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1144 March 22, FIRST RITUAL MURDER LIBEL (Norwich, England)

The first medieval ritual murder libel - which set the pattern for subsequent accusations in England and France - arose against the background of the Civil War. A 12 year old boy, William, was found dead on Easter Eve and the Jews were accused of killing him in a mock crucifixion. They were not, however, accused of using his blood for the making of matzos (matzot), although this would become a standard feature of later libels.(The idea behind the blood libel was to accuse Jews of killing Christians in order to obtain their blood. In almost all cases it was linked to the baking of matzos for Passover - Christians alleged that blood was an essential ingredient in matzos. It was later presumed by scholars that the boy either died during a cataleptic fit or was killed by a sexual pervert. After Easter a synod convened and summoned the Jews to the Church court. The Jews refused on the grounds that only the king had jurisdiction over them and they feared that they would be subjected to "trial by ordeal". William was regarded as a martyred saint and a shrine was erected in his memory. In spite of this episode there was no immediate violence against the Jews. The origins of the ritual murder accusation go as far back to Apion (first century C.E.) an anti-Jewish Greek propagandist who accused the Jews of preparing a human sacrifice in the Temple, who was saved by King Antiochus Epiphanes. Over the years ritual murder libels continued, (even it in popular literature such as Geoffrey Chaucer's "Prioress' Tale") despite denunciations by various popes. Possession of a saint's shrine bestowed great economic benefits on a town because sacred relics drew pilgrims, who spent money on offerings, board and lodging. For bones to be considered sacred relics they had to be killed by a heretic (i.e. a Jew). Such charges were used as an excuse to murder Jews as late as 1900 (Konitz).




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