The BBC reports yesterday that DNA testing on some 17 skeletons excavated in 2004 while making way for a shopping center, were found to be ethnically Jewish from the 12th or 13th century. It is likely they are from the same family. Eleven of the skeletons are from children.
It is probable that they were thrown down the well as part of some retribution or simply for the sin of being Jewish. The adults skulls show impact injuries while the children do not, suggesting the adults were dispatched first head down and hit the bottom of the well. The children were thrown in after and were cushioned by the adults' bodies. Pretty horrific.
In my novel, THE DEMON'S PARCHMENT, I deal with medieval Jews and all the prejudices about them. Edward I exiled all the Jews from England in 1290, fueled by anti-Semitic sentiment running rife throughout Europe, especially the blood libels which seemed to easily stir the rabbles. Yet there were still staunch men who protected Jews from the mobs, including the sheriff of Norwich in the days of Saint William of Norwich in the 12th century, perhaps when these skeletons were real living people. The sheriff gathered the Jews in Norwich castle and refused to allow any trial that he well knew would end in Jewish bloodshed. Despite Thomas of Monmouth’s writings, there were many such men who did not believe that Jews were responsible for the deaths of children. Blood libels reached such a peak—insisting that Jews ritually crucified a Christian child and drank their blood and ate their flesh during the Passover—that in seventeenth century Poland, only white wine was served at Passover so that there could be no suspicion that the wine was instead blood!
Anti-Semitism had its proponents in the Middle Ages, even from the highest of authorities. Quotations from such worthies as Pope Innocent III (“The Jews, like the fratricide Cain, are doomed to wander about the earth as fugitives and vagabonds, and their faces must be covered in shame. They are under no circumstances to be protected by Christian princes, but, on the contrary, to be condemned to serfdom…”) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (“Since the Jews are the slaves of the Church, she can dispose of their possessions...”) fueled expulsions until Jews either remained in the Muslim world, or fled to the farthest reaches of eastern Europe.
The horrific photo above is, I believe, a computer rendering of the discovery. It is appalling to note, that prejudice and hatred of Jews still persists today and not just in Arab countries. The medieval is still with us.
You can read the fascinating BBC story here.