Norwich Lord Mayor's 'heartfelt apology' to Jewish community for first blood libel

Addressing a civic Seder, Councillor Kevin Maguire makes the apology for the false accusation of ritual murder in 1144


The Lord Mayor of Norwich has offered a “heartfelt apology” to the Jewish community for the first known blood libel in England.

In 1144, Jews were falsely accused of the ritual murder of a boy, William of Norwich, who was found dead in the woods with stab wounds.

Similar accusations followed in other cities, leading to massacres of Jewish citizens.

Seventeen skeletons discovered during the construction of a Norwich shopping centre in 2004 are thought to be the remains of victims of an 1190 pogrom and were subsequently buried in the local Orthodox cemetery.

The apology was the initiative of the Lord Mayor, Councillor Kevin Maguire, and was delivered at an emotional civic Seder held under the auspices of the University of East Anglia and its committee for Jewish heritage and culture.

Addressing the interfaith gathering, Cllr Maguire acknowledged the impact of blood libel allegations down the centuries.

In Norwich, “we are all aware of the 17 Jewish skeletons found in the wall in what is now Chantry Place. The dating suggests they chime with chronicling of a massacre in February 1190 by Crusaders.

“Norwich, no doubt, saw further Jewish blood shed following Edward 1’s Edict of Expulsion in 1290.

“William’s murder is a story for today. We apportion blame for any harms and seek to punish those who are not like us; those who do and say things differently to the way that we say or do things.

“Medieval Norwich blamed the Jews and we see the horrendous events that followed.

“Today we see other ‘not like me’ groups turned upon and blamed for shortcomings in society.”

Before making his “very personal apology to all Jews who continue to suffer because of the past actions of our citizens and their accusation of the blood libel”, Cllr Maguire said that in asking for forgiveness, he pledged to make things better in future.

“For me, the answer is to say ‘no more’ and to work for Norwich to be free of antisemitism - and to counter the lies told blatantly by those who would wish to foment hate.”

He intended to bring a motion in the new civic year, “to recognise the importance of freeing the city of intolerable behaviour such as that led to the blood libel”.

The Seder was also addressed by Oren Margolis, who heads the university’s Jewish heritage committee. Other guests included Marian Prinsley, Deputy Lieutenant for Norfolk and a Norwich Hebrew Congregation leader.

Speaking to the JC, she commended the Lord Mayor on his action. “We were sitting next to each other and he told me with tears in his eyes that in his two years as Lord Mayor, this was the most important thing he has done.”

She hoped to now see proper recognition of the city’s rich Jewish heritage. Norwich was the home of renowned medieval Jewish poet, Meir ben Eliyahu. Jurnet’s House is said to be the oldest place of Jewish habitation in England. In addition, the city once boasted the UK’s only Synagogue Street, home to a Victorian shul constructed in the 1840s which was destroyed by German bombs in 1942.

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