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THOMAS OF MONMOUTH, The Accusation of the 1144 Ritual Murder of William of Norwich (1173)

[Excerpted from his 1173 hagiography, The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich; from Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World, pp. 121-126]

How William Was Wont to Resort to the Jews, And Having Been Chided by His Own People for So Doing, How He Withdrew Himself from Them

When therefore he was flourishing in this blessed boyhood of his, and had attained to his eighth year [about 1140], he was entrusted to the skinners [furriers] to be taught their craft. Gifted with a teachable disposition and bringing industry to bear upon it, in a short time he far surpassed lads of his own age in the craft aforesaid, and he equaled some who had been his teachers. So leaving the country, drawn by a divine urge he betook himself to the city and lodged with a very famous master of that craft, and some time passed away. He was seldom in the country, but was occupied in the city and sedulously gave himself to the practice of his craft, and thus reached his twelfth year [1144].

Now, while he was staying in Norwich, the Jews who were settled there and required their cloaks or their robes or other garments (whether pledged to them, or their own property) to be repaired, preferred him before all other skinners. For they esteemed him to be especially fit for their work, either because they had learnt that he was guileless and skillful, or, because attracted to him by their avarice, they thought they could bargain with him for a lower price, Or, as I rather believe, because by the ordering of divine providence he had been predestined to martyrdom from the beginning of time, and gradually step by step was drawn on, and chosen to be made a mock of and to be put to death by the Jews, in scorn of the Lord's Passion, as one of little foresight, and so the more fit for them.

For I have learnt from certain Jews, who were afterwards converted to the Christian faith, how that at that time they had planned to do this very thing with some Christian, and in order to carry out their malignant purpose, at the beginning of Lent they had made choice of the boy William, being twelve years of age and a boy of unusual innocence.

So it came to pass that when the holy boy, ignorant of the treachery that had been planned, had frequent dealings with the Jews, he was taken to task by Godwin the priest, who had the boy's aunt as his wife, and by a certain Wulward with whom he lodged and he was prohibited from going in and out among them any more But the Jews, annoyed at the thwarting of their designs, tried with all their might to patch up a new scheme of wickedness, and all the more vehemently as the day for carrying out the crime they has determined upon drew near, and the victim, which they had thought they had already secured, had slipped out of their wicked hands.

Accordingly, collecting all the cunning of their crafty plots, they found-I am not sure whether he was a Christian or a Jew-a man who was a most treacherous fellow and just the fitting person for carrying out their execrable crime, and with all haste-for their Passover was coming on in three days-they sent him to find out and bring back with him the victim which, as I said before, had slipped out of their hands.

How He Was Seduced by the Jews' Messenger

At the dawn of day, on the Monday [March 20, 1144] after Palm Sunday, that detestable messenger of the Jews set out to execute the business that was committed to him, and at last the boy William, after being searched for with very great care, was found. When he was found, he got round him with cunning wordy tricks, and so deceived him with his lying promises....

How on His Going to the Jews He Was Taken, Mocked, and Slain....

Then the boy, like an innocent lamb, was led to the slaughter. He was treated kindly by the Jews at first, and, ignorant of what was being prepared for him, he was kept till the morrow. But on the next day [Tuesday, March 21], which in that year was the Passover for them, after the singing of the hymns appointed for the day in the synagogue, the chiefs of the Jews.... suddenly seized hold of the boy William as he was having his dinner and in no fear of any treachery, and ill-treated him in various horrible ways. For while some of them held him behind, others opened his mouth and introduced an instrument of torture which is called a teazle [a wooden gag] and, fixing it by straps through both jaws to the back of his neck, they fastened it with a knot as tightly as it could be drawn.

After that, taking a short piece of rope of about the thickness of one's little finger and tying three knots in it at certain distances marked out, they bound round that innocent head with it from the forehead to the back, forcing the middle knot into his forehead and the two others into his temples, the two ends of the rope being most tightly stretched at the back of his head and fastened in a very tight knot. The ends of the rope were then passed round his neck and carried round his throat under his chin, and there they finished off this dreadful engine of torture in a fifth knot.

But not even yet could the cruelty of the torturers be satisfied without adding even more severe pains. Having shaved his head, they stabbed it with countless thorn ¬points, and made the blood come horribly from the wounds they made. And so cruel were they and so eager to Inflict pain that it was difficult to say whether they were more cruel or more ingenious in their tortures. For their skill in torturing kept up the strength of their cruelty and ministered arms thereto

And thus, while these enemies of the Christian name were rioting in the spirit of malignity around the boy, some of those present adjudged him to be fixed to a cross in mockery of the Lord's Passion, as though they would say: "Even as we condemned the Christ to a shameful death, so let us also condemn the Christian, so that, uniting the lord and his servant in a like punishment, we may retort upon themselves the pain of that reproach which they impute to us."

Conspiring, therefore, to accomplish the crime of this great and detestable malice, they next laid their blood¬stained hands upon the innocent victim, and having lifted him from the ground and fastened him upon the cross, they vied with one another in their efforts to make an end of him.

And we, after enquiring into the matter very diligently, did both find the house, and discovered some most certain marks in it of what had been done there. For report goes that there was there instead of a cross a post set up between two other posts, and a beam stretched across the midmost post and attached to the other on either side. And as we afterwards discovered, from the marks of the wounds and of the bands, the right hand and foot had been tightly bound and fastened with cords, but the left hand and foot were pierced with two nails. Now the deed was done in this way, lest it should be discovered, from the presence of nail¬ marks in both hands and both feet, that the murderers were Jews and not Christians, if eventually the body were found.
But while in doing these things they were adding pang to pang and wound to wound, and yet were not able to satisfy their heartless cruelty and their inborn hatred of the Christian name, lo! after all these many and great tortures, they inflicted a frightful wound in his left side, reaching even to his inmost heart, and, as though to make an end of all, they extinguished his mortal life so far as it was in their power. And since many streams of blood were running down from all parts of his body, then, to stop the blood and to wash and close the wounds, they poured boiling water over him.

Thus then the glorious boy and martyr of Christ, William, dying the death of time in reproach of the Lord's death, but crowned with the blood of a glorious martyrdom, entered into the kingdom of glory on high to live for ever. Whose soul rejoiceth blissfully in heaven among the bright hosts of the saints, and whose body by the Omnipotence of the divine mercy worketh miracles upon earth....

As a proof of the truth and credibility of the matter we now adduce something which we have heard from the lips of Theobald, who was once a Jew, and afterwards a monk. He verily told us that in the ancient writings of his fathers it was written that the Jews, without the shedding of human blood, could neither obtain their freedom, nor could they ever return to their fatherland. [There is no such statement in Jewish law or literature.] Hence it was laid down by them in ancient times that every year they must sacrifice a Christian in some part of the world to the Most High God in scorn and contempt of Christ, that so they might avenge their sufferings on Him; inasmuch as it was because of Christ's death that they had been shut out from their own country, and were in exile as slaves in a foreign land.

Wherefore the chief men and Rabbis of the Jews who dwell in Spain assemble together at Narbonne, where the Royal seed [resides], and where they are held in the highest estimation, and they cast lots for all the countries which the Jews inhabit; and whatever country the lot falls upon, its metropolis has to carry out the same method with the other towns and cities, and the place whose lot is drawn has to fulfill the duty imposed by authority.

Now in that year in which we know that William, God's glorious martyr, was slain, it happened that the lot fell upon the Norwich Jews, and all the synagogues in England signified, by letter or by message, their consent that the wickedness should be carried out at Norwich. "I was," said he, "at that time at Cambridge, a Jew among Jews, and the commission of the crime was no secret to me. But in process of time, as I became acquainted with the glorious display of miracles which the divine power carried out through the merits of the blessed martyr William, I became much afraid, and following the dictates of my conscience, I forsook Judaism, and turned to the Christian faith."

These words—observe, the words of a converted Jew—we reckon to be all the truer, in that we received them as uttered by one who was a converted enemy, and also had been privy to the secrets of our enemies.

[Continuation from Alexis Rubin, Scattered Among the Nations, pp. 220-223]

The morrow dawned, when everywhere the Christian religion specially celebrates a day of solemnity by reason of the sacramental rite of the Adoration of the Cross [Good Friday]. On that day it is the custom among all Christians with sparing diet to abstain from all amusements and pleasures and, while going around the churches of the saints, to be diligently engaged in devout attendance at the prayers. At daylight therefore on this day the Jews who had been chosen the day before, namely Eleazar and another, tied up the body of the blessed martyr William in a sack and carried it out. And when they had left the city with the body and were just entering Thorpe Wood, it chanced that a certain citizen of Norwich, one of the most eminent and richest of the citizens, met them. His Christian name was Aelward and his surname was Ded. He, after visiting all the churches in the city during the previous night, was returning from the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, which is the church of the sick folk whose abode is near the aforesaid wood, and was making his way with a single servant to Saint Leonard's Church, along the edge of the wood.

This happened by the ordaining of God's grace and in order that a lawful witness might be forthcoming, so that when the body was afterwards discovered the matter might not be concealed from the Christians. So Aelward, coming upon the Jews as they were going along, recognized them, but could not tell what it was that one of them was carrying before him on his horse's neck. However, being in doubt and considering what the passers-by were about and what it could possibly be which they were carrying with them and why they should have gone so far from home on a day when it was not the custom for the Jews to leave their houses, he halted for a moment and asked them where they were going. Then, going nearer and laying hands thereupon, he touched what they were carrying with his right hand and he found it was a human body. But they, frightened at having been discovered and in their terror not having anything to say, made off at full gallop and rushed into the thick of the wood. Whereupon a suspicion of some mischief suggested itself to the mind of Aelward; yet he recalled his thoughts to the road which he had been pursuing when he was engaged in his devotional employment.

Meanwhile the Jews, picking their way through the tangled thickets of the wood, hung the body by a thin flaxen cord to a tree and left it there and then returned home by another path. And because they were extremely terrified and conceived new fears at every meeting with anyone that they saw, I conjecture that there occurred with them that which usually happens with very timid people who are conscious of guilt. For they who are in such a case look with suspicion at everybody that comes in their way, and they see pitfalls everywhere, and they suppose that the stones and trees in the distance are men. At any rate the Jews, when they got back, told the others the mishap that had occurred to them on the road.

The enemies of the Christians, being very much alarmed, were quite at a loss as to what course to take. And in despair, while one was suggesting this and another that measure for their common safety, they determined at last to make advances to John the Sheriff, who had been wont to be their refuge and their one and only protector. So by common consent it was arranged that certain of them who were their chief men in influence and power should go to him and deal with him so that, supported by his authority, they should hereafter have no cause for alarm. So they went and, passing within the castle walls, were admitted to the presence of the sheriff. They said that they had a great secret to divulge and wished to communicate secretly with him alone. Straightway, when all who were present had withdrawn, John bade them forthwith to say what they wanted, and they replied, "Look you, we are placed in a position of great anxiety, and, if you can help us out of it, we promise you a hundred marks." He delighted at the number of marks and promised that he would both keep close their secret and that, according to his power, he would not fail give them his support on any occasion...

On that same Saturday, after sunrise. Henry de Sprowston, the forester, whom I mentioned before, mounting his horse went into the wood to see if he could find anyone who might be doing mischief by cutting down anything in the wood without a license. And it came to pass that either chance or, as I rather believe, the divine will inclined his mind as he went along toward the place where he had seen the beams of the bright light gleaming on the day before. While he was passing hither and thither in that part of the wood, suddenly he observed a man cutting wood who said that he had discovered there a boy who had been slain. Whereupon, going with the peasant as a guide, Henry found the boy, but who he was or how he had got there he could not understand. But when he had looked at him carefully to find out if by any chance he knew him, he perceived that he had been wounded, and he noticed the wooden torture in his mouth. Becoming aware that he had been treated with unusual cruelty, he now began to suspect, from the manner of his treatment, that it was no Christian but in very truth a Jew, who had ventured to slaughter an innocent child of this kind with such horrible barbarity. So, observing the place very carefully and taking note of the outlook, be became certain that this was the same place where on the day before he had seen the rays of light gleaming and flashing upwards. Accordingly, when he had pondered over these things with much wondering, Henry went back and told his wife and all his household all he had seen. Then, summoning a priest, he announced to him that the body of a little innocent who had been treats in the most cruel manner had been discovered exposed in the wood. He said that he very much wished to take it away from there and, if the priest approved, to bury in the churchyard of Sprowston. After very earnestly deliberating about the carrying out of this intention, they came to the conclusion that, inasmuch as the festival of Easter was coming next day [March 26, 1144], they should defer their arrangement till the third day and so carry into effect their devout intention more fittingly.

So the business of burying him was put off. But in the meantime, as one man after another told others their several versions of the story, the rumor was spread in all directions. When it reached the city, it struck the heart of all who heard it with exceeding horror. The city was stirred with a strange excitement; the streets were crowded with people making disturbance. Already it was asserted by the greater part of them that it could only have been the Jews who would have wrought such a deed especially at such a time. And so some were standing about as if amazed by the new and extraordinary affair; many were running hither and thither, but especially the boys and the young men; and, a divine impulse drawing them on, they rushed in crowds to the wood to see the sight. What they sought they found. On detecting the marks of the torture on the body and carefully looking into the method of the act, some suspected that the Jews were guilty of the deed; also some, led on by what was really a divine discernment, asserted that it was so. When these returned, they who had stayed at home got together in groups, and, when they heard how the case stood, they too hurried to the sight. On their return they bore their testimony to the same effect. And thus all through Saturday and all through Easter day, all the city everywhere was occupied in going backward and forward time after time, and everybody was in excitement and astonishment at the extraordinary event.

And so the earnestness of their devout fervor was urging all to destroy the Jews. They would there and then have laid hands upon them, but, restrained by fear of the Sheriff John, they kept quiet for a while.