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April 17: Robert of Reading

April 16, 2016

robert_readingArchbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton convened a provincial council that ordered the immediate execution, on this date in 1222, of a Christian deacon who had circumcised himself and married a Jewish woman. This case is commonly conflated with that of Robert of Reading, half a century later. Robert was a Dominican friar and a student of Hebrew at Oxford University who circumcised himself, married a Jewish woman, and named himself Haggai. When investigated by the Church, he was reported to have said: “I renounce the newfangled Law and the comments of Jesus, the false prophet.” By most accounts, however, unlike the anonymous deacon in 1222, “he did not suffer in consequence, though some chroniclers seem to suggest that the episode was partially responsible for the expulsion of the Jews in 1290,” according to the Oxford Jewish Heritage website. In the 1930s, the mixed story of these two heretics was commemorated on a plaque at Osney Abbey in Oxford.

“[H]e wasn’t the only one for whom the council ordained a dreadful end for having the wrong idea about the Almighty. ‘And there was brought thither into the council an unbelieving youth along with two women, whom the archdeacon of the district accused of the most criminal unbelief, namely that the youth would not enter a church nor be present at the blessed sacraments, nor obey the injunctions of the Catholic Father, but had suffered himself to be crucified, and still bearing in his body the marks of the wounds had been pleased to have himself called Jesus by the aforesaid women. And one of the women, an old woman, was accused of having long been given to incantations and having by her magic arts brought the aforesaid youth to this height of madness. So both being convicted of this gross crime, were condemned to be imprisoned between two walls until they died. But the other woman, who was the youth’s sister, was let go free, for she had revealed the impious deed.’ ” —Executed Today