Church leaders join fight to protect Bevis Marks

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Church leaders join fight to protect Bevis Marks

City clergy issue strongly worded objection to proposed tower block that would overshadow historic synagogue

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Clergy meeting with Rabbi Morris and members of the community at Bevis Marks Pic: The Guild Church of St Katharine Cree
Clergy meeting with Rabbi Morris and members of the community at Bevis Marks Pic: The Guild Church of St Katharine Cree

Clergy from City of London churches have sent a strongly worded letter of objection to a planning application which they say “would dramatically harm the only non-Christian place of worship in the City”, Bevis Marks.

Under the umbrella of the neighbouring community of St Katharine Cree, the church leaders say the synagogue “is not only a heritage site, but a living diverse community in the heart of the City”, and that they are “working with other religious and civic institutions to oppose the building of an excessively high tower block right next to Bevis Marks”.

The proposed development, says the letter, “will overshadow the synagogue and block out the sky: it will actually constrain Jewish religious freedom of worship at the synagogue by preventing the reciting of prayers at the appearance of the new moon, the Kiddush Levanah. As leaders of civic and religious institutions in a diverse, international, tolerant city, we are deeply worried by a regressive restriction of freedom of religious practice.”

On Thursday, 16 church leaders met Bevis Marks’ minister Rabbi Shalom Morris and members of the synagogue, and then walked to Guildhall to hand-deliver their opposition letter to the City of London Corporation, where it will be considered by the planning committee.

Bevis Marks Synagogue

In a swift response, the Corporation has invited the clergy to meet members of the Planning Applications Sub-Committee to discuss the opposition to the proposed tower development, “and to set out the ways in which we — as leaders of religious and civic institutions — want to work constructively with the City to build on its success and support its future prosperity and vitality”.

The St Katharine Cree letter says that while the clergy “share the developer’s aspirations to ensure that any development in the neighbourhood builds up local business, invests in the local community and contributes to the City of London Corporation’s Climate Action Strategy”, they believe that the proposed development in its current form “does not account for the harmful impacts of an inappropriately tall and imposing building in this location. In particular, the reasonable concerns of the Jewish community at Bevis Marks Synagogue about this development should be respected.”

Christian leaders of different communities in the City of London, the letter says, “know first-hand the value which religious practice and the freedom of religion and belief has in a modern global City… Like Bevis Marks Synagogue, our City churches are not only historically significant heritage buildings. Our places of worship are centres for living diverse communities of people who live and work in the City or who visit here as worshippers, pilgrims, and tourists”.

Bevis Marks is home to the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation, Photograph: Blake Ezra Photography

The letter expresses “deep concern about a potential decision which we fear could undermine the City’s ability to function as a world beating trading and commercial centre and harm its reputation for generosity and respect for all religious communities, itself a blow to the City’s competitiveness”, adding that “it is particularly disappointing and concerning that the community directly affected by this application is the only synagogue – indeed, the only dedicated non-Christian house of worship – within the City”.

Meanwhile, as the planning application is considered, the campaign of opposition is stepping up. This week the Jewish Leadership Council asked for as many people as possible to object, saying that the application for a 45-storey tower is almost identical to a previous application for a 48-storey block which was rejected in 2020. If the application is accepted, says the JLC, “this will devastate Europe’s oldest continuously used synagogue”.

Objectors are asked to write using this link.

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