Sephardi Jews were never formally allowed back into England after their thirteenth century expulsion, according to research as part of a major Heritage Fund project culminating later this year.
The ‘Discovering and Documenting England’s Lost Jews’ project is an “interactive multimedia experience depicting the lesser-known stories of Sephardi Jews in England” and organisers now it had thrown up some “major revelations”.
Thanks to the £80,000 National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to the Pascal Theatre Company in 2018, historians have learned that there was “only a tacit readmission” of Sephardi Jews into England under Cromwell after they were deported in 1290.
Researchers have been investigating how Jews were apparently allowed back to England. They were fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal and many arrived via Holland, bringing with them the languages of Ladino, Spanish and Portuguese as well as their own religious and cultural practice.
“The project examined hidden legacies revealing not only Jewish experience but life in Protestant England during the Commonwealth and Restoration,” said organisers. “This has been a voyage into archives, gravestones and unprocessed documents.”
As a result of the pandemic, it is now due to culminate in online event called ‘One Lost Stone’ featuring film, performance, poetry, research, stories and music on Sunday 5 July, having originally been planned to take place at the Sephardi Novo Cemetery in the grounds of Queen Mary University, London, to reveal aspects of the area’s buried communities.
This event will reveal the dramatic events behind those who fled the Inquisition for safety in England, presented in audio recordings from Sephardi descendants while participants will discover the legacy of Sephardi life within English culture.
It is being billed as “a story of persecution, flight and resettlement that has been hidden in the broader narrative of English history”.
Dr Julia Pascal, artistic director of Pascal Theatre Company, said: “Part of the excitement of our journey is learning about how these different waves of displacement influenced English life over the centuries.
“This includes the experience of Jews who came from Arab countries where many lived peacefully for centuries alongside Muslims.
“As well as examining Cromwellian and post Commonwealth English history, the Project looks at 20th century immigrants – Jews arriving with elements of Arabic cultures in their backgrounds.”