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July 4, 2012 7:32 pm

Medieval Jewish Cemetery Discovered In Oxford, England

avatar by Atara Arbesfeld

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A Jewish center in Oxford, England. Photo: Reldiez.

According to a BBC report , a Jewish cemetery from the Medieval Period has been unearthed under the Rose Garden, near the Oxford Botanic Garden by historian Pam Manix, who made the discovery while researching the archives of Magdalen College in Oxford. A new memorial stone will be erected at the historic site to commemorate Oxford’s Medieval Jewish community.

The cemetery was established outside the city in accordance with both Jewish law and Christian doctrine. Although it was originally located close to where Magdalen College stands today, the burial ground later moved across the street to an area that currently houses the Oxford Botanic Garden.

“Their story is little known and pinpointing the location is an important historic breakthrough,” Dr. Evie Kemp from Oxford Jewish Heritage told the BBC.

The first Jews arrived in England from Rouen, the capital of Normandy, during the reign of William the Conqueror from 1066-1086. Around the year 1075, the first Jewish community in Oxford had been established. They were confined to the Jewish quarter and served as money lenders to Christians who were forbidden to charge and take interest by the Catholic Church and also served as financiers of the King’s projects. Since the Jews were under the direct protection of the English monarch, the king would take one-third of each Jew’s estate after they died. According to Dr. Kemp, Oxford Jews were considered “a key part” of Oxford University during the 12th and 13th centuries.

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In 1231, the Jews in Oxford were granted a small section of wasteland as a cemetery (where the present-day Rose Garden is now located) after their original burial ground, established in 1177, was taken away. Before then, Jews were forbidden from burying their dead outside of London and all the Jewish deceased were transported to the English capital for burial. The area in the Rose Garden served as the Jewish burial ground until their expulsion in 1290 by King Edward I, after which Jews were forbidden from returning to England for 350 years, explained Dr. Kemp.

The cemetery was connected to the medieval Jewish quarter (which is now modern-day St. Aldates) by a path known as Deadman’s Walk along Christchurch Meadow, as Jews were forbidden to carry their dead inside the city. The path is still in use to this day.

To honor the memory of the deceased, a 60-by-25 inch new stone will be built between the York stone steps adjacent to the Rose Garden. In 1931, the Oxford City Council built a memorial stone on an incorrect site near Deadman’s Walk.

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