Medieval Jewish Prayer Book on Display at Faith Museum

A unique medieval siddur is now on public display at The Faith Museum in northern England. On loan from Corpus Christi College in Oxford, the manuscript is one of the very few Jewish artifacts from medieval England and contains Arabic handwriting within its pages, providing a unique glimpse into the lives of Jewish people in the Middle Ages.

This small, well-used prayer book belonged to a Jewish man living in England in the late 1100s and is thought to be one of the earliest preserved texts of its kind in Northern Europe. The siddur is thought to have been made in England or Northern France but its owner originally came from Spain and his native tongue was Arabic. On the flyleaves, he scribbled a list of his debtors in Judeo-Arabic (a form of Arabic written using a version of the Hebrew alphabet). This is the only Arabic text known to have been written in medieval England.


The word ‘siddur’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘order’. The book contains all the Hebrew prayers the owner would have needed to use each day, and special prayers for festivals. He would have carried it with him to the synagogue, as well as using it at home with his family.

A page from the siddur. By permission of the President and Fellows of Corpus Christi
College, Oxford. CCC MS 133.

“There are very few remaining Jewish objects from medieval England, not because there weren’t people practicing Judaism at this time but because they were often living within predominantly Christian communities and faced significant persecution,” says Charlotte Grobler, Curator at The Auckland Project. “Like many of the objects in the Faith Museum, this siddur is a personal object used to practice faith in a very personal way. Since manuscripts were costly to produce at the time, it could have also been used by the owner’s whole family and the wider community. We are very grateful to Corpus Christi, Oxford for loaning this special manuscript and I look forward to people coming to the museum to see it and perhaps reflecting on their own connection to faith.”


The siddur is now on display at The Auckland Project’s new Faith Museum, which opened last year. The museum, located in the town of Bishop Auckland, explores 6,000 years of faith, and how belief has shaped Britain from ancient times to the present day. The museum’s displays feature objects on loan from 50 national and local institutions and private lenders, which complement The Auckland Project’s own collection. The objects are often enigmatic and poignant; they are witnesses to deep reverence and forgotten customs that speak directly through time to us today.

Visitors to the Faith Museum will be able to see the siddur until 11 August 2024. The siddur is one of a series of rare manuscripts that speak to the faith of individuals and communities from medieval Britain on display over the coming year at the Faith Museum. To learn more, please visit the museum’s website.

Top Image: The siddur on display at The Faith Museum. By permission of the President and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. CCC MS 133