Thomas of Monmouth

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Thomas of Monmouth
Borntwelfth century
Diedafter 1172
Occupation monk, writer
Known forThe Life and Passion of William of Norwich

Thomas of Monmouth (fl. 1149–1172) was a monk who lived at Norwich Cathedral Priory, a Benedictine monastery in Norwich, in Norfolk, England during the mid-twelfth century. He was the author of The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich , a hagiography of William of Norwich that is considered an antisemitic text.

Floruit, abbreviated fl., Latin for "he/she flourished", denotes a date or period during which a person was known to have been alive or active. In English, the word may also be used as a noun indicating the time when someone flourished.

Monk religious occupation

A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicate his life to serving all other living beings, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live his or her life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.

Monastery complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monks or nuns

A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory.



Thomas was presumably born in Monmouth, since he is identified by the town's name. Historian Gavin I. Langmuir says that he appears to have been "respectably educated". [1] He arrived in Norwich in 1149–50, a few years after the 1144 death of William of Norwich, a child whose unsolved death was blamed on the local Jewish community. Thomas quickly devoted himself to the promotion of William's claims to sainthood, by collecting evidence of his holiness and by arguing that he had been martyred by the Jews in a ritual murder.

Monmouth Town in Monmouthshire, Wales

Monmouth is the historic county town of Monmouthshire, Wales and a community. It is situated where the River Monnow meets the River Wye, within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the border with England. The town is 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Cardiff, and 113 miles (182 km) west of London. It is within the Monmouthshire local authority, and the parliamentary constituency of Monmouth. Monmouth's population in the 2011 census was 10,508, rising from 8,877 in 2001.

Gavin I. Langmuir was a Canadian medievalist historian. Much of his work focused on the Jews of medieval England and the history of antisemitism.

William of Norwich English saint

William of Norwich was an English boy whose death was, at the time, attributed to the Jewish community of Norwich. It is the first known medieval accusation against Jews of ritual murder.

Thomas of Monmouth unsuccessfully tried to get William of Norwich canonized as a saint, but did succeed in creating a cult around him in Norwich. He contended that he had received visions from the founding Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga, who had died in 1119. Losinga told him that William's body should be moved into the chapter house of the monastery. Thomas had to battle the sceptical prior Elias, who was unconvinced of William's sanctity. But the body was moved in 1150, the year in which Elias died, and by then the cult of William was established.

Bishop of Norwich Diocesan bishop in the Church of England

The Bishop of Norwich is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Norwich in the Province of Canterbury. The diocese covers most of the county of Norfolk and part of Suffolk. The Bishop-designate of Norwich is Graham Usher.

Herbert de Losinga 11th and 12th-century Bishop of Norwich and Bishop of Thetford

Herbert de Losinga was the first Bishop of Norwich. He founded Norwich Cathedral in 1096 when he was Bishop of Thetford.

Life of William

The crucifixion of William as described by Thomas, depicted on a rood screen in Holy Trinity church, Loddon, Norfolk Death of William of Norwich.jpg
The crucifixion of William as described by Thomas, depicted on a rood screen in Holy Trinity church, Loddon, Norfolk

Thomas heard from a converted Jew named Theobald of Cambridge that every year there is an international council of Jews at which they choose the country in which a child will be killed during Easter. This is because a Jewish prophecy says that the killing of a Christian child each year will ensure that the Jews will be restored to the Holy Land. Monmouth claimed that in 1144 England was chosen, and the leaders of the Jewish community delegated the Jews of Norwich to perform the killing. They then abducted and crucified William. [2]

This is the earliest recorded ritual murder accusation against the Jews. [1] According to Langmuir, the evidence strongly suggests that Thomas had discovered that the Jews had crucified William in a manner designed to mimic the death of Jesus. In his own account, this specific claim is never made by any of the earlier accusers, who only say that Jews were responsible for William's death. Even Theobald only speaks of sacrifice. [1] Thomas of Monmouth's account helped inflame antisemitic sentiment in England, resulting in the eventual expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.

The Edict of Expulsion was a royal decree issued by King Edward I of England on 18 July 1290 expelling all Jews from the Kingdom of England. Edward advised the sheriffs of all counties he wanted all Jews expelled by no later than All Saints' Day that year. The expulsion edict remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages. The edict was not an isolated incident, but the culmination of over 200 years of increased persecution. The edict was overturned during the Protectorate more than 350 years later, when Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England in 1657.

Historian Gillian Bennett says of the book that "The tone throughout is intemperate, and the gloating description of William's martyrdom quite sick. In Thomas's eyes, there is nothing that Jews will not stoop to, and they are constantly referred to as 'our enemies'." [3]

Thomas continued to add material to his book after the first volume came out in 1150. The second volume, probably written up in 1155, is even more "strident" in tone, according to Bennett, suggesting that Thomas' claims had met with considerable scepticism and opposition. He marshals evidence to support his assertions. It is only in this volume that the claims about an annual crucifixion ritual are made. [3] Later volumes concentrate on accumulating evidence of miraculous cures effected by William. A final volume was completed in 1172 and a preface was added.

Nothing else is known about his life after this date.

The single surviving manuscript of Thomas' work was discovered by M. R. James and published in 1896 with historical essays by James and Augustus Jessopp.

The Life and Passion of William of Norwich as antisemitic propaganda

The blood libel rumor eventually spread throughout the Christian world in the Middle Ages. [4]


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The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich is a hagiography by the monk Thomas of Monmouth that was written in 1173. Thomas of Monmouth investigated the death of a young boy who would later be known as William of Norwich. In 1144, William was purportedly ritually murdered by the Jewish community in the town of Norwich.


  1. 1 2 3 Langmuir, Gavin I (1996). Toward a Definition of Antisemitism, University of California Press, pp. 216ff
  2. Paper on William of Norwich presented to the Jewish Historical Society of England by Raphael Langham Archived 2013-05-01 at WebCite
  3. 1 2 Gillian Bennett, Bodies: Sex, Violence, Disease, and Death in Contemporary Legend, University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, 2005, pp.255 ff.
  4. "Blood Libel: A False, Incendiary Claim Against Jews". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 15 April 2018.