UK researchers unearth evidence of thriving medieval Jewish community in York

Researchers in the United Kingdom have unearthed new archeological evidence suggesting that the Jewish community in the city of York thrived for part of the 13th century, in the shadow of one of the most notorious attacks upon Jews recorded during the medieval period.

The history of the Jews in the northern English city is known primarily for the mass suicide of its 150-strong community in 1190. Following the outbreak of anti-Jewish hostility that accompanied the coronation of King Richard I, the Jews of York fled to a local castle, Clifford’s Tower, where they were besieged by an angry mob. Rather than accede to the mob’s demand that they convert to Christianity — and some of those who did agree were slaughtered nonetheless — the Jews decided to take their own lives en masse.

However, new research conducted at the University of York shows that a Jewish community did survive and thrived to an extent in the city after the tragedy, during the early 13th century.

As part of the university’s StreetLife project, online visitors can view digital reconstructions of the homes and synagogues of the city’s Jews, among them Aaron of York, reputed to be the richest man in England at the time. Also identified is the synagogue behind Aaron’s home as well as the homes of other affluent local Jews, including that of Leo Episcopus, a moneylender who lived in a house on Coney Street with his wife, Henna.


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