In 2007 JTrails and the LJC started a long-term heritage partnership project with JTrails. In April 2008 Marcus Roberts (Director of JTrails) and Prof. Brian Winston (who headed the heritage project on behalf of the community) visited the museum to meet the curator. In the five minutes before the meeting was due to take place, Marcus Roberts bet Prof. Winston that they would be able to find at least one unidentified medieval Jewish artefact in The Collection before the appointment and came across the Lincoln Lamp three minutes into their search!
After the discovery, intensive research by Marcus Roberts interpreted the lamp as a multi-purpose 13th century synagogue and ritual lamp and as one of the oldest and rarest medieval Jewish ritual artefacts in Europe. Only three similar examples are known in England and a hand-full in Europe.
The lamp was a high-status item and was suspended from a ceiling or bracket. The lamp has four spouts and wicks fed from a central oil reservoir. The lamp would have lit a synagogue or a large room used for communal observances and are particularly shown in medieval Jewish illuminations, as lighting Passover Seders. Also they are shown being used in the specific Havdalah ritual, which concluded the Sabbath, when it directly preceded and inaugurated the festival of Passover (or another festival falling directly after the Sabbath). It seems that the lamps may have had a Messianic meaning, due to their link to Passover and their distinctive 'star shape' and could also link to the Jewish Millennium of 1240. It appears that these lamps were the forerunners of the European Sabbath light, the 'Judenstern'.
After the research, Marcus Roberts suggested that the creation of a replica Lincoln Lamp to be used as Ner Tamid in front of the famous stone Torah niche and modern Ark of the LJC synagogue, would provide a fitting and vital link between the ancient Jewish heritage of the building and the medieval Jewish community. A successful application for funding to the NLPS Trust for Progressive Judaism to improve the worship space and furnishing made the creation of the replica possible, when £1750 was secured.
The replica was created by Richard Bett, a Lincoln based craft jeweller, who specialises in bespoke hammered jewellery. His use of ancient hammering techniques to make the lamp is almost certainly precisely the method used to make the original lamp and shows that a local artisan, perhaps a Jewish silversmith, could have made the lamp. The lamp took two weeks to complete and is an almost exact (but working replica) of the original lamp. Richard Betts analysis of how the lamp was constructed and his craftsmanship answered important questions about how the lamp was made and about design features of the lamps and how they were suspended for use, so the recreation of the lamp was an important archaeological experiment.
The Lincoln Jewish Community resumed Jewish worship in Jews' Court Lincoln, for the first time since the Middle Ages, in 1992. The Upper Room, which is leased and used as the synagogue, is believed by many to be the original medieval synagogue room in Lincoln, and Cecil Roth drew special attention to the significance of the stone cupboard in the east wall of the Upper Room, as potentially being the original recess for the medieval Ark. The modern Lincoln Jewish community is increasingly well known for its heritage and the famous synagogue room has an increasing high profile both locally and nationally. It recently appeared Simon Scharma's BBC documentary series 'The History of the Jews'.
An official unveiling and launch of the lamp is planned in the near future.
Richard Dale, the Chair of the LJC comments, 'On behalf of the Lincolnshire Jewish Community I am immensely grateful to JTrails and NLPS for its generous support in making possible the creation of the Lamp which connects the medieval Jewish community in Lincoln to our present day Lincoln Synagogue.'