On my way from Cologne to Stuttgart, I stopped by the small city of Worms, which happens to have the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe (if you don’t count Jewish burials in Roman catacombs). It is called Heiliger Sand, which means “Holy Sands”. It was probably founded around 1000 A.D., although the oldest surviving, legible tombstone dates from 1057, it’s definitely the oldest cemetery (proper) that I’ve visited.

It’s not that far from the station, probably a 5-10 minute walk south, and is located very close to the cathedral, which makes it easy to find. The long wall that surrounds the cemetery makes it easy to spot, but the large iron gate is a little intimidating – I guess because there is a small house beside it, and I thought perhaps I might be trespassing. Anyway, the gate was closed, but not unlocked, as was the smaller gate to the cemetery within. There is a wall that surrounds this cemetery, and it was first put into place here in 1260. Burials continued until 1911, and after that only family burials until 1938. There was a Jewish community here in Worms until 1942.

The cemetery is on a hill, and you enter it at the bottom. The bottom area is the older cemetery of the medieval era, and the graves at the top of the hill are mostly post-1689. The path takes a loop around the grounds. There are over 2500 burials here, not nearly as many as the old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, although they are probably about the same size in acreage. As a result, it did not have the same crowded look as the Prague cemetery, although it was just as atmospheric (even more so because of the lack of tour groups passing through).

Naturally, the older graves only feature Hebrew text, but as one approached the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, many more were written in German. Of course, there were no statues per se, but many draped and broken urns, and occasionally you could see old Jewish symbols on the headstones, like open hands, a scale, etc.

This was definitely a lovely place to walk around in while the sun was shining, even if I could not read most of the text on the old gravestones (in many cases, this was impossible as they had worn away or had fallen off).

Quality of Monuments: Good – lots of historical markers here for those with much more knowledge of Jewish history and language than I.

Cemetery Grounds: Fairly small. There’s a simple path that runs up the hill close to the wall and comes down through the middle of the grounds.

Visitors: This doesn’t appear to be well visited, despite it being one of the tourist sites of Worms. One other family group arrived about halfway through my time there.

Photographer Notes: none


Cemetery: Heiliger Sand (Holy Sands Cemetery)

Location: It’s a short walk south of the train station, near the cathedral

Established: 1000 A.D.

Notable Internments: Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin, Meir of Rothenburg

Hours: Open daily from 08:00 to 20:00 (until sunset in winter). Closed on Jewish holidays.