© Marcus Roberts with original research and contributions by Ian Holt. Trail and Project Kindly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund


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The Gloucester Blood Libel

Relations between Jews and Christians were often good, particularly in the 12th century, though periodically punctured by out-rages and incidents, until a more general deterioration in the 13th century, in the era of the Crusades and anti-Semitic propaganda from Rome.
However, Gloucester is notorious as the location of the 1168 Gloucester Blood Libel - the second in England - but one which thankfully does not appear to have resulted in suffering by the Jewish community. The Jews of Gloucester were accused of murdering a young boy Harold, who was found in the river at the time Jews had gathered in Gloucester for a circumcision celebration (probably for the Elias the son of Moses). A traditional account of the Gloucester blood libel is given as follow:

'In the time of Hammeline's abbacy, some fishermen found in the river Severn, the body of a boy named Harold, who, as the tradition goes, was murdered by the Jews under the following circumstances: The Jews contrived to steal him on the 20th of March, and kept his body concealed until the 16th of April following; when a number of them congregated at Gloucester under pretence of circumcising a boy of their own persuasion; but in fact, to crucify him, in derision of the death of the Redeemer. They assembled, with their victim, in a large room on the north side of Eastgate-street; then used by them as a synagogue, but which has since, from the gradual elevation of the surface of the street, become a cellar running under several houses-- and there they fixed him on a cross, and savagely murdered him. The body when found, bore marks of the most cruel treatment; the brow had indentations as if a crown of thorns had been fixed round his head--his sides, nose, hands, knees and feet bore marks of extraordinary violence -- boiling fat had been poured on his limbs, and melted wax into his eyes and ears. When dead, his corpse was thrown into the Severn, and found as we have before stated. Hammeline, when apprised of the circumstance, went, with all the members of his convent, to receive the body, which was carried in procession to the abbey, and interred before the altar of Edward the Confessor.' (Samuel Young Griffith)

It must be emphasised that the allegations are now believed in every case to be false and even by the 18th century, historians stated that the blood libels always happened when the king was short of money - the king profited in every case from the condemned and ransomed and gained apparent piety, or alternatively, some other local and powerful figure stood to gain from the accusation, such as the Bishop of Lincoln, at the 1255 Blood Libel, as he needed to fund a major building project and a local boy-martyr which would bring pilgrims and cash.

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