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Rage against the dying of the light: High rise developments threaten Britain’s oldest synagogue

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Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks, has seen 320 years of continuous worship.

Now, many believe its future is threatened due to the proposed development of two high rise buildings alongside it.

Nestled in the heart of the City of London, Bevis Marks is already dwarfed by the high-rise skyline surrounding it. However, there are now proposals for a 20-storey building and a 50-storey building flanking the synagogue.

According to Shalom Morris, Bevis Marks’ rabbi, the new buildings would block almost all light from entering the synagogue’s eastern windows, leaving it with “one hour of direct sunlight a day”.

Rabbi Morris that losing the natural light 'would be a tragedy'
Image: Rabbi Morris that losing the natural light ‘would be a tragedy’

Due to the historic status of the building, there are limitations to the number of artificial lights which can be added.

This lack of light, Rabbi Morris says, could seriously disrupt worship and perhaps ultimately lead to the closure of the synagogue. “The experience of being in such a beautiful space with the natural light coming in would be diminished and that would be a tragedy.”

This is echoed by 76-year-old Kris Musikant, who has been worshiping at the synagogue her whole life. Three hundred years of her ancestors’ names adorn boards on the walls, and 10 generations of her family have married there.

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She said: “I find it exceedingly painful to think that, because of some developments. It might cease to be a living entity. It isn’t a museum, it is actually a living, very vibrant entity.”

Kris Musikant's family have worshipped in the synagogue for generations
Image: Kris Musikant’s family have worshipped in the synagogue for generations

Sir Michael Bear is the former Lord Mayor of the City of London. Ultimately, Sir Michael says the City of London is an “economic generator for the nation” and that tall buildings can play an important role in that. But, he believes, important buildings like the synagogue need a “cordon sanitaire whereby they can thrive as they were historically intended to do”.

Currently, the two buildings have been recommended to the planning committee. Final decisions will be made at planning meetings later this year, the first being held in October .

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: “No decision has yet been made. The City of London Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee considers all relevant planning matters, including relevant representations both for and against a development, before taking a final decision on planning applications.

“We will not comment on specific applications ahead of a decision being made by the committee.”