The Montefiore Endowment owns a collection of over 40 textiles, deriving from the Montefiore Synagogue.
It was in 1833, on the anniversary of their wedding day, that Moses and Judith Montefiore opened their synagogue in Ramsgate, close to their house on the East Cliff. This took place with much joy and celebration as hundreds of visitors flocked to Ramsgate to attend the impressive ceremony.
A great deal of planning, expense and meticulous attention to detail had been invested to ensure the beauty of the building and its ritual contents, fulfilling the Rabbinic injunction of Hidur Mitsva – beautifying a commandment. Lady Montefiore, as she later became, gave her own wedding dress to be made into a mantle for the Sepher Torah and a cover for the reading desk. Other mantles, made of beautiful materials, still survive in reasonably good condition.
The present Montefiore collection of textiles consists of items once owned or acquired by the Montefiores themselves, together with other items donated by well-wishers both during the lifetime of Sir Moses and in later years. Made from rare and costly materials and involving huge amounts of skilled work, these valuable items were considered appropriate gifts for a man who later came to be regarded as – in the words of Lady Russell, widow of a former prime minister – ‘the most important Jew in the world’.
Together with pieces owned by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London, the Montefiore collection is looked after, by a band of dedicated volunteers who spend many hundreds of hours of their own time on this work and also commission the help of professional textile conservators. Much interest has been taken in the Montefiore collection by experts in the field, including those at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
These precious items are now almost impossible to use in a synagogue for their intended purposes, and are very difficult even to display, because of their fragility and sensitivity to light; but a special display cabinet has been installed at the Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London, where a rotating exhibition can be seen.
The entire Collection is now being looked after, on behalf of the Montefiore Endowment, by the Vestments Committee of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, London.
A programme of conservation work, planned to last for several years, is under way.
The items were roughly photographed for the purpose of the catalogue. The main pieces are now being more carefully photographed for permanent record: some of them are available on this website.
The illustrated catalogue, prepared by Estelle Levy and others, may be seen on application to the Secretary. The numbering of the collection is not sequential as it incorporates the different systems used in the three locations in which parts of the collection were temporarily stored following the transfer of the College from Ramsgate to London in the 1960s.
Access to items in the Collection may be arranged through the Chairperson of the Vestments Committee, through the Secretary of the Montefiore Endowment.
You can browse the collection of vestments on this website.