Friday, August 29, 2008

Hugh of Lincoln once again a tourist destination

by J J Cohen

From the Lincoln Echo, a description of the city's new Jewish Heritage Trail:

Walkers will start at Lincoln Cathedral, where they will be shown the tomb of Little Hugh, the boy who was murdered in 1255, reputedly by Jews – a false allegation which caused immense suffering to the Jewish community.

Also in the cathedral is a pair of statues symbolising the triumph of the Christian church over the synagogue, the latter being represented by a figure with the tablets of stone sewn into his clothing.

The trail then wends its way down the Strait, past the Jew's House, reputedly the oldest domestic house in England, Jew's Court and Norman House, which was allegedly the home of Aaron the Jew, a moneylender who was the second richest man in England when he died in 1186.

Participants will then be taken to The Collection, where Jewish artifacts include an oil lamp from the medieval Jewish synagogue and an old tile featuring a Jewish face with characteristic beard, nose and hat.

Rabbi Andrew Goldstein, a senior rabbi with the Liberal Jewish synagogue, has paid tribute to Lincoln's place in the cultural tradition. "Lincoln bears witness to the glories of medieval Jewry like no other place in the country," he said.

With its irreconcilable combination of the lachrymose and the celebratory, this sequence describing the experience of the heritage trail makes clear some of the difficulties within the contemporary study of medieval Jewish populations: on the one hand a desire to speak of the glory of Jews, to celebrate them, to move beyond the sad stories that Hugh of Lincoln incarnates ... on the other hand the necessary framing of the Jews' narrative by these tearful stories. The heritage trails wends from the "false" story of Hugh's death to the cathedral's heavily symbolic supercessionary statuary to the house of a (once) real live Jew (and now the Jew's House Restaurant, by the way) -- swerving away from the mournful tales that might have been told about the house and its occupants -- to Jewish artifacts and and then a real and still living Jew who can speak the glories that haven't exactly been demonstrated.

1 comment:

Karl Steel said...

Thanks for this post, Jeffrey. I can't help but think, too, of the recent fashionableness of Jewishness in Poland, although we should remember that Times' trend pieces always arrive months or years too late...