Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Archaeologists find evidence of a massacre of Jews in medieval Norwich

Archaeology isn't always cosy teatime viewing. Last week the Guardian reported:

The remains of children and adults found in a disused well in Norwich have been identified as victims of a bloody medieval pogrom, researchers have revealed.

The team said the discovery not only underscored the horror of the antisemitic atrocity, but provided new insights into when genetic disorders often found among Ashkenazi Jews first appeared.

Radiocarbon dating, says the report, has revealed that the bodies of at least 17 people were deposited in the well between radiocarbon dating analyses have revealed the bodies were deposited in the well between 1161 and 1216 AD:

The team say the timeframe is consistent with an antisemitic massacre in Norwich in AD1190, detailed by the chronicler Ralph de Diceto.

 “Many of those who were hastening to Jerusalem determined first to rise against the Jews before they invaded the Saracens. Accordingly on 6 February [in AD1190] all the Jews who were found in their own houses at Norwich were butchered; some had taken refuge in the castle,” he wrote in his Imagines Historiarum II.

But there were other violent events in the same period, including the sack of Norwich by Hugh Bigod in AD1174.

You can read the full academic paper in the journal Current Biology.

Norwich was the site of the first known medieval accusation against Jews of ritual murder, after the body of a boy of 12 was found in 1144. No charges were brought over the boy's death, but as William of Norwich he became the subject of a cult and many miracles were claimed on his behalf.

He was one of a number of such unofficial local boy saints who were alleged to be the victim of ritual murder by Jews. I wrote about them in my chapter on Oliver Twist and anti-Semitism in the book Racism in Psychology: Challenging Theory, Practice and Institutions.

Referring to the way Monks offers Fagin an extra payment if he turns Oliver into a thief, I wrote:

This dishonouring or defiling of an innocent Christian boy at the hands of a Jew is reminiscent of the ‘blood libel’, which accuses Jews of murdering Christian children so they can use their blood as part of religious rituals. Yet it feels more closely related to the local cults of boy martyrs that flourished in England in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The best known of these cults, dating from 1255, is that of Little St Hugh of Lincoln, whose shrine still stands in the cathedral and who is mentioned in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale and Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. Mundill (1998), however, suggests the first such cult is that of St William of Norwich, which dates from 1144, whose shrine was believed to the site of miracles.

Mundill identifies further examples of these cults at Gloucester in 1168, Bury St Edmunds in 1181, Bristol in 1183 and Winchester in 1192. He traces further cases of Jews being accused or convicted of the murder of a Christian child into the 13th century, including one, where the supposed victim was found alive and another where the boy’s mother was later charged with murder. In 1244 a shrine to a dead baby whose body supposedly bore the marks of ritual murder was erected at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Oh, and don't worry, I wasn't seeking to cancel Dickens.

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