Jewbury

The site is one of only ten known medieval Jewish cemeteries in England. Its excavation provided a window into the lives and deaths of ordinary Jewish individuals, for which scarce documentary evidence exists.

The cemetery was in use from around 1177 until expulsion of Jews from England in 1290. It was extended in the 1230s when the Jews of York and Lincoln purchased a garden adjacent to the existing cemetery from John Romanus, a canon at York Minster. The Jewish community enjoyed a close working relationship with John Romanus and subsequently his son (also John Romanus) who became Archbishop of York.

Analysis of the skeletons showed little evidence of violence against the Jewish population. There was no indication that the victims of the 1190 massacre were buried at the site, although only half of the estimated 1000 burials were excavated. The skeleton of one young man showed evidence for surgery on a severe head wound, suggesting the community contained skilled doctors.

In keeping with Jewish burial traditions the graves were simple with few personal items. They were also evenly spaced, unlike the sometimes haphazard Christian burials from this period. Surprisingly, the burials were aligned to the northwest, unlike the modern Jewish practice of orienting cemeteries east towards Jerusalem.

Excavated skeletons were reinterred nearby in a ceremony overseen by Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits and members of York’s modern Jewish community.