Jewish ritual bath from the year 1260

Friedberg is one of the few places in Germany where there is a well-preserved Mikwe (or Mikveh), meaning a Jewish ritual bath from the Middle Ages.

The Mikwe in Friedberg

The Mikwe in Friedberg was built starting in the year 1260. It is like a large square well, five and a half meters wide and twenty-five meters deep, with an elaborate stone staircase leading down to the level of the natural ground water. The water is usually about five meters deep, although the water level can vary.

Looking down at the Mikwe

This is said to be the most monumental medieval Mikwe that still exists in Germany. Others still exist in Andernach, Cologne, Offenburg, Speyer and Worms, and one more has been re-discovered in Erfurt. The website Jewish Life in Erfurt gives this explanation:

“For a Jewish community in the Middle Ages, the ritual bath was of great significance. It was primarily the women who had to visit the baths after giving birth and after menstruation, so that they could enter the synagogue after being purified. But men also had to be immersed in the Mikwe after contact with dead or sick people or other impure things in the religious meaning of the word, before they could visit the synagogue again. Tableware also had to be cleansed in the Mikwe before its first use or after ritual contamination. Bathing in the Mikwe was subject to precise rules. The completely naked body had to be fully immersed in the water, and even jewellery had to be removed first. The water had to be ‘living’ water; it could not be scooped out, only spring water or ground water was allowed, and the basin needed to contain the equivalent of at least one cubic metre of water. Bathing was in cold water at all times of the year, although warm water could be added.”

House at Judengasse 20, built 1902

The entrance to the historic Mikwe is through this house that was built in the year 1902.

Jewish soldiers killed in the First World War

At the entrance to the Mikwe, on the ground floor, there is a small exhibit documenting Jewish life in Friedberg. It includes this plaque with the names of Jewish soldiers from Friedberg who were killed in the First World War while serving in the German army.

During the Nazi dictatorship several attempts were made to destroy the Mikwe, but according to local historians this was prevented by a courageous high school history teacher and some of his pupils, who managed to convince the Nazi mobs that the Mikwe had been built by Christian stonemasons (who had also worked on a nearby church) and was therefore an important piece of architectural history.

My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2021.

See more posts on Friedberg, Germany.
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16 thoughts on “Jewish ritual bath from the year 1260”

  1. I was lucky enough to tour one of these ritual baths. Fascinating experience, walking down into stone rooms, knowing so many people had done so before me.

          1. I’ve only seen the one, so I can’t make the comparisons you can. These medieval mikvehs are a peek into history, although I can’t imagine walking down those stone steps to dip into a pool. Give me a hot tub any day 🙂

    1. The whole construction extends 25 meters below ground level. The water itself is usually around 5 meters deep. I don’t know how the ritual bathing was organized, but I think there were always other people present to help.

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