The Jewish Ritual Bath in Speyer
A cold water bath, a so called mikveh, was used by both Jewish men and women for ritual washings after a period of uncleanliness (like fe. menstruation). The water needed to be clean, which means a natural well or an artificial one dug to the ground water level. The mikveh in Speyer is of the latter type (the Rhine running through the town wasn't clean enough).
Constructed 1110-1120, it is one the oldest and best preserved in Europe and had obviously been built by the masons also working on the cathedral.
The wall that separates the anteroom from the bassin
A staircase leads about ten metres under the ground where it opens to the anteroom. With its cross-grain vault, it is the most beautiful part of the building, and the most interesting one because of the architectural history connected to it. It was very unusual for Christian masons to build a Jewish bath, but some of the bishops of Speyer protected the Jewish community in the Middle Ages.
In the left wall is a small changing cabinet, to the right a half-round staircase leads further down to the bassin. The bassin
There is a light hole letting in some daylight, but the rest of the ceiling is cross-grain vaulted as well. The water is usually so deep a man can immerse himself fully, which is the requirement for proper ritual cleaning. Since the ground water level changes depending on the level of the Rhine, the bassin was very full when we were there and covered the lowest steps of the staircase. View from the bassin staircase into the anteroom
The bath is no longer officially in use today, but the guide told us that sometimes orthodox Jews from Israel and particularly the US wish to use the mikveh
. This can be arranged outside the official tourist opening times. Closeup of a pillar capital
Note the ornaments on the middle border above the cube.
The material used was mostly red sandstone (the same as used for the cathedral, as can be seen here