Remains reinterred at Magdalen College
21st June 2019
On Thursday 20 June a ceremony took place at Magdalen College to reinter human remains which had been discovered during renovation work in the cloister buildings.
The remains were dated to the turn of the twelfth century when the area was a Jewish burial ground – one of the very first in England.
The ceremony was led by Rabbi Norman Solomon, and well attended by representatives of the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee and the Oxford Jewish Congregation, as well as students, Fellows, and staff from Magdalen College and the wider University of Oxford.
Before the ceremony Pam Manix from the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee gave a brief history of the cemetery which was establish on the site in 1190.
“Up until 1177 there was only one Jewish burial ground in England – in London,” she explained. “Before then people had a long journey of several days. But in 1190 the Jewish community approached the king to purchase a small part of the manor for a cemetery.
“It ran 300 feet along the road – roughly from Magdalen Bridge to where the Porters’ Lodge now stands.”
However, the cemetery only remained at the site for just over 40 years. In 1231 Henry III gave the land to the Hospital of St John and the Jewish community was forced to use an area across the road where the Lasker Rose Garden stands today.
Rabbi Norman Solomon began the ceremony by saying that for him the interment was more than a ‘simple act of piety’. “It is a reminder of a connection through history,” he explained.
Following the ceremony, Dr Michael Ward from the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee laid the remains in the new grave in the cloister and attendees took turns to scatter earth into the hole.
After Kaddish, people gathered at an engraved stone that the College had set into the paving of St John’s Quad to mark the discovery. Rabbi Solomon then took the opportunity to thank the President, Professor Sir David Clary, for the cooperation of the College throughout the process of the discovery and reinterment of the ‘unknown souls’.