Religion: The Pope's Jews

The synagogue stands in the center of Carpentras. its austere stone exterior relieved only by a plaque bearing a laconic message: THIS HOUSE OF PRAYER, BUILT IN 1367, WAS RECONSTRUCTED FROM 1741 TO 1743. Inside, all is ornate —fine old chandeliers, green woodwork, delicately forged iron. The Louis XV décor in a synagogue seems as out of place as the large cross formed by the windows. The window arrangement, however, is entirely appropriate: for the synagogue of Carpentras, near Avignon, is a relic of a strange medieval relationship between the papacy and a Jewish community.

The people who were to become known...