History of changes
After the expulsion of the city's Jews under the Alhambra decree in 1492, the Synagogue came under the Order of Calatrava, who converted the building into a church serving a priory dedicated to Saint Benedict, In the 17th century the church's name changed to Nuestra Señora del Transito: the name derives from a painting by Juan Correa de Vivar, Transit of the Virgin.
The synagogue was also used as military headquarters during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1877 the building became a national monument. The transformation of the building into the Sephardi Museum, as it is now officially called, started around 1910. It was initiated by the Veca-Inclan foundation.
This Synagogue was the private family synagogue of the king's wealthy treasurer, Don Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia. With the apparent approval of the king, he defied all the laws about synagogues being smaller and lower than churches, and plain of decoration. It features Nasrid-style polychrome stucco-work, Hebrew inscriptions praising the king and himself, and quotations from the Psalms, as well as multifoil arches and a massive Mudéjar panelled ceiling. Arabic inscriptions are intertwined with the floral patterns in the stucco panels.
Women were separated from men during the ceremonies, but were allowed to watch. The Gallery is located on the first floor of the southern wall, having five open windows looking down towards Aron Kodesh or (to use more correct Sephardi terminology) the Hechal.