Restoration of the Holy Ark from Mantova

This is one of the Museum’s most ambitious conservation projects ever realized: the restoration of an extraordinary Italian Holy Ark from Mantua (Northern Italy), dated 1543. This wooden Ark, decorated with original delicate gild carvings, is one of the oldest Holy Arks in the world.

The live restoration begun on August 11, 2011 and took place over a period of about four months. This unique enterprise was carried out by the restoration team of Studio Oro.

The restoration of the Mantua Ark has been carried out thanks to the generous support of Leslie and Anna Dan, of Toronto, Canada, and the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada.


Mantua, the capital of the duchy of Mantua in Lombardy, was a fortified city on the river Mincio. During the 16th and 17th centuries it was under the rule of the Duchy of Gonzaga This was the golden age of Jewish life in Mantua, where over 3000 Jews lived.

For about a century, the Jewish community gravitated around the splendid Renaissance Gonzaga court. There were famous Jewish physicians (the Portaleone family), play-writers (Leone de Sommi), and composers of music (Salomone de Rossi).

There were six synagogues in Mantua, three followed the Italian rite, and three the German rite. The Torah Ark and its two monumental cathedrae which have been restored, come from the Scuola Grande and were made in 1543, according to an inscription that appears on one of the cathedrae: “The Great Synagogue  here in Mantua, Nissan (5)303” [1543].

The Scuola Grande was transferred in 1633 to a new site, within the Palace of the Duchess Felicita Gonzaga. Considered too modest for the new luxurious venue, the Ark was transferred in 1635 to Sermide, a small town 70 kilometers south-east of Mantua. In 1956 the Ark and the cathedrae were brought to Jerusalem and assembled in memory of Rabbi Sally Meyer.