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GAVIN I. LANGMUIR Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder In the case of custom and belief, or any item of folklore for that matter, it is difficult if well-nigh impossible to establish with any certainty the ultimate origin of that custom and belief. One cannot say just when the very first accusation that some other group committed a ritual murder was made. On the other hand, we can indicate with some confidence when the first such recorded accusation was leveled at Jews or at Christians. Moreover, since the bloodlibel legend seemingly came later in time than the more general ritual murder, we may be able to do more than speculate when the first case of blood libel occurred. Much evidence seems to point to the events surrounding the death of William of Norwich, which took place in 1144. Many of those who have written on blood libel believe this to be the first documented instance of such an accusation. For this reason, it is appropriate to sample the scholarship devoted to the case of William of Norwich. Gavin 1. Langmuir, Professor of History at Stanford University, has carefully reconstructed the case in the following essay. For earlier considerations, see S. Berger, "Le pnhendu meurtre rituel de la Paque juive (II}," Melusine 8 (1897): 169-74; Joseph Jacobs, "St. William of Norwich," Jewish Quarterly Review 9 (1897): 748-55; and especially M. D. Anderson, A Saint at Stake: The Strange Death of William of Norwich 1144 (London: Faber and Faber, 1964). Reprinted from Speculum 59 (1984): 820-46. 3 Gavin I. Langmuir The detective story in which the investigator is an amateur without official standing is a peculiarly English genre. Perhaps the earliest example, telling of an investigation that was pursued unofficially by an individual who arrived on the scene after the crime, disagreed with the official stand, pursued his own investigation, and reported the results, is "The Life and Passion of Saint William the Martyr of Norwich," which Thomas of Monmouth started in 1149-50 and completed in 1172-73.1 Book 1 of the Life, apparently completed by 1150, is a flowing narrative of the events of William's life and of his death in 1144 as Thomas had reconstructed them. And although books 2-6, written in 1154-55, consist primarily of descriptions of the translations of William's body between 1150 and 1154 and of the miracles attributed to him, Thomas devoted the first part of book 2 to a lengthy defense of the truth of his reconstruction of the crime, a defense in which he carefully marshaled the evidence or arguments that had led him to his conclusions. The last book, book 7, which was only completed by 1173, describes the further miracles attributed to William between 1155 and 1173.2 While the work obviously belongs to the genre of hagiography , the first two books are primarily a detective storyeven involving international intrigue-because confidence in William's sanctity depended entirely on certainty as to who had killed young William and how they had killed him. The central drama of the Life is not William's heroic holiness -indeed he plays a singularly passive role-but the revelation of who murdered him and how and why they did so, as can be seen from the summary in a contemporary chronicle. In his [King Stephen's] time, the Jews of Norwich bought a Christian child before Easter and tortured him with all the torture that our Lord was tortured with; and on Good Friday hanged him on a cross on account of our Lord, and then buried him. They expected it would be concealed, but our Lord made it plain that he was a holy martyr, and the monks took him and buried him with ceremony in the monastery, and through 4 Thomas of Monmouth our Lord he works wonderful and varied miracles, and he is called St. William.' This brief report in the final continuation of the AngloSaxon Chronicle was written in or immediately after 1155 at Peterborough, not very far from Norwich, and is the earliest extant trace of William's death. It is not direct evidence, however. Few copies of Thomas's Life seem to have been made (the only copy presently known, written shortly before 1200, was discovered by M. R. James in 1889), but elements of Thomas's story spread rather rapidly by word of mouth and were soon incorporated in other chronicles. Since the continuation of the Anglo-Saxon...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780299131135
Related ISBN
9780299131142
MARC Record
OCLC
835455593
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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