Dutch city begins restoring ancient mikveh

THE HAGUE (JTA) — The Dutch city of Venlo has begun restoring a recently-discovered Jewish bathhouse which is the oldest proof of Jewish life in the country.

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The Venlo Mikveh — a Hebrew word for a ritual bath used for ritual immersion and purification — was excavated whole in 2005, a year after it was discovered by chance during construction work in the southern city’s center. It is being reassembled in the Limurgs Museum and will remain there on display, the city said.

Dated to 1340, it is seen as proof that Jews permanently resided in the Netherlands since the 13th century or the very beginning of the 14th century at the earliest. The mikveh is believed to have remained in use for 30 years.

Prior to the discovery, historians only had proof of permanent Jewish presence in the Netherlands close to the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition, which began in 1492.

In 2005, the mikveh was extracted from the ground in a complicated engineering operation that allowed it to be pulled out in one block measuring 25 feet by 30 feet and weighing 180 tons, L1, a local television network, reported.

It was taken apart, catalogued for reconstruction and placed in storage for six years until it was transported in 2011 to the museum, which has produced a computerized simulation of the structure.

The transportation and restoration has so far cost the city about $260,000, L1 reported.

Venlo’s Jewish population in the 18th and 19th centuries reached its peak in 1869, according to the Dutch Jewish Historical Museum. About 30 Jews resided there throughout the 20th century.