26 September 2022

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Monday 26 September 2022

The Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid in York, also known as York Oratory, is considered to be one of the most perfectly finished Roman Catholic churches in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Rosh Hashanah or New Year’s Day in the Jewish Calendar, the beginning of a New Year and the first of the ten High Holy Days. In the Calendar of Common Worship today [26 September], the Church of England commemorates William Carlile (1942), founder of the Church Army.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and for these two weeks, I am reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed earlier this month after a surgical procedure in Sheffield.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The design of the tower creates an optical illusion, so that the Oratory appears to be taller than York Minster in the background (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Wilson Carlile (1847-1942) was born in Brixton. He suffered from a spinal weakness all his life, which hampered his education. After a serious illness, he began to treat his religion more seriously and was confirmed in the Church of England. He acted as organist to Ira D Sankey during the Moody and Sankey missions and, in 1881, was ordained priest, serving his curacy at Saint Mary Abbots in Kensington, with a dozen other curates.

The lack of contact between the Church and the working classes was a cause of real concern to him and he began outdoor preaching. He resigned his curacy in 1882 and founded the Church Army, four years after the founding of the Salvation Army. Under his influence it thrived and he continued to take part in its administration until a few weeks before his death on this day 80 years ago, in 1942.

Luke 9: 46-50:

46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

49 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ 50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

The arch above the main door of Saint Wilfrid’s Church has the most detailed Victorian carving in York (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid, York:

The Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid in York is also known as York Oratory. The Gothic Revival church was completed in 1864 and it is considered to be one of the most perfectly finished Catholic churches in England, rich in sculptures, paintings and stained glass.

The original Saint Wilfrid’s Parish was once a mediaeval advowson of the Benedictine Saint Mary’s Abbey, York. The original site of the church was on land now occupied by the Judges Lodgings in Lendal and part of the Assembly Rooms behind it in Blake Street.

But the parish could not support itself, the church fell into disuse and became redundant, and was demolished. It was eventually built over and the parish was united with Saint Michael le Belfry. Part of the porch way, believed to belong to the original Saint Wilfrid’s Church, was found under the floor of the Assembly Rooms during 19th century renovations. Two of us had dinner recently in the Assembly Rooms, now Ask Italian.

Saint Wilfrid’s parish was revived by Catholics in York in 1742, when they established a mission in Little Blake Street. The mission was founded by Bishop Edward Dicconson (1670-1752), Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District of England.

A priest’s house, known as Chapel House, was established at No 7 Little Blake Street, now Duncombe Place. The first public place of worship for Catholics in York opened in 1760. The chapel continued until 1802 when another chapel was built on the opposite side of the street, on the present site. The chapel was hidden from the street by its presbytery, but could hold up to 700 people.

Plans were drawn up in 1848 to build a new church. However, the funds were diverted to build a much needed church in the Walmgate area for the large number of Irish Catholics who settled there. Saint George’s Church was built and became the Pro-Cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Beverley.

Meanwhile, the prominent position of Saint Wilfrid’s was made possible because of the clearing of the streets in front of the Minster and the creation of Duncombe Place. York Corporation was planning a new approach road to Lendal Bridge in 1859. This prompted Augustus Duncombe (1814-1880), Dean of York, to propose continuing the route by the chapel and towards York Minster.

The old narrow lane, known as Lop Lane or Little Blake Street, was replaced with a wide thoroughfare. The houses on the opposite side to the chapel were demolished and the road widened to create Duncombe Place.

Saint Wilfrid’s Church became the Pro-Cathedral Church of the Beverley Diocese. This was short lived as Beverley diocese was divided to make the Dioceses of Leeds, south of the River Ouse, and the Diocese of Middlesbrough, north of the river. Nevertheless, the Oratory Church of Saint Wilfrid still stands.

Saint Wilfrid’s Church was built on the site of the old chapel. The architect George Goldie (1828-1887) was a son of a prominent parishioner, Dr George Goldie, a grandson of the architect Joseph Bonomi the Elder, and was baptised in Saint Wilfrid’s chapel.

Goldie was at school in Saint Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, County Durham, when Augustus Pugin was working on the college chapel. Goldie took such an interest that the two became friends, and Pugin advised Goldie to study with Weightman and Hadfield.

Goldie practised alone in London between 1861 and 1867. In 1867 or 1868, he formed the partnership of Goldie and Child with Charles Edwin Child (1843-1911). In 1880 or 1881, Goldie’s son, Edward Goldie, joined the firm, which practised as Goldie Child and Goldie until George Goldie died in 1887.

Goldie designed Saint Paul’s School, now Saint Paul’s Court, in Stony Stratford. The works by Goldie and Child in Ireland include Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Baker’s Place, Limerick, Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Bridge Street, Waterford, the Good Shepherd, Clare Street, Limerick, much of the interior work and decoration of Holy Trinity Church, Adare, Co Limerick, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, and the High Altar and reredos in the Redemptorist Church at Mount Saint Alphonsus, Limerick.

Goldie designed the new church was designed as Gothic Revival church, a copy of the style of the 13th to 14th century style. The arch over the main door has the most detailed Victorian carving in the city.

The foundation stone was laid in April 1862 by Bishop Robert Cornthwaite. The church was completed in 1864 for the sum of £10,000, and was opened by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman in June 1864. It was considered to be ‘one of the most perfectly finished Catholic Churches in England, rich in sculpture, stained glass and fittings.’

Saint Wilfrid’s Church became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Beverley. This was short lived as the Diocese of Beverley was divided in 1878 to form the Diocese of Leeds, south of the River Ouse, and the Diocese of Middlesbrough, north of the river.

However, Saint Wilfrid’s Church still stands. The arch over the main door has the most detailed Victorian carving in the city. The altar rails were made in 1948 by Wilfrid Dowson, from Kirkbymoorside, who was responsible for some work at York Minster, as well as the Queen’s Gates at Saint George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. The rails were altered and temporarily removed in February 2007.

The organ by Forster and Andrews dates from 1867, and was restored by Harrison and Harrison in 1998.

The 147 ft tower is visible around much of York. The design of the tower creates an optical illusion, so that the Oratory appears to be taller than York Minster in the background. The tower holds a peal of 10 bells. One is inscribed ‘Saint Wilfrid’; another bears the inscription ‘Ringers ring with one accord. Make beautiful music to praise the Lord.’

The church became a Grade II listed building in 1968.

Bishop Terence Patrick Drainey invited the Congregation of the Oratory, founded by Saint Philip Neri, to move to Saint Wilfrid’s in 2013. The first Oratory priests arrived in October that year, and in 2019, Pope Francis permanently established the Congregation of the Oratory in York at Saint Wilfrid’s Church.

Saint Wilfrid’s Church is open every day from 8 am to 6 pm as a place of prayer and pilgrimage. The church holds sung Vespers and Benediction each Sunday afternoon or evening. Father Richard Duffield is the Provost, and Father Daniel Seward is the Parish Priest.

Inside Saint Wilfrid’s Church, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Monday 26 September 2022):

The Collect:

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy;
and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall,
keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Celebrating 75 Years,’ which was introduced yesterday by the Revd Davidson Solanki, USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the Church of South India, a thriving province within the Anglican Communion. May we learn from and be inspired by their service to each other and to their communities.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The organ by Forster and Andrews dates from 1867, and was restored by Harrison and Harrison in 1998 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Ask Italian in the former Assembly Rooms is on the site of the original Saint Wilfrid’s Church in York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

25 September 2022

‘… once more we prove
How strength of supreme
suffering still is ours
For Truth and Law and Love’

‘Tashlich Prayer on Vistula River’, a painting by Eduard Gurevich

Patrick Comerford

Rosh Hashanah, marking the beginning of the New Year in the Jewish calendar, begins at sunset this evening [Sunday 25 September 2022].

Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holidays or ‘Days of Awe’, ending 10 days later with Yom Kippur, from sunset on 4 October to nightfall on 5 October.

The two-day festival beginning this evening marks the anniversary of the creation of humanity and the special relationship we have between humans and God our creator.

Rosh Hashanah begins with the sounding of the shofar or ram’s horn, proclaiming God as King of the Universe. The sound of the shofar is also a call to repentance, to wake up and re-examine our commitment to God and to correct our ways.

Rosh Hashanah falls on the first two days of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, and this year continues until nightfall on Tuesday [27 September].

Ripening pomegranates on a tree in Platanias near Rethymnon … pomegranates are traditionally associated with Rosh Hashanah (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah is Shana Tova (שנה טובה‎), ‘A Good Year.’ During these Ten Days of Reprentance (עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה‎, Aseret Yemei Teshuva), it is traditional to say, G’mar Chatimah Tovah (גמר חתימה טובה‎) or ‘may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.’

The word Teshuva means ‘return.’ The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a reminder to acknowledge our wrongs and to ‘return’ to being our best selves through good deeds, kindness, prayer and honest repentance.

The Tashlich ceremony (תשליך‎ ‘cast off’) on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah involves visiting a body of fresh water to symbolically cast past sins away, tossing pebbles or bread crumbs into flowing water. During this ritual, people think of things they have done wrong in the past year and then ‘throw them away,’ promising for improvement in the coming year. I ask each and every one for forgiveness.

If you have felt wronged or upset by me or by something you felt I did or did not do, I apologise.

The Tashlich ceremony on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah involves symbolically casting past sins away, tossing pebbles or bread crumbs into flowing water (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, most mainstream Jewish movements accept Tashlich, although it is generally not practised by Spanish and Portuguese Jews. However, as my reading for Rosh Hashanah this evening I am reading a poem by the American Sephardic poet Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), ‘The New Year, Rosh-Hashanah, 5643.’

Emma Lazarus was born into a large Sephardic family. Her Lazarus and Nathan ancestors were originally from Portugal and lived in New York long before the American Revolution. They were among the original 23 Portuguese Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam fleeing the Inquisition in Recife, Brazil.

The New Year, by Emma Lazarus

Rosh-Hashanah, 5643

Not while the snow-shroud round dead earth is rolled,
And naked branches point to frozen skies.—
When orchards burn their lamps of fiery gold,
The grape glows like a jewel, and the corn
A sea of beauty and abundance lies,
Then the new year is born.

Look where the mother of the months uplifts
In the green clearness of the unsunned West,
Her ivory horn of plenty, dropping gifts,
Cool, harvest-feeding dews, fine-winnowed light;
Tired labor with fruition, joy and rest
Profusely to requite.

Blow, Israel, the sacred cornet! Call
Back to thy courts whatever faint heart throb
With thine ancestral blood, thy need craves all.
The red, dark year is dead, the year just born
Leads on from anguish wrought by priest and mob,
To what undreamed-of morn?

For never yet, since on the holy height,
The Temple’s marble walls of white and green
Carved like the sea-waves, fell, and the world’s light
Went out in darkness,—never was the year
Greater with portent and with promise seen,
Than this eve now and here.

Even as the Prophet promised, so your tent
Hath been enlarged unto earth’s farthest rim.
To snow-capped Sierras from vast steppes ye went,
Through fire and blood and tempest-tossing wave,
For freedom to proclaim and worship Him,
Mighty to slay and save.

High above flood and fire ye held the scroll,
Out of the depths ye published still the Word.
No bodily pang had power to swerve your soul:
Ye, in a cynic age of crumbling faiths,
Lived to bear witness to the living Lord,
Or died a thousand deaths.

In two divided streams the exiles part,
One rolling homeward to its ancient source,
One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart.
By each the truth is spread, the law unfurled,
Each separate soul contains the nation’s force,
And both embrace the world.

Kindle the silver candle’s seven rays,
Offer the first fruits of the clustered bowers,
The garnered spoil of bees. With prayer and praise
Rejoice that once more tried, once more we prove
How strength of supreme suffering still is ours
For Truth and Law and Love.

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Sunday 25 September 2022

York Minster was built between 1230 and 1472 and is the largest cathedral completed during the Gothic period of architecture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

This is the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XV). Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and for these two weeks, I am reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed earlier this month after a surgical procedure in Sheffield.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

York Minster, which was built between 1230 and 1472, is the second-largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 16: 19-31:

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.’

The Great East Window in York Minster, finished in 1408, is the largest expanse of mediaeval stained glass in the world (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

York Minster:

During my visit to York earlier this month, I attended Choral Evening in York Minister ten days ago, although the official mourning period following the death of Queen Elizabeth meant I had a limited insight into the interior of the cathedral in all its splendour and grandeur.

York Minster, which was built between 1230 and 1472, is the second-largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe and as a building it charts the development of English Gothic architecture York is the largest cathedral completed during the Gothic period of architecture, Cologne Cathedral only being completed in 1880, after being left uncompleted for 350 years.

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York is commonly known as York Minster. This is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second most senior bishop in the Church of England, after the Archbishop of Canterbury.

York Minister has a cruciform plan with an octagonal chapter house attached to the north transept, a central tower and two towers at the west front. The stone used for the building is magnesian limestone, a creamy-white coloured rock that was quarried in nearby Tadcaster. The Minster is 159.9 m (524.5 ft) long and the central tower has a height of 72 m (235 ft). The choir has an interior height of 31 m (102 ft).

The minster has a very wide Decorated Gothic nave and chapter house, a Perpendicular Gothic quire and east end and Early English North and South transepts. The nave contains the West Window, completed in 1338, and over the Lady Chapel in the east end is the Great East Window, finished in 1408 and the largest expanse of mediaeval stained glass in the world.

In the north transept is the Five Sisters window, each lancet being 16.3 m (53 ft) high. The south transept contains a rose window, while the West Window contains a heart-shaped design colloquially known as the ‘Heart of Yorkshire.’

A bishop of York was summoned to the Council of Arles in 314, indicating the presence of a Christian community in York at this time. However, archaeological evidence of Christianity in Roman York is limited.

The first recorded church on the site was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Moves towards a more substantial building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter.

The church soon fell into disrepair and was dilapidated by 670, when Saint Wilfrid became Bishop of York. He repaired and renewed the structure. The attached school and library were established and by the 8th century were some of the most substantial in Northern Europe.

The church was destroyed in a fire in 741. It was rebuilt as a larger structure containing 30 altars. The church and the entire area then passed through the hands of numerous invaders, and its history is obscure until the 10th century. There was a series of Benedictine archbishops, including Saint Oswald of Worcester, Wulfstan and Ealdred, who travelled to Westminster to crown William in 1066. Ealdred died in 1069 and was buried in the church.

The church was damaged in 1069 during William the Conqueror’s harrying of the North, but the first Norman archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, arriving in 1070, organised repairs.

The Danes destroyed the church in 1075, but it was again rebuilt from 1080. Built in the Norman style, the new structure was damaged by fire in 1137 but was soon repaired. The choir and crypt were remodelled in 1154, and a new chapel was built, all in the Norman style.

The Gothic style in cathedrals had arrived in the mid-12th century. Walter de Gray was made archbishop in 1215 and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure to rival Canterbury. The cathedral was complete and consecrated in 1472.

The English Reformation led to the looting of much of the cathedral’s treasures and the loss of much of the church lands. Many tombs, windows and altars were damaged and destroyed. During the English Civil War the city fell to the forces of Cromwell in 1644, but Thomas Fairfax prevented any further damage to the cathedral.

Fires in 1829 and 1840 damaged much of the cathedral. The cathedral feel deeply into debt and services were suspended in the 1850s. From 1858, Augustus Duncombe worked successfully to revive the cathedral.

More concerted preservation work was carried out in the 20th century, especially following a 1967 survey that revealed the building was close to collapse. During excavations, remains of the north corner of the Roman Principia (headquarters of the Roman fort, Eboracum) were found under the south transept.

York Minster suffered a serious fire in its south transept during the early morning hours of 9 July 1984. Firefighters made a decision to deliberately collapse the roof of the South Transept by pouring tens of thousands of gallons of water onto it, in order to save the rest of the building. The glass of the South Transept rose window was shattered by the heat but the lead held it together, allowing it to be taken down for restoration.

A repair and restoration project was completed in 1988 at a cost of £2.25 million, and included new roof bosses to designs which had won a competition by BBC Television’s Blue Peter programme for children.

Renovation began on the east front in 2007, and 311 glass panels from the Great East Window were removed in 2008 for conservation. The project was completed in 2018.

Archbishop Stephen Cottrell has been Archbishop of York since 2020. The Dean-designate of York Minster is the Very Revd Dominic Barrington.

Inside the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter, York, commonly known as York Minster (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Sunday 25 September 2022):

The Collect:

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy;
and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall,
keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Celebrating 75 Years,’ which is introduced this morning by the Revd Davidson Solanki, USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East. He writes:

‘Anglican involvement in the origins of the Church of South India (CSI) dates back to the early 18th century. The SPG took an active role in the Indian church when the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) transferred the missions it was responsible for at Madras, Tanjore and Cuddalore to the SPG in 1825.

‘Many SPG missionaries – both European and Indian – were appointed over the following decades to minister in churches, teach in schools and colleges, and work in hospitals and clinics.

The 20th century saw the formation of the Church of India, Burma and Ceylon in 1930, bringing autonomy for the Indian Church within the Anglican Communion, which was fully supported by the SPG. Then, after many years of preparation to which SPG missionaries contributed, the Church of South India came into being in 1947.

‘Today, the CSI is a united and uniting Church, vibrant and prophetic with ministries among children, women, youth, and Dalit, in the areas of environment, evangelism, and leadership development. It has a remarkable ministry on environment protection and promoting rights of the Dalit and marginalised communities. USPG give thanks to God for the mission and ministry of the Church of South India as it celebrates its 75 years of formation.’

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Almighty God,
take away our fears.
May we follow you in all we do,
safe in the knowledge that
we are your children.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The glass of the South Transept rose window was restored after the fire in 1984 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The south transept of York Minster suffered a serious fire early on 9 July 1984 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

24 September 2022

The mediaeval Jewish graves
and cemetery found at a car
park in York 40 years ago

The cemetery in Jewbury, York, one of only 10 Jewish cemeteries in mediaeval England, was discovered at the site of Sainsbury’s car park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I have been writing in recent days about the Jewish community in mediaeval York, the horrific massacre at Clifford’s Tower in 1190, and the synagogues in mediaeval and contemporary York.

One of the most interesting insights into life and death in the Jewish community in mediaeval York was provided at Jewbury almost 40 years ago when archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust discovered the lost cemetery of York’s mediaeval Jews at the site of what is now the multi-level car park at Sainsbury’s.

The cemetery in Jewbury is one of only 10 Jewish cemeteries in mediaeval England and the only one to be extensively excavated. It offers a glimpse into the lives and deaths of a what was once the largest and most prosperous Jewish community in England.

The site at Jewbury is outside the city walls, on a street leading from Monk Bar and Saint Maurice’s Road to Layerthorpe and Foss Bank and Foss Island’s Road.

The site of a mediaeval Jewish cemetery was unearthed in Jewbury almost 40 years ago. There were just a few documents suggesting that there was once a cemetery where holes were to be dug as part of new building in Jewbury. Archaeologists were called in to investigate the site before builders moved in.

Despite the lack of gravestones and the lack of traditionally nail-less Jewish coffins, the care that had been taken in the lay-out of the graves confirmed for archaeologists and modern religious Jewish authorities to agree this was a Jewish cemetery.

The cemetery was in use from around 1177 until the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. However, it does not appear that any of the victims of the massacre at Clifford’s Tower in 1190 were buried there.

Almost 500 skeletons were excavated in 1983, although it is estimated that the entire cemetery held over 1,000 burials.

Jewbury is outside York’s city walls, on a street leading from Monk Bar and Saint Maurice’s Road to Layerthorpe and Foss Bank and Foss Island’s Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Most of the burials were in wooden coffins, and there were few personal items, in keeping with Jewish tradition of simple burials. Surprisingly, the burials were aligned to the north-west, unlike the modern Jewish practice of orienting cemeteries east towards Jerusalem.

Mediaeval writers often refer to Jewish cemeteries as being the ‘Gardens of the Jews’ – hortus iudeorum – immaculately kept by a garden keeper. The York burial ground maintained these high standards. Unlike the haphazard burials in mediaeval Christian cemeteries in York, the graves in Jewbury were evenly spaced. It is thought the graves were have been marked in some way, but there is no evidence of tombstones or other grave markers.

One man, aged between 20 and 30, bears evidence of surgery in response to a deep wound to the front of his skull. Unfortunately, the injury was too severe and the man did not live long after the procedure.

In all, the archaeologists discovered about 500 mediaeval graves and the skeletons in them. They considered digging further to carry out tests on the bones and teeth and to discover more about the diet and health of the times.

The archaeologists felt they should do as the Chief Rabbi wished. However, this ended their research, as the advice they received was: ‘Whatever the scientific and historical loss … the dignity shown to humans even centuries after their death can contribute more than any scientific enquiry … to the respect in which human beings hold each other.’

The skeletons were removed to a Jewish mortuary and then returned to Jewbury for a burial supervised by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Immanuel Jakobovits, and members of York’s modern Jewish community in 1984, seven centuries after they were first buried.

The archaeologists had excavated only parts of the cemetery that were threatened by the car park construction. The remaining 500 or more burials of the Jewish cemetery in Jewbury continue to lie undisturbed under the Sainsbury’s car park in York.

As one of only 10 Jewish cemeteries in mediaeval England and the only one to be extensively excavated, the cemetery in Jewbury offered a glimpse into the lives and deaths of the Jewish community in mediaeval York.

Thursday: The massacre at Clifford’s Tower

Yeserday: The mediaeval and modern synagogues of York

A plaque recalls the site of the mediaeval Jewish cemetery in Jewbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Saturday 24 September 2022

The Wesley Memorial Church on New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, was designed by Charles Bell and completed in 1878 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I am planning to be in London later today (24 September 2022) for the Annual Celebration and Reunion of former USPG staff and mission personnel at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square. This promises to be a wonderful time to catch up with news, renew friendships, meet some new USPG staff and share stories with people who are an important part of USPG history and family. The programme begins with a celebration of the Eucharist, followed by a sandwich lunch and some presentations by USPG staff.

But, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

Throughout this week, I have been reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in Oxford, which I visited earlier this month.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in Oxford;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Inside the Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford, facing the east end (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Gospel reading provided in the lectionary in Common Worship for the Eucharist today:

Luke 9: 43b-45:

43b While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, 44 ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ 45 But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

Inside the Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford, facing the west end (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Wesley Memorial Church, New Inn Hall Street, Oxford:

The Wesley Memorial Church on New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, was completed in 1878, but Oxford is full of connections to the Wesley family and with the early beginnings of Methodism in the previous century, tracing its origins to 1783.

John and Charles Wesley followed their elder brother Samuel (1690-1739) to Christ Church, Oxford’s largest college. Their father, Samuel Wesley (1662-1735), Rector of Epworth, Lincolnshire, had been a student at Exeter College, and their grandfather, John Wesley (1636-1670), studied at New Inn Hall.

John Wesley graduated in 1724 and was ordained deacon in Christ Church Cathedral in 1725. He was elected a Fellow of Lincoln College in 1726, and was ordained priest in 1728, having left Oxford the previous year to assist his father at Epworth. Charles Wesley arrived at Christ Church in 1726.

A small group of students began meeting in Oxford in 1729 to pray, study, and express their faith in compassionate social outreach. This ‘Holy Club’ led by the Wesley brothers was the beginning of the movement that evolved into the Methodist Church.

John Wesley was invited to preach before the University in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. He preached his last University sermon, ‘Scriptural Christianity,’ on 24 August 1744, when he criticised the University for its spiritual apathy.

The first Methodist meeting house in Oxford was a building on the east side of New Inn Hall Street. It is now numbered 32-34 and is part of Brasenose College. A plaque on the wall recalls that John Wesley preached there on 14 July 1783 and on several later occasions. Wesley described ‘the new preaching-house at Oxford’ as ‘a lightsome, cheerful place.’

The congregation later moved to a second building on the west side of New Inn Hall Street. The foundation stone was laid in May 1817 and the chapel opened for worship in February 1818. It became the centre of the Oxford Wesleyan Methodist Circuit, with outposts gradually developing in the surrounding villages and small towns.

This building has since been demolished and the site has been incorporated into Saint Peter’s College.

Within 60 years of the completion of the first Wesleyan chapel, a new building was planned. As well as accommodating a growing congregation, there was a desire to emphasise the presence of Methodism in Oxford as the university agreed to admit Nonconformist students.

The Wesley Memorial Church was designed in the Decorated Gothic style by the architect Charles Bell (1846-1899), who designed more than 60 Wesleyan Methodist chapels. The church was built by Joshua Symm, a son-in-law of Daniel Evans, builder of the 1818 chapel. Henry Frith of Gloucester carved the capitals of the columns, which portray 12 different kinds of English plants.

The foundation stones were laid in July 1877, and the building opened for worship in October 1878.

A stained-glass window depicting the three virtues, Faith, Hope and Love or Charity, was donated by the builder Joshua Symm in memory of his only surviving child, Hannah Elizabeth, and her husband, Dr Joseph Lawson. A stained-glass window depicting the Risen Christ with Zechariah and Elizabeth was donated by Adeline Boffin in memory of her parents who ran a confectionary business in Oxford.

Both the church and the Oxford circuit experienced considerable numerical growth in the early 1880s, during the ministry of the Revd Hugh Price Hughes. The expansion of the city to the east led to building Wesley Hall, now Cowley Road Methodist Church, in 1904.

The three main branches of British Methodism united in 1932 to form the present Methodist Church of Great Britain. By 1941, there was a single Oxford Circuit. Meanwhile, a new suite of ancillary premises had been added to Wesley Memorial. The large hall and other meeting rooms, opened in 1932, proved ideal for the great expansion in student work that followed World War II. The heritage atrium opened in 2022.

• The Revd Peter Powers is the Superintendent Minister. Sunday services are at 10:30 am and at 6:30 pm on the first Sunday of the month.

A stained-glass window depicting the Risen Christ with Zechariah and Elizabeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Saturday 24 September 2022):

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose only Son has opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
give us pure hearts and steadfast wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the source of truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week has been ‘Welcoming Refugees.’ Father Frank Hegedus, Chaplain of Saint Margaret’s in Budapest, spoke to USPG about how the Church in Hungary is helping refugees fleeing Ukraine.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for a peaceful and just resolution to the war in Ukraine.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A stained-glass window representing the three virtues,Love or Charity (centre), Faith and Hope (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘O that the world might taste and see the riches of his grace’ … looking out on the world from the Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

23 September 2022

Finding the locations
of the two former
synagogues in York

There was a synagogue at No 3 Aldwark, York, from 1892 until 1975 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to York last week, I went in search of the site of the mediaeval synagogue, which survived in the heart of the centre for 100 years, from the massacre at Clifford’s Tower in 1190 until the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, and for the location of the synagogue that stood on Aldwark from 1892 until 1975.

The massacre of the Jews of York in 1190, which I was writing about last night, was a horrific catalogue of violence and murder driven by religious intolerance and greed. It was sadly only one of countless incidents of mob-violence against Jewish communities across England and Western Europe in the Middle Ages.

After the pogrom, the city of York was punished with a heavy fine, but by then the instigators had escaped and no individuals were ever punished for the crimes of that fateful night.

Clifford’s Tower, the scene of the massacre, was rebuilt 60 years after the massacre, but the earth mound on which it stands may still contain evidence from 1190.

Jubbergate, off Parliament Street, was once known as Jewe Bretagate and may have been the site of Jewish homes and businesses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A new Jewish community was established or re-established in York soon after the massacre in Clifford’s Tower, although it never regained its former importance. This community remained in the city for a century until 1290, when Edward I expelled all Jews from England.

It is likely that the noted Aaron of York or Aaron fil Josce, the financier and chief rabbi of England, was a son of Josce of York, one of the leading Jewish figures in York at the time of the massacre. It is probable that Josce and Samuel Hoppecole held the land in London on which the chief synagogue was built.

Jubbergate, off Parliament Street, was once known as Jewe Bretagate. It stands at the entrance to a bustling market and, as the name suggests, this may once have been the location of Jewish homes and businesses.

The building with the Next shop at No 32 Coney Street stands on the site of a 13th century synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

As the Jewish community in York recovered after the massacre in 1190, Coney Street was at the heart of Jewish life in mediaeval York. The building that houses the Next shop at No 32 Coney Street stands on the site of a 13th century synagogue, although it is not known what the building looked like.

Several prominent Jews in York had their homes nearby. Aaron of York and his father-in-law, Leo Episcopus, were considered to be amongst the 12 most wealthy Jews in England in 1219.

Aaron in particular flourished between 1236 and 1243, and during that time he was appointed as the Presbyter Judaeorum or senior representative of the English Jews in 1237, in succession to Josce of London. He did not hold that office for more than a year, and he was succeeded in 1237 by Elias of London.

Henry III went to war in 1243, and in his absence Aaron of York was charged with transgressions against the King, although these are not recorded. He was sent to prison and left only when he paid a fine of £100. The following year, he was accused of forging a deed and was summoned before the King. Under the threat of imprisonment, he paid the sum of 30,000 marks in silver to the King and 200 gold marks as a gift to the Queen.

At this time, the king was desperate for money for his war in France, leaving Aaron of York in ruins. The king realised that he was no more use to him and dismissed him from his office.

In later years, the Jewish area of Coney Street became the site of the George Inn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Jewish community in mediaeval York had its own cemetery outside the city walls at a place that became known as Jewbury.

York’s Jewish community was in serious decline by the 1270s, and Jews in England faced significant antisemitism under the rule of Edward I.

The property next to Aaron’s house was owned by his nephew, Josce, who was hanged in London in the late 1270s. Many Jews were executed during this time for alleged crimes of coin forging and clipping – undoubtedly a pretence to confiscate their wealth.

When Jews were expelled from England in 1290, the Archbishop of York, John le Romeyn, warned the Christians of York not to harm any Jews on pain of excommunication. By then, only six Jewish households still remained in York, including one on Coney Street, which was the home of a Jew named Bonamicus.

In later years, the Jewish area of Coney Street became the site of a mediaeval coaching inn, the George Inn.

No 3 Aldwark, once a joiner’s shop, officially became a synagogue in 1892 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Jews were only permitted to return to England in the 17th century. Jews began to return to York in significant numbers in the late 19th century, and the Jewish Chronicle reported in 1892 that a small number of Jews have recently settled in York.

No 3 Aldwark, once a joiner’s shop, officially became a synagogue in 1892. The Jewish Chronicle reported on 23 September 1892, that the Jews in York and had applied to Chief Rabbi for facilities to celebrate New Year and Day of Atonement.

The Chief Rabbi presented the new synagogue with Sepher and Shofar, and the report in the Jewish Chronicle noted, ‘Divine service will therefore be held on the New Year in York for the first time, in all probability, since the expulsion in 1290.’

The Aldwark Synagogue served the Jewish community in York from 1892 until 1975. Jewish community numbers had reached 124 by 1903. However, work in the joiner’s shop continued and the business and the synagogue seem to have been closely related. Work would stop in the shop so the joiner’s family could worship as well.

When the joiner’s shop closed in 1975, the synagogue closed too. The York Hebrew Congregation had declined in numbers and it affiliated to Leeds United Hebrew Congregation for religious services and burial rights. The building now houses the RAF Association.

For almost four decades, from 1975 until 2014, York had no synagogue, although 165 people in the city identified themselves as Jewish in the 2011 census.

York Liberal Jewish Community holds monthly services in Friargate Quaker Meeting House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A new Liberal Jewish community was formed in York in 2014, when the York Jewish Liberal Community organised the first regular Jewish services in York for almost 40 years.

York Liberal Jewish Community has one Friday night service and one Saturday morning service each month, with about 60 people attending the monthly services in Friargate Quaker Meeting House.

The services follow the Liberal tradition, with men and women taking part on an equal basis and prayers in English and Hebrew. Services are either community-led or led by a visiting student rabbi from Leo Baeck College. Services are held on all the major holidays and festivals, including the High Holy Days and a communal Passover seder.

The community is fundraising to hire a part-time rabbi for York, who would become the first appointed rabbi in York since 1290.

A shadow of a Mezuzah? … a doorpost at the former synagogue at No 3 Aldwark, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Yesterday: The massacre at Clifford’s Tower

Tomorrow: The mediaeval Jewish cemetery at Jewbury

Shabbas Shalom

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Friday 23 September 2022

Saint Ebbe’s Church, Pennyfarthing Lane, in central Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This week I am reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in Oxford, which I visited earlier this month.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in Oxford;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Saint Ebbe’s Church describes itself as a ‘conservative evangelical’ church, identifying with groupings such as ReNew, Reform and Gafcon (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Gospel reading provided in the lectionary in Common Worship for the Eucharist today:

Luke 9: 18-22:

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’

19 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’

20 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Peter answered, ‘God’s Messiah.’

21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’

The 12th century Norman doorway was restored and placed at the west end of the church in the 19th century (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Ebbe’s Church, Pennyfarthing Lane, Oxford:

Saint Ebbe’s Church in central Oxford describes itself as a ‘conservative evangelical’ church, identifying with groupings such as ReNew, Reform and Gafcon.

The church stands on the site of one dedicated to Saint Æbbe before 1005. Most sources suggest that this was the Northumbrian St Æbbe of Coldingham, but it has been suggested that Æbbe of Oxford was a different saint. The name was first recorded in about 1005 when the church was granted to Eynsham Abbey by Ealdorman Æthelmær the Stout and it was already recorded as the ‘ancient Saint Ebbe’s.’

The earlier church had a nave and north aisle under the same roof, a chancel and north chapel, with a tower and north and south porches. The nave dated from the 12th century or earlier. The north wall was 15th century, as was the chapel.

The Franciscans arrived in Oxford in 1224 and settled beside the church, outside the city wall, where they built a large friary, Greyfriars, that completely overshadowed Saint Ebbe’s.

The Franciscans were given permission to make a ‘little gate’ in the city wall, to give them access to the city, and this is reserved in the name, Littlegate Street. An Oxford friar, Roger Bacon, was a scholar and scientist whose work included research into light, lenses and gunpowder. He died in 1294 and is buried in the parish. He gives his name to Roger Bacon Lane, where the church offices are now located.

The old Saint Ebbe’s Rectory in Paradise Square stands in the last remaining part of the grounds of the friary, once ‘a large plot of ground partly enclosed by a rivulet and whereon was so pleasant a grove of trees, divided into several walks, ambits and recesses, as also a garden and orchard adjoining, that by the citizens of Oxon was called Paradise.’

The mediaeval synagogue in Oxford was established in 1228 close to Saint Ebbe’s Church, opposite Pennyfarthing Lane.

Part of the church tower fell down in 1648 and the whole church was thoroughly repaired in 1696. However, due to its dangerous condition, the building was demolished in 1813, with the exception of the tower and the south-west corner.

The present church is the result of major rebuilding in 1814-1816. The church was designed by William Fisher and was paid for mainly by the Bishop of Oxford and Oxford colleges.

The East Window is a memorial to Thomas Valpy French, who was Rector until 1850 and who went to Lahore in Pakistan as a missionary, becoming the first Bishop of Lahore.

For centuries, Saint Ebbe’s Parish was a poorer part of the city. In the 19th century, poorer districts of Oxford, such as Saint Ebbe’s, tended to have the most pubs and beerhouses. Although Saint Ebbe’s Street is very short, in 1835 it had five pubs, of which the Royal Blenheim is the only one still surviving, and Church Street (now Pennyfarthing Place) had three pubs.

Saint Ebbe’s was restored in 1862-1868, and again in 1904. During these alterations, the diocesan architect GE Street added a south aisle and created a north aisle by arcading, and the Norman doorway of the 12th century was restored and placed at the west end.

The Church of Holy Trinity, Blackfriars Road, was demolished in 1957, having been deemed unsafe, and its parish was merged with Saint Ebbe’s. In 1961, the parish of Saint Peter-le-Bailey merged with Saint Ebbe’s when Saint Peter’s Church was transferred to Saint Peter’s College for use as the college chapel.

A slum clearance programme in the 1950s and 1960s saw many residents of the area relocated to newer housing estates on the periphery of Oxford. The gasworks beside the church were demolished in 1960, and the surrounding tightly-packed residential terraces were replaced by new houses and commercial property.

Today, the church is the parish church for the parish of Saint Ebbes, a portion of which was demolished to make way for the nearby Westgate Shopping Centre in the 1970s. The church underwent further restoration in 2017 under the direction of Quinlan Terry. During this restoration some internal fittings were sold as architectural antiques, and the organ was moved to Saint Denys Church, York.

Saint Ebbe’s describes itself as a ‘conservative evangelical’ church, but the Guardian recently described it as ‘a hardline evangelical church in Oxford.’ The church has passed resolutions to reject the ordination of women and female leadership in the church. It receives alternative episcopal oversight from the Bishop of Maidstone.

Canon Vaughan Edward Roberts has been the Rector of Saint Ebbe’s since 1998. He was educated at Winchester College, studied law at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and studied for ordination at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He was ordained deacon in 1991 and priest in 1992. He joined Saint Ebbe’s in 1991 as a curate under the Revd David Fletcher, who once ran the controversial, abusive Iwerne camps associated with his brother Jonathan Fletcher and the late John Smyth. When David Fletcher retired from Saint Ebbe’s, Roberts became rector in 1998.

Jonathan Fletcher, who had a high-profile and influential ministry, was the vicar of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, and was also a regular preacher in Saint Ebbe’s. A recent report has exposed his bullying, coercive and abusive behaviour over many years, with a long-running pattern of sexual and spiritual abuse.

Since 2009, Vaughan Roberts has also been Director of the Proclamation Trust, founded to train ‘conservative evangelical’ preachers by Dick Lucas and Jonathan Fletcher. Vaughan Roberts was one of more than 100 clerics who signed a letter in 2018 criticising the bishops in the Diocese of Oxford approach to sexual ethics, claiming ‘the situation [in the diocese] is serious.’ In a recent book, he described struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction, and later confirmed this in an interview, but said he does not define himself as homosexual and that he has chosen to remain celibate.

Saint Ebbe’s has three services each Sunday at 9:45, 4:30 and 6:30, with a fourth service at 11:45 during the university term. The church possesses beautiful Communion plates of Elizabethan and Jacobean date. The church says all of these are still in regular use, but I have been unable to find when or how often the Eucharist is celebrated in Saint Ebbe’s.

The mediaeval synagogue in Oxford was established in 1228 close to Saint Ebbe’s Church, opposite Pennyfarthing Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Friday 23 September 2022):

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose only Son has opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
give us pure hearts and steadfast wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the source of truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Welcoming Refugees.’ Father Frank Hegedus, Chaplain of Saint Margaret’s in Budapest, spoke to USPG about how the Church in Hungary is helping refugees fleeing Ukraine.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for refugees seeking sanctuary from difficult and often violent circumstances.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Ebbe’s was restored in 1862-1868, in 1904 and again in 2017 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

22 September 2022

A chilling reminder in York
of a mediaeval pogrom
and the death of 150 Jews

Clifford’s Tower is one of York’s most visible landmarks and the only remaining part of York Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

On my way into the heart of York each day last week and back out of the city in the evenings, I passed Clifford’s Tower, one of York’s most visible landmarks and the only remaining part of York Castle.

York Castle was first built by William the Conqueror to subdue the rebellious north. Clifford’s Tower has been a royal mint, a mediaeval stronghold and a Civil War garrison. But in 1190, it was also the site of one of the worst antisemitic massacres of the Middle Ages, when York’s Jewish community were trapped there by a violent mob and many Jews chose to die by suicide rather than be murdered.

The massacre of York’s Jewish community in 1190 was the bloodiest outbreak of antisemitism in 12th century England. The Jews of York at the time were a well-established community, and many Jews in York provided financial services to the merchant classes.

Henry II was seen as a protector of the Jews of England. But tensions rose following his death and the coronation of Richard I in 1189.

Josce of York (or Jocenus, or Joseph) was a leading member of the Jewish community in York in the late 12th century. His house in York rivalled a citadel in its scale and magnificence, and he is mentioned in the earliest surviving English shetar or receipt for debt repayment, in 1176.

Benedict, another leading Jew of the city, was the agent of Aaron of Lincoln, said to have been the wealthiest man in Norman England. Benedict’s house at Spen Lane, near Saint Andrew’s Church, was described by William of Newbury as like ‘unto a royal palace in size and strength.’

Benedict’s house at Spen Lane, near Saint Andrew’s Church, was described as like ‘unto a royal palace in size and strength’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Josce and Benedict together attended the coronation of Richard I in London in September 1189 as representatives of the Jewish congregation in York, and presented gifts to the new king. During the celebrations, however, the two men were attacked by a mob.

During the attacks, Benedict was forcibly baptised as ‘William.’ He was severely wounded in the attack and accepted a Christian baptism from a monk from York, Prior William of Saint Mary’s Abbey. Benedict recanted his Christian faith the next day when summoned before King Richard.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Baldwin of Forde, said of Benedict’s recantation that ‘if he will not be a Christian, let him be the devil’s man.’ Benedict later appealed to King Richard to allow him to return to his Jewish faith, although this was against canon law.

On their way home to York, Benedict died of his injuries in Northampton soon after his forced baptism. The chronicler Roger of Hoveden said Benedict was buried in neither the Jewish nor the Christian cemetery in Northampton because of his recantation. Josce, however, returned safely to York.

While Richard the Lionheart set off on a crusade, antisemitic rioting spread to the towns of Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln, and eventually reached York on 16 March 1190.

The mob in York, emboldened by the crusader fervour of the new king, was provoked by Richard de Malbis (Richard Malebisse), who was in considerable debt to Aaron of Lincoln. When a fire accidentally broke out in the city on 16 March, de Malbis seized the opportunity to incite a mob to attack the home of Benedict of York, killing his widow and children.

When the mob tried to burn down Benedict’s house, Josce and the rest of the city’s Jewish community – about 150 people in all, including women and children – sought refuge in Clifford’s Tower on the feast of Shabbat HaGadol, the shabbat before Passover. That year, Palm Sunday was on 18 March.

The refugees in the tower included Yom Tov of Joigny, also known as Yom Tov of York. He was a French-born rabbi and liturgical poet who had been a student of Jacob ben Meir (1100-1171) or Rabbeinu Tam, one of the most renowned Ashkenazi rabbis and a grandson of Rashi.

The mob besieged the motte, demanding that the Jews of York be baptised and convert to Christianity. With no hope of escape, Rabbi Yom Tov advised the other Jews to kill themselves rather than convert. Josce began by slaying his wife Anna and two children. He was then killed by Yom Tov. In an echo of the siege of Masada in the 1st century CE, the father of each family killed his wife and children and then Yom Tov stabbed the men in turn before killing himself. The tower was set alight so their bodies could not be mutilated by the mob.

A handful of Jews who did not kill themselves surrendered at daybreak on 17 March, leaving the castle on a promise that they would not be harmed. But they were all killed by the mob; there were no survivors.

The pogrom at York was also seen as an affront to King Richard and a royal inquest was held soon afterwards. The city was punished with a heavy fine, but by then the instigators had escaped and no individuals were ever punished for the crimes of that fateful night.

The tower was rebuilt 60 years after the massacre, but the earth mound on which it stands may still contain evidence from 1190.

A new Jewish community was established in York soon after and remained in the city until 1290, when Edward I expelled all Jews from England. Jews were only permitted to return in the 17th century.

The plaque commemorating the massacre at the foot of Clifford’s Tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

For over eight centuries, the city of York has had dark connotations for Jews everywhere. The massacre is one of the most notorious pogroms, and it is commemorated in a kinah or lamentation recited on the fast day of Tisha B’Av.

A Hebrew language hymn attributed to Yom Tov, transliterated ‘Omnam Kayn’ or ‘Omnam Ken’ (Hebrew, ‘indeed thus’) is still recited in Eastern Ashkenazi synagogues each year on the evening of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The blackened remains of the fire were uncovered in the 20th century in excavations at Clifford’s Tower, which stands today as a reminder of this terrible massacre.

A plaque at the base of the mound commemorating these events was unveiled on 31 October 1978, following a decade-long campaign by Raphael Loewe and other members of the Jewish Historical Society (JHS). Raphael Loewe was also involved in having the mound covered in daffodils each year as an annual visual reminder of the massacre. Same say the yellow daffodils are a reminder of the yellow Star of David.

The plaque reads:

On the night of Friday 16 March 1190 some 150 Jews and Jewesses of York, having sought protection in the Royal Castle on this site from a mob incited by Richard Malebisse and others chose to die at each other’s hands rather than renounce their faith.

ישימו ליהוה כבוד ותהלתו באיים יגידו

Isaiah XLII 12

Isaiah 42: 12 translates: ‘Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare his praise in the islands’ (KJV), or ‘Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands’ (NRSVA). The ‘islands’ in the KJV translation is interpreted in this context as meaning as Britain, sometimes referred to in Hebrew as the ‘Isles of the Sea.’

Tomorrow: The synagogues of York

Saturday: The mediaeval Jewish cemetery at Jewbury

Clifford’s Tower stands as a reminder of the mediaeval massacre of the Jews of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)