Manchester Jewish Museum has opened a 150 year time capsule, found in its walls by builders during the museum’s redevelopment in 2020.

Its contents will inspire a range of events and a temporary exhibition at the now grade II*-listed, Spanish and Portuguese synagogue.

The glass jar, complete with its wax seal intact, was discovered during construction work of the museum’s new building, which was attached to the historic Sephardi synagogue. It was hidden deep in a wall cavern next to the Ark, a holy cupboard which houses the Torah Scrolls.

The discovery of a time capsule hidden in the synagogue’s walls in 2020 (Manchester Jewish Museum 2020)

The museum’s curator and Deputy Chief, Alexandra Cropper, together with Conservation Officer from Manchester Central Library, Eugenie Karen, opened the time capsule.

Stored inside were old coins, synagogue documents and newspapers dating from the week of the capsule’s burial.It contained copies of titles including The Times, Jewish Chronicle, and ‘The Manchester Guardian’, now The Guardian. Despite its old age, the museum said most of the documents are in a “surprisingly good condition” and require little restoration.

The museum said early synagogue minutes show records of the capsule being laid behind the cornerstone of the original building on 11th June 1873.

Eugenie Karen cleaning a document found in the time capsule (Chris Payne)
Newspapers found in the time capsule. On the left Jewish Chronicle issue from 6.6.1873.

The objects found in the time capsule will inspire the museum’s celebrations of the synagogue’s 150th anniversary next year.

Live shows and events within the Synagogue, which share and celebrate Sephardi stories. Sephardi Jews are those whose origins lie in the Iberian Peninsula.

A new temporary exhibition about the history of the synagogue will tell the story of those who worshiped in the building. The museum’s vegetarian café, a former Museums + Heritage Awards winner, will work on a new menu, inspired by stories from the museum’s collection and by recipes from the contemporary Sephardi community.

“It was so thrilling opening the capsule and discovering what our synagogue founders decided to bury 150 years ago,” said the museum’s curator and Deputy Chief, Alexandra Cropper.

“The next year is going to be so exciting as we delve further into the synagogue’s historic minute books. I look forward to unearthing more of the story of this remarkable building to share with our audiences.”

Eugenie Karen, Conservation Officer, Manchester Central Library, said of the capsule’s contents: “The paper objects were in remarkably good condition given their age and where they had been stored. I only had to undertake light repairs to strengthen and consolidate the manuscript where mold had weakened some areas. Properly stored, it will survive for years to come.”

The museum now plans to invite its communities to help design a new time capsule to mark the synagogue’s 150th anniversary. Next month it will invite visitors to contribute to the design of a new time capsule that “reflects what Manchester Jewish Museum means to its communities today”.

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Image: Manchester Jewish Museum’s curator and Deputy Chief, Alexandra Cropper and Conservation Officer at Manchester Central Library, Eugenie Karen, opening the time capsule found in the walls of the museum’s historic Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. Credit: Chris Payne, 2023.