London: Sacred textiles exhibit, through March 2009

Three 17th-18th-century Torah mantles from the exhibit.
The center piece is made from a wedding dress.
London’s Jewish Museum presents “Hidden Treasures, Sacred Textiles,” through March 15, 2009, at the Bevis Marks Spanish and Portuguese Congregation. The rare textiles are from the collection of the congregation and the Montefiore Endowment.

Although Jews were officially expelled from England in 1290, historians and scholars say some Jews remained in the country, although not outwardly identified as such. The Sephardic community of London’s East End settled near Aldgate in the 1640s, founded by descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled Spanish persecution. Spanish Jew Antonio Carvajal founded a synagogue in Creechurch Lane in Aldgate in 1656, which outgrew its premises and served as the impetus for the building of a larger facility at Bevis Marks in 1701.

The elegant fabrics of the Bevis Marks’ Torah mantles are being displayed for the first time in this joint venture. The Collection dates to the late 17th century, including silks, brocades and gold-work embroidery donated to the synagogue over time.

Each item tells the stories of members of this community who donated them over the centuries. Some carry the inscriptions of the donors and the occasions. Many are created from recycled English and French dress fabrics, including Lady Montefiore’s wedding dress.

According to a news report, restorers found a December 1780 men’s magazine cutting in the top of an 18th century silk mantle to help stiffen the fabric and, of course, also helping to date the item.

Many fabrics were made of famed Spitalfields silk, woven by Huguenots who lived and worked around Spitalfields and Whitechapel.

In 1851, a mantle was presented to the congregation by David Lindo, uncle of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, whose father attended the synagogue until he had problems with the administration and baptized his children.

The exhibit also includes guided tours, lunchtime lectures, craft activities and sessions with expert embroiderers.

Admission: £3. Hours: Monday-Friday: 11am-1pm, Sunday: 10.30am-12.30pm. Group visits by appointment.

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