This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, March 26, 2012

March 26 -- The Feast of the Blood Libel Martyrs

Somebody murdered the little boys.  Someone abducted them, tortured them, killed them, and then discarded their mutilated bodies.  And rather than discover the murderers or live with the uncomfortable truth that the crimes would remain unsolved, local mobs across Europe compounded the horror with more torture and murder.  And theft and ostracism.

The blood libel in action
The root of the back story is this: when the mutilated corpse of a child turned up somewhere, the story would surface that Jews practiced ritual human sacrifice.  Sometimes, the story was told that Jews re-enacted the Crucifixion before bleeding the child to death.  Below, I note the proximity of the deaths to Easter.  Often, the story included the belief that the blood of a Christian child was a necessary (or at least desirable) ingredient in matzoh for Passover.  Mobs then called for justice revenge the blood of Jews. Individual circumstances of blood libel varied, and some variations are worth noting, but that's the general pattern.

Little William on the Cross
 Case I:  William of Norwich --  The monk Thomas of Monmouth recorded this story in excruciating detail -- pun intended, since he said poor little William was hung on a cross with a crown of thorns and everything.  A Court was convened in the Norwich Cathedral, but the King's Sheriff reminded the Bishop that the Church had no legal authority over the Jews.  The Sheriff's intervention saved dozens, perhaps hundreds, of lives and if anybody ought to be a saint, it is the unnamed sheriff.  One guy who deserves no praise is Theobald of Cambridge, a former Jew who joined the monastery at Monmouth after accepting Christian baptism.  He told of a Jewish belief that to recover Israel they would need to sacrifice one Christian child every year.  A lottery was held at a secret annual Jewish meeting in Narbonne to determine which country had to offer that year's sacrifice; England was selected for 1144, the year William died.  His death was an extended process, by the way, lasting through most of Holy Week (the seven days before Easter).

Case II: Harold of Gloucester -- Not many details, except that he was killed in 1168 and Jews were blamed.  I don't doubt that the resulting frenzy was brutal.  His feast is on March 25; Easter fell on March 31 in 1168.

Case III:   Robert of Bury St. Edmunds -- The death of a child named Robert in 1181, again coincident with the Easter season, occasioned another spike in anti-Semitic violence.  Not many details of the immediate fallout are recorded, but a Palm Sunday massacre of Jews in 1190 killed fifty-seven people, and within a decade, all Jews were expelled from Bury St. Edmunds.   

Little Hugh
Case IV: Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln -- How are you not going to be moved by the murder of Little Saint Hugh, right?  Doesn't he sound like the most cherubic little victim ever? Even though his death did not occur around Easter (he disappeared on July 31, 1255 and the corpse was discovered on August 29 of that year), it was still an opportunity for blood libel.  A Jewish man named Copin was arrested, tortured, and executed after confessing.  But King Henry III, who had sold the tax revenues from Jews to his brother Richard, saw an opportunity to make a few extra pounds sterling in the case.  Property confiscations belong to the Crown so if he could get more confessions from Jews, he could grab their wealth after killing them.  He rounded up ninety and started the torture.  Eighteen confessed and were executed before his brother Richard complained that it was just an attempt to swindle him out of the tax revenue he had bought.  Henry shrugged and sent the other seventy-two home, but kept the property of the eighteen he had already killed.