1177AD - 1290AD
York’s history is so rich that even a trip to the supermarket can provide a link to the past…
Archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust discovered the lost cemetery of York’s medieval Jews in the early 1980s at the site of what is now the multi-level car park at Sainsbury’s. As one of only ten Jewish cemeteries in medieval England and the only to be extensively excavated, the cemetery in Jewbury offered a tantalizing glimpse into the lives and deaths of an enigmatic community of which little is known.
The cemetery was in use from around 1177 AD until the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. However, it does not appear that any of the victims of the massacre at Clifford’s Tower in 1190 were buried there. Nearly 500 skeletons were excavated, but it is estimated that the entire cemetery contained over 1,000 burials. Archaeologists only excavated parts of the cemetery that were threatened by the car park construction.
Most of the burials were in wood coffins, and there were few personal items, in keeping with Jewish tradition of simple burials. Surprisingly, the burials were aligned to the northwest, unlike the modern Jewish practice of orienting cemeteries east towards Jerusalem. Unlike the haphazard burials in York’s medieval Christian cemeteries, the Jewbury graves were evenly spaced. It is expected that the graves must have been marked in some way, however there is no evidence of tombstones or other grave markers.
One man (20-30 years old) bears evidence of surgery in response to a deep wound to the front of his skull. Unfortunately, the injury was too severe and the man did not live long after the procedure.
The excavated skeletons from Jewbury cemetery were reinterred in a nearby area in 1984. The reburial was overseen by Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits and members of York’s modern Jewish community.
The remaining 500+ burials of the cemetery continue to lie undisturbed under the Sainsbury’s parking area. Consider that when you next stop in for some groceries.