Mikveh in Worms Tower in the earth

About 60 years after the build­ing of the mo­nu­ment­al Mik­vehAccumulation of water
in Spey­er, dated around 1120, it served as a model for the ritu­al bath in Worms. The build­ing from the years 1185/86 is a little smal­ler than the Mik­veh in Spey­er, but com­par­able. An in­scrip­tion men­tions Josef ha Levi as donor. We read in the donor’s in­scrip­tion at a wall in the yard of the syn­agogue:

He dug a well, dir­ec­ted at the vault, made way for it, a straight path, and the wall is rest­ing at its bay…

One gen­er­a­tion later Ha-Levi‘s daugh­ter Judith to­geth­er with her hus­band donated the wo­men’s syn­agogue in Worms.

Fol­low us on the »marked way« into this unique vault.

The way down to the Mik­veh first leads via al­most twenty steps onto a plat­form, a vaul­ted ves­ti­bule. To the left there is a small side room. There are sev­er­al in­ter­pret­a­tions wheth­er it was a ward­robe, a room for chan­ging clothes, a room for heat­ing stones, or a room with a stove. Op­pos­ite the stairs, reach­ing down to the floor, we look at a twin win­dow of sand­stone with a pil­lar in the middle, at the sides you find columns with small cap­it­als. Up­wards we look at a bricked shaft. The way down where, de­pend­ing on the water level, the more or less full water basin is vis­ible.The water in the large basin is calm. You don’t hear any ripples. An oc­ca­sion­al drip per­haps. And yet the water is per­cept­ible. It emits cool­ness and hu­mid­ity, and there is a sheen down there. To go down the steps we walk through an arch – and stop to dis­cov­er scratches in the plaster. The coarse em­bel­lish­ments date from the 12th cen­tury. The wind­ing stairs take us to the basin. The brick­work right and left of the stairs is old and darkened in the course of time, and through­out there are re­mains of mor­tar also from the 12th cen­tury. Hav­ing reached the water, you will see fur­ther steps down into the basin. We stop and ima­gine what is about to hap­pen. The water has a tem­per­at­ure of 8 to 10 de­grees. The idea here to im­merse three times has its charm. The room is old, dig­ni­fied, looks back at cen­tur­ies of his­tory and leaves us with a feel­ing of spir­itu­al­ity and pur­ity.

We look around. Has this Mik­veh from the 12th cen­tury re­mained un­dam­aged? Have there been re­con­struc­tions? In the course of cen­tur­ies the Mik­veh was ex­posed to a change­ful his­tory. In the first third of the 19th cen­tury the ritu­al bath was turned into a cess­pool for sew­er­age and garbage. The Jew­ish com­munity wanted to mod­ern­ize it­self, to aban­don old rites. The grow­ing aware­ness of his­tory and old monu­ments, how­ever, caused the Jew­ish re­li­gious com­munity to have the Mik­veh re­stored to­wards the end of the 19th cen­tury. The romanesque build­ing re­gained its status as me­di­ev­al relic of the ShUM-com­munity Worms. In 1938 dur­ing the Novem­ber pogrom, parts of the Mik­veh were des­troyed. In con­nec­tion with the re­con­struc­tion of the syn­agogue in 1957, the ritu­al bath was re­fur­bished. Columns and win­dow frames were re­stored; the vault of the ves­ti­bule was re­paired. The stairs down from the above-ground en­trance to the ves­ti­bule were changed. These al­ter­a­tions, how­ever, did not in­ter­fere with the au­then­ti­city of the ac­tu­al Mik­veh, the tower in the earth. We are full of awe, and un­der­stand: The Mik­veh in Worms is a unique room. It lit­er­ally com­prises cen­tur­ies. The tower in the earth is en­graved in Jew­ish his­tory, merged with the earth of ShUM and thus in­gredi­ent of that which makes the Jew­ish her­it­age some­thing spe­cial.