The Missing Accusation: The Circumcision Case of Odard and the Legacy of St William of Norwich

Julia Tomlinson


The ritual murder accusation has a long and clear history of anti-Judaic sentiment. This accusation was first made in England regarding the death of St William of Norwich in 1144. Yet it is unclear whether the lay community of Norwich actually experienced this cult in an anti-Judaic way: did they in fact associate St William with ritual murder and antagonistic feelings towards their Jewish neighbors? Evidence for his cult in the first 150 years is lacking. I believe, however, that by looking at available information on the cult alongside Jewish-Christian relations in the town, we can see that Christians in the lay community did not associate the cult with ritual murder, nor was it likely associated with strong anti-Judaic sentiment. This is especially clear when one examines the case of Odard, a Christian boy in Norwich who in 1230 was circumcised by Jews. Despite the physical, religiously-motivated nature of the crime, there were no accusations of ritual murder within Norwich. This missing accusation shows that the possibility of ritual murder—and the memory of St William—did not weigh heavily on the laity’s mind. If they felt the real presence of St William’s cult and the anti-Judaic sentiment associated with it, the Christian lay community of Norwich would associate ritual murder with Odard’s case.

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