JewishBurial540
Reconciliation as Norwich well victims buried

As the 850-year-old bones of 17 suspected victims of religious persecution were buried in a moving service at the Jewish Cemetery at Norwich this week, an Anglican bishop expressed repentance and sorrow on behalf of the Christian community. Mike Wiltshire reports.

 
Speaking of those “whose lives were so brutally ended,” Bishop David Gillett said “we meet to honour them as well as mourn for them.”
 
However, the bishop added: “We rejoice today in that fact that our friendship as Christians and Jews together is solid and secure.”
 
The bones of six adults and 11 children, believed to be Jews killed by medieval Christians, were discovered in 2004 in an ancient  well-shaft  as the Chapelfield Shopping Centre was being built.
 
Jews arrived in Norwich after the Norman Conquest, and the city became home to a thriving Jewish community during the 1100s and many lived near the well site. But in 1190, during fierce persecution,  the city's Jews fled to Norwich castle - offered refuge by the city’s Sheriff. Those who stayed in their homes were butchered.
 
In the 1230s, Jews were executed in Norwich after a false allegation that a Christian child had been kidnapped. In 1290, the persecution culminated with the expulsion of the Jews by King Edward I.
 
JewishBurial430The 17 Norwich skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family.  There are signs that the victims were thrown head first into the well.  Researchers for the BBC TVs ‘Cold Case’ programme in 2011 ruled out death through disease. The skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single family.
 
In a moving interfaith service in Hebrew and English, Bishop David Gillett said: “We meet to honour them as well as mourn for them.  I offer words of sorrow, repentance and apology for the suffering meted out to the Jewish community by my community in this city all those centuries ago.”
 
Although we do not know personal identities of those lives who “were so brutally ended”, he reminded listeners that each victim was nevertheless “known to God.”
 
Clive Roffe, the Norwich representative of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and vice-president of the Norwich Hebrew Congregation, who worked tirelessly with others to see the burial of the remains in consecrated ground, described the service as an emotional and historic event.
 
Leading the open air service, Alex Bennett, minister of the Norwich Synagogue, welcomed Jewish, Christian and community leaders and said the event was “an act of reconciliation – and it is wonderful that there is a turnout from both Christians and Jews here.”
 
Welcoming today’s friendships “across the boundaries of faith,” Mr Bennett quoted the words of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who once said: “Today we take interfaith activity for granted  . . . but for the better part of 2,000 years the relationship between the church and the Jews had been marked by hostility that added a whole series of words to the vocabulary of human suffering: disputation, forced conversion, inquisition, auto de fe, ghetto, expulsion and pogrom.”
 
Maureen Leveton, president of the Norwich Hebrew Congregation, expressed thanks for the “wonderful unity” at the service and thanked the City Council, the Museum Authority for their assistance and to Peter Taylor Funeral Services for services given free of charge.
 
A memorial plaque to the 17 people will also be placed in St Stephen’s churchyard, near where the bodies were found.

Pictured above is the burial service at the Jewish Cemetery in Earlham.

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