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Our 150 year old time capsule has been opened!

A year ahead the 150th anniversary of our historic Sephardi synagogue, we have decided to open the time capsule, found by builders during our recent redevelopment.

In 2024, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of our historic, now grade II*-listed, Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. We have prepared an exciting programme of events, activities, and performances for all ages to discover more about the people, cultures and communities of Sephardi Manchester (Sephardi Jews are those whose origins lie in the Iberian Peninsula) and to celebrate the history of this beautiful building. As part of the preparation for this significant moment, the museum’s curator and Deputy Chief, Alexandra Cropper, together with Conservation Officer from Manchester Central Library, Eugenie Karen, opened the time capsule, found in the synagogue’s walls during our recent redevelopment.

Image: The astonishing discovery of a time capsule hidden in the historic synagogue’s walls. Credit: Manchester Jewish Museum, 2020. 

The glass jar, complete with its wax seal intact, was discovered by builders in 2020, during construction work of the museum’s new building, which was attached to the historic Sephardi synagogue. The time capsule was hidden deep in a wall cavern next to the Ark (the holy cupboard which houses the Torah Scrolls). Early synagogue minutes show records of the capsule being laid behind the cornerstone of the original building on 11th June 1873, however, we weren’t sure about its exact location so it took us all by surprise!

Image: The open time capsule, filled with newspapers, coins and documents, dating back to 1873. Credit: Chris Payne, 2023. 

The time capsule was filled with old coins, synagogue documents and newspapers dating from the week of the capsule’s burial. It contained copies of prominent titles, including “The Times”, “The Jewish Chronicle”, which was founded in 1841 and remains the oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper in the world and “The Manchester Guardian”, which later gained national recognition and became “The Guardian”. Other newspapers included “Manchester Daily Examiner and Times”, “The Manchester Courier” and “The Jewish World”, which later merged with “Jewish Chronicle”.

Despite its old age, most of the documents were in a surprisingly good condition and required little restoration. The museum’s curator and Deputy Chief, Alexandra Cropper, comments:

“It was so thrilling opening the capsule and discovering what our synagogue founders decided to bury 150 years ago. The next year is going to be so exciting as we delve further into the synagogue’s historic minute books. I look forward to unearthing more of the story of this remarkable building to share with our audiences.”

Eugenie Karen, Conservation Officer, Manchester Central Library, adds:

“Opening the time capsule was a rare treat, a whiff of Indiana Jones to liven up the daily routine. The paper objects were in remarkably good condition given their age and where they had been stored. I only had to undertake light repairs to strengthen and consolidate the manuscript where mold had weakened some areas. Properly stored, it will survive for years to come.”

Image: Eugenie Karen cleaning a document found in the time capsule. Credit: Chris Payne, 2023.

The objects found in the time capsule will inspire our 2024 celebrations of the synagogue’s 150th anniversary. Visitors can expect immersive live shows and events within the Synagogue, which share and celebrate Sephardi stories. Our award-winning vegetarian café will work on a new, special menu, inspired by stories from the museum’s vast collection and by recipes from the contemporary Sephardi community. There will also be a new temporary exhibition about the history of the synagogue, allowing visitors to learn more about those who worshipped there in the past.

Finally, we’d like to invite you, our communities, to help us design a new time capsule to mark the synagogue’s 150th anniversary. Whether you’ve visited the museum, cooked in our kitchen with us, ate in our café, watched a performance, or got creative in one of our workshops, we want you to help us shape Manchester Jewish Museum’s 2024 time capsule. If you’d like to be involved, please get in touch!

Two workshops will be held on 9th and 13th July 2023, where participants will work together to design a new time capsule that reflects what Manchester Jewish Museum means to its communities today.

Image: Alex Cropper and Eugenie Karen discover a watermark on one of the documents found in the time capsule. Credit: Chris Payne, 2023.


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