AN INVESTIGATION to rediscover Hampshire’s hidden Jewish past is gathering pace.
A team of students from the University of Winchester are hoping to unearth the city’s Jewish history, which stretches back more than 800 years, after it was wiped from the history books.
The project to rediscover the city’s Jewish past began in April and now the university’s senior lecturer in theology and religious studies Dr Christina Welch will lead four students through a vast amount of data trying to re-shape Winchester’s past.
The quartet will be speaking to Winchester residents who may be able to provide further clues as to what happened since the Jewish community was banished from the city in 1290.
Dr Welch said: “The project explores a largely missing aspect of the city’s past and allows tourists and locals to learn about its medieval Jewish history, including a woman who was effectively banker to the king.”
Time Team presenter and postdoctoral researcher Dr Alex Langlands will help history student Emma Park, theology students Cader MacPhail and Charlotte Andrasi and archaeology researcher Karolina Stanevic piece together the city’s medieval past.
He will assist the four students collecting the historical and archaeological data relating to the project.
Through the project Winchester’s Jewish heritage will be promoted in the city’s museums and in dedicated visitor guides.
A website will also be created providing further details about the ancient community.
Dr Langlands said: “This is a really exciting chance to explore a fascinating part of Winchester’s medieval history and a chance to see the city in a new light and to further enrich its cultural heritage.
“But it won’t be easy; it involves a good deal of detective work.”
In the Middle Ages Winchester had a thriving and affluent Jewish population with one inhabitant noted as one of the country’s wealthiest women despite a fierce anti-Semitic climate.
In 1290, cash-strapped King Edward I was forced to raise taxes and in exchange for the hike he issued an edict expelling Jews from England.
Winchester Castle even had a tower called the Jews’ Tower where they were imprisoned, yet there is no mention of this in the permanent exhibition at the Great Hall opened in the late 1990s.
One Jewish woman who lived in Winchester, Licoricia, was one of the wealthiest women in 13th century England before her brutal murder.
The invisibility of the Jews is despite one of the major roads in the city centre being called Jewry Street.
The students will work with the university’s history, archaeology and theology and religious studies departments, the Jewish community, the local tourist office and Winchester City Council to rediscover the missing heritage.
Dr Welch added: “The Medieval Jewish Winchester project is a fantastic opportunity for students to work with academics and the local Jewish community on a piece of research that will have a lasting impact for the city.”