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William of Norwich, St.


Supposed victim of a ritual murder; b. 1132; d. Mar. 22, 1144. According to Thomas of Monmouth, William, a 12-year-old tanner's apprentice, was enticed from his home and on Tuesday of Holy Week 1144 was last seen entering the house of a Norwich Jew. On Holy Saturday his mutilated body was found hanging on a tree in Mousehold Wood near the town. The boy's uncle, a priest named Godwin Sturt, claimed in a diocesan synod held a few days later that the Jews had murdered his nephew and offered to undergo the ordeal to prove his charge. The sheriff of Norwich protected the Jews and declared the case to be under civil, not ecclesiastical, jurisdiction.

William's body was meanwhile moved from Thorpe Wood to the cathedral monks' cemetery. Although a few miracles were reported at the grave, interest in the youth apparently waned until 1149, when certain Christians were brought to trial for murdering a Jew. The bishop of norwich now demanded that William's death be reinvestigated, but a verdict was never delivered. Thomas of Monmouth, a monk of Norwich, the only contemporary source for this episode, reported that the Jews had bribed King Stephen to postpone the case. In 1150 William's body was moved to the chapter house, a year later to the cathedral itself, and in 1154 was finally translated to a special chapel in the cathedral. More miracles were reported from this time forward. William thus became a popular saint and an attraction for the once debt-encumbered monastery and cathedral. Among those whom Thomas of Monmouth questioned regarding this murder were a Christian serving woman who claimed to have seen William's body in her Jewish master's home, and, more significantly, a converted Jew named Theobold who declared that every year in some part of the world Jews must sacrifice a Christian to obtain deliverance of their people. This is the earliest known example of blood accusation or of accusation of ritual murder against the Jews in England. In 1759 Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli (later clement xiv) refuted the legend, and the existence of this practice has been thoroughly disproved. Moreover, since contemporary authorities took no action in William's case, other parts of Monmouth's own account also seem to be open to suspicion.

Feast at Norwich: March 26.

See Also: medieval boy martyrs.

Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum March 3:586588. thomas of monmouth, The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich, ed. and tr. a. jessopp and m. r. james (Cambridge, England 1896). clement xiv, The Ritual Murder Libel and the Jew, ed. and tr. c. roth (London 1935). c. roth, A History of the Jews in England (Oxford 1941). a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater 1:672. j. trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism (New Haven 1943). m. d. anderson, A Saint at Stake (London 1964). w. holsten, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 5:1127.

[e. j. kealey]

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