Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Visit to Medieval Jewish Winchester

Winchester, England. Sign on Jewry Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Winchester, England. Winchester Cathedral, Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, Painting of a Jew. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Brochure of Winchester's Medieval Jewish Trail.
A Visit to Medieval Jewish Winchester
by Samuel D. Gruber

Following my visit to Oxford, I spent a day in Winchester, the Anglo-Saxon capitol of England, which remained a major royal enter in the Norman period, and as a well-preserved medieval city it is a major tourist center today. Winchester is, of course, famous for its Cathedral which has gone through many permutations over the centuries, but mostly remains as a stunning example of late English Gothic architecture. Winchester also had a substantial Jewry until the expulsion of the Jews from Britain by Edward I on July 18, 1290.

The Jewry (street of the Jews) still exists, but none of the houses of Jews on the street survive. As in Oxford, however local historians sponsored by Winchester University and the City Council have put together a walking route in the town that informs the viewer of what once was there, and who lived where and did what.

I'd learned of the route from a recent post on Jewish-Heritage-Europe.eu. by Toni Griffiths, who wrote about "Touring the Invisible: The Public Recovery of England’s Medieval Jewish History" Toni's 2018 Ph.D. thesis "The Journey of Memory: forgetting and remembering England's medieval Jews" investigates and analyses the discoveries of and controversies several medieval Jewish cemeteries in England. She has been active in efforts to include more about England's Jewish history in local history and heritage agendas.

I walked part of Winchester's Medieval Jewish Trail, but as it began to rain pretty hard, soaking my brochure and map, I did miss a few stops along the way, and did not make it the site of the Jewish cemetery, just outside the walls. But truthfully, though the High Street is lovely, there is not much Jewish to see. With the exception of my few photos above, there is little visible physical evidence of the Jewish presence in the town of 700 years ago. According to Dr. Grffiths, "only one piece of material evidence of the city’s medieval Jewish history survives: a lead token bearing a Hebrew inscription, which was found in an excavation in 1968. This token, which dates from before the mid-13th century, is hugely significant but is in too poor condition to be displayed publicly." Otherwise, the trail is an exercise in historical imagining (or Touring the Invisible", and we are challenged to imagine the physical, social, economic and religious life of Winchester small - but influential - Jewish community.

At Winchester Cathedral, where there were once medieval statues of opposed Sinagoga and Ecclesia, there still are few images of Jews. In the Holy Sepulchre Chapel, part of the surviving Norman Romanesque transept and crossing area, re-discovered paintings from around 1160 show Jews wearing conical hats--that is we know they are Jews precisely because they are wearing these prescribed hats. One double scene shows the Deposition from the Cross and the Entombment of Jesus one figure - presumably meant to be Joseph of Arimathea - is shown with the distinctive hat. Another bust of a Jew with the hat is painted in a ceiling spandrel, but it is not clear who this is meant to be.

Winchester, England. Winchester Cathedral, Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, Deposition and Entombment. Hard to see in this image, but Joseph of Arimathea is probably at top left of Deposition, and bottom right of Entombment.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Unlike the lost statue of Sinagoga, none of these portrayals is derogatory. The hat is a shown as descriptive, not accusatory. The Lateran Council of 1215 declared that Jews needed to be distinguished from Christians by their dress, but it seems that in England it was not until 1267 that there was mandatory wearing of a Jewish hat. But it is not clear under what circumstances English Jews were required to wear such hats, and even if required, whether they actually did so. And since the Cathedral frescoes are believed to date from c. 1160, it seems the idea of the Jewish hat was clearly established in England by then.

It was not until In 1218, that King  Henry III proclaimed the Edict of the Badge that required Jews to wear a badge, but it is not clear how effective this edict was, since in 1253, it was again required that Jews aged 7 years and older wear a badge made of strip of yellow felt, 6 inches by 3 inches in the shape of the two tablets given on Mount Sinai. For a while, Jews in Winchester were able to pay money to avoid the badge, which is clearly indicated in the 14th century Rochester Chronicle which represents Jews are shown being beaten at the time of the Expulsion (British Library, Cotton Nero D. II.), folio 183v.).

Rochester Chronicle which represents Jews with badges are shown being beaten  British Library, Cotton Nero D. II., folio 183v.
Rochester Chronicle which represents Jews with badges are shown being beaten  British Library, Cotton Nero D. II., folio 183v.
At Winchester Cathedral, I could not find any information or reference to Jews in the Holy Sepulchral Chapel or in any other context, and the tour guide seemed flustered when he showed the chapel and I mentioned the Jews. It may have been because any discussion would have distrubed the tour timetable, or he may have been unprepared for the question. Some information is provided in the Medieval Jewish Winchester brochure, and more online in a slightly longer pdf version of the tour.  

I did enjoy the attractive and informative new exhibition Kings and Scribes: Birth of a Nation in which several folios of the famed Winchester Bible, thought to have been begun in 1160, are on view. The visual treatment of Jewish patriarchs, prophets and kings in this work is worthy of study, but is not addressed in this exhibit which focuses in large part on the physical creation of the massive work and its purpose and patronage. Perhaps the most "Jewish" of bible pages is the so-called The Morgan Leaf, which was originally a frontispiece to the Book of Samuel, but is now disassociated from the rest of the manuscript and is a prize of the Morgan Library in New York. It is well illustrated and described by Andreas Petzold here.

Morgan Leaf, The Winchester Bible, frontispiece for 1 Samuel with scenes from the Life of David, c. 1150–80 (Winchester, England), tempera and gold on parchment, 58.3 x 39.6 cm (Morgan Library & Museum).
Though in the Middle Ages the Jews of Winchester mostly lived in the area of Jewry Street and High Street, Jewry now continues much further into the alter town and toward the train station. Along this route is the local public library, known as the Winchester Discovery Center, and here we may see in the near future a sizable physical reminder of the town's Jewish past. Plans have been in progress for several years to erect a statue of Winchester's most famous Jew (and a woman at that), the financier Licoricia. The Licoricia of Winchester Statue Appeal, is working "to raise the 125,000 pounds that will pay for both the statue and also educational work to promote tolerance." The model is made and permissions have been granted; now only the money is needed to cast and install the statue.  

The appeal of the statue is not only to reclaim forgotten Jewish history, but also to address the obvious dearth of representations of women in Britain's public monuments and commemorative art. There are other statues in Winchester. King Alfred the Great raises his sword at the bottom of High Street, and an anonymous equestrian is on High Street near Trafalgar Street. Of course, there scores of statues of notables within the Cathedral.
Winchester, England. Jewry Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Winchester, England. Tour map of sites of Jewish interest. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Winchester, England. Winchester Discovery Center on Jewry Street, future site of Licoricia statue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Winchester, England. Winchester Discovery Center on Jewry Street, future site of Licoricia statue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Winchester, England. Winchester Discovery Center on Jewry Street, with mock-up of Licoricia statue.
Winchester, England. Alfred the Great statue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
 Winchester, England. Horse and rider sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink, 1983. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

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