Within individual arcosolia at Venusia, graves were probably hewn out of the tufa on the same ad hoc basis. The unstandardised character of the arcosolia is indicative of that. Not only does the number of graves in them vary enormously but their layout is sometimes different too. While in the majority of arcosolia the graves simply lie one behind the other, their long sides parallel to the gallery wall, in a few, some are also to be found with their long sides at right-angles to the main row of graves in what are clearly side extensions to the original burial recess."
Venosa, Italy. Map of the catacomb at the Collina della Maddalena. Section D is at the far right. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Most of the catacomb inscriptions are now believed to date from the fifth and (to a lesser extent) sixth centuries CE. Margaret Williams has been able to link many of these inscriptions together to create a “stemma” of family connections that extend over seven generations and chart “ how a single family changed economically, socially and culturally in the course of two centuries.”  So we do know that certain sections did indeed contain the remains of related family members, and that theirs often spanned decades. (See Margaret Williams, “The Jews of Early Byzantine Venusia: The family of Faustinus I, the Father,” Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol 50:1 (spring, 1999).

Williams demonstrates that “That some, if not all, of these arcosolia were family tombs … D6 is a case in point; its surviving epitaphs all relate to members of the same family: Phaustinos, chairman of the synagogal board (gerousiarch) and chief medical officer of the town (archiatros), his wife Asella (in Jewish Venusia, an aristocratic name), and their baby son, also named Phaustinos.
 
Painted inscriptions in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew are conserved, though in a fragmentary state, especially in the section "D," which was closed off when we visited.  Some images of these can be seen here.  The texts of these have been published in English in D. Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, vol, 1, Cambridge, 1993. Seen here is an inscription entirely in Latin from D7, believed by Noy to latest fo all the inscriptions from D. This year Naples-based scholar Giancarlo Lacerenza published an extensive article: “Painted Inscriptions and Graffiti in the Jewish Catacombs of Venosa: An Annotated Inventory.” (In Annali Sezione Orientale vol 79, 1-2 (2019) pp 275–305.

Venosa, Italy. Jewish catacombs, painted Latin funerary inscription from section D. Photo: e-borghi.
A well-preserved long inscription, all in Latin and thus suggestive of a late date, is above the graves of Gesua and Agnella, descendants of the of  Phaustinos (Faustinos), about whom Williams and others write.

"hic requiscet Gesua cum oxore sua Agnella. | et Gesua fuet filius Marcelli et Annes, nepos p(atris) p(atrum) Mar[e]clli et mortuos est | ann(orum) pl(us) m(inus) LX. et Agnella Gesues | fuet filia Iositis et Maries ||  et nepos Sarmatanis p(atris) p(atrum) et mortua est ann(orum) I pl(us) m(inus) XLIIII." (transcription by Noy)

"Here rests Gesua with his wife Agnella. And Gesua was the son of Marcellus and Anna, grandson of the father of fathers Marcellus, and he died aged more or less 60. And Agnella the wife of Gesua was the daughter of Joses and Maria, and granddaughter of Sarmata the father of fathers, and she died aged more or less 44." (translation by Noy).

Discovered in another collapsed section of the catacomb in 1974, and not accessible, is a painted arcosolium shown here. This is the most pictorial of all the paintings known from Venoas, and depicts the Temple Menorah and various well-known ritual objects associated with Temple festivals, and is thus reminiscent of wall paintings in the Jewish catacombs in Rome.

Venosa, Italy. Jewish catacomb catacomb at the Collina della Maddalena. Painted arcosolium discovered in collapsed section of the catacomb in 1974, and not accessible. Photo: International Catacmob Society.
Later, there was another Jewish cemetery where inscribed stone markers commemorated the dead, presumably buried in individual inhumation graves. The exact location of this cemetery, probably in use for some time in the 7th(?) to 9th (?) centuries, is unknown, but it is believed to have been located near the ancient Roman amphitheater. Jews, too, had reused ancient architectural stones for their new matzevot, and then some of these gravestones were reused again by local Christians beginning in the late 11th century in the building of the never-finished massive Abbey church expansion of the Santissima Trinità, which mostly used stone from the nearby Roman amphitheater. This unfinished church – known as the “Incompiuta” is not really a ruin since it was never fully sued as intended. It is, however, a not-to-miss site in Southern Italy. Leonard Rutgers and others have recently been using laser technology to better read the often very faint inscriptions many of which are located high in the walls.

Venosa, Italy. Jewish funerary incription with stylized menorah on matzevah resued in construction of incomplete church of Santissima Trinità. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Venosa, Italy. Jewish funerary incription with stylized menorah on matzevah resued in construction of incomplete church of Santissima Trinità. The inscrpiton is hard to read, but the menorah is clear. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

Venosa, Italy. Incomplete church of Santissima Trinità. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.