Visitors to the new Nidhe Israel Synagogue Museum in Bridgetown, Barbados will be rewarded with the sight of a recently excavated Mikvah – discovered during an archeological dig beside the existing Shul. Constructed by the Sephardic Jews, who fled to Barbados from Dutch-owned Recife, Brazil in 1627, the Mikvah is fed by a natural spring, and was hidden to the residents of Barbados as it was covered by a parking lot since the mid 1850’s.
The 17th century Mikvah is 12 feet deep, by four feet wide and is floored with red granite tiles, flanked by alcoves where lamps were thought to illuminate it. Marble, granite and slate clad steps would have been used by people before they entered the Mikvah. Archeologists stumbled across the ancient relic during an archeological dig in the grounds of the Synagogue with the intention of locating a former Rabbi’s house, which was documented as being within the Synagogue grounds, adjacent to the cemetery. Excavations led students at the site to locate a step, which was the first of the full flight of steps, later revealing the Mikvah in its entirety.
Not commonly known is that Barbados is the location of the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere, also dating back to the 17th century. The beautiful coral stone Nidhe Israel Synagogue Museum opened its doors this year, and plays an important role in teaching visitors about Jewish culture on the island of Barbados. This fascinating story is conveyed through colorful panel displays and multi-media presentations. Additionally, glass enclosed artifacts discovered in the cemetery are exhibited on a bed of sand. The original Jewish settlers who built the 17th century synagogue were skilled in the sugar industry and quickly introduced crop and cultivation skills to the Barbadians.