Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Hugh of Lincoln

This article is about the boy known as Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, who was allegedly murdered in 1255. For information about the adult saint, see Hugh of Lincoln (saint)

Hugh of Lincoln (1247 - August, 1255) was an English boy, whose disappearance prompted a blood libel with ramifications that reach until today. The boy dissappeared on July 31, and his body was discovered in a well on August 29.

Shortly after his disappearance, a local Jew named Copin (or Jopin) admitted to killing the child after he was threatened with torture. In his confession he stated that it was the custom of the Jews to crucify a Christian child every year. Copin was executed, and the story would have ended there were it not for a series of events that coincided with the disappearance.

Some six months earlier, King Henry III had sold his rights to tax the Jews to his brother, Richard of Cornwall. Having lost this source of income, he decided that he was eligible for the Jews' money if they were convicted of crimes. As a result, some ninety Jews were arrested and held in the Tower of London, while they were charged with involvement in the ritual murder. Eighteen of them were hanged--it was the first time ever that the civil government handed out a death sentence for ritual murder--and King Henry was able to take over their property. The remainder were actually pardoned and set free, most likely because Richard, who saw a potential threat to his own source of income, intervened on their behalf with his brother.

Meanwhile, the Cathedral in Lincoln was beginning to benefit from the episode, since Hugh was seen as a Christian martyr, and sites associated with his life became objects of pilgrimage. The legend surrounding Hugh that emerged received the backing of popular culture, and his story became the subject of poetry and folksongs. Even Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales makes reference to Hugh of Lincoln in the "Prioress's Tale." Tourists devoted to Hugh of Lincoln flocked to the city as late as the early twentieth century, when a well was constructed in the former Jewish neighborhood of Jews' Court and advertised as the well in which Hugh's body was found.

In 1955, the Anglican Church replaced the shrine at Lincoln Cathedral with a plaque bearing these words:

By the remains of the shrine of "Little St. Hugh".
Trumped up stories of "ritual murders" of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.
Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:
Lord, forgive what we have been,
amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be.

From the Ballad of Little Sir Hugh

The following text from 1783, describes the murder of Hugh of Lincoln, as it was depicted in a popular ballad.

She's led him in through ae dark door,
And sae has she thro' nine;
She's laid him on a dressing-table,
And stickit him like a swine.

And first came out the thick, thick blood,
And syne came out the thin;
And syne came out the bonny heart's blood;
There was nae mair within.

She's row'd him in a cake o'lead,
Bade him lie still and sleep;
She's thrown him in Our Lady's draw-well
Was fifty fathom deep.

According to the notes by Cecil Sharp on a variant of the Ballad of Little Sir Hugh, the story is as follows:

The events narrated in this ballad were supposed to have taken place in the 13th century. The story is told by a contemporary writer in the annals of Waverley, under the year 1255. Little Sir Hugh was crucified by the Jews in contempt of Christ with various preliminary tortures. To conceal the act from the Christians, the body was thrown into a running stream, but the water immediately ejected it upon dry land. It was then buried, but was found above ground the next day. As a last resource the body was thrown into a drinking-well; whereupon, the whole place was filled with so brilliant a light and so sweet an odor that it was clear to everybody that there must be something holy in the well. The body was seen floating on the water and, upon its recovery, it was found that the hands and feet were pierced with wounds, the forehead lacerated, etc. The unfortunate Jews were suspected. The King ordered an inquiry. Eighteen Jews confessed, were convicted, and eventually hanged.

Sharp then goes on to make the following observations:

Bishop Percy rightly concludes "the whole charge to be groundless and malicious." Murders of this sort have been imputed to the Jews for seven hundred and fifty years or more; and similar accusations have been made in Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe even in the 19th century-and as late as 1883. Child sums up the whole matter by saying, "These pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of a persecution which, with all its moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race."

External Links