The Licoricia of Winchester Statue Appeal
William Carver describes a unique project remembering the forgotten medieval English Jewish community, which teaches important lessons for today.
Licoricia of Winchester has been described as the most important English Jewish woman of the Middle Ages. In her memory, we are hoping to erect a life-sized bronze statue of Licoricia and her son Asher on Jewry Street, Winchester, near where she lived, and to use this statue as the focal point of work to teach about the community she belonged to, its history before Edward I forced it out of England in 1290, and how it provides messages to challenge prejudice and racism, and promote gender equality and the importance of education.
In the 13th century, Winchester had recently been the capital of England. The English Jewish community provided financial services for the royal family, the church and others, facilitating the building of castles and churches on an unprecedented scale.
Licoricia (who died in 1277) was the most famous of several successful Jewish businesswomen in Winchester. She was a leader in her community and one of a handful of Jews, including women, prominently involved in finance. She was highly educated, like many Jewish women of her time, enabling them to be successful in their own right.
Her clients included Henry III and his Queen Eleanor. Substantial taxes raised by the Queen on the death of her husband and from Licoricia herself, were used to help build Westminster Abbey and its rich shrine to Edward the Confessor, where coronations take place to this day.
The Jews were restricted in the jobs they could do. Other occupations included doctors, teachers, scribes, poets, vintners, metalworkers and tradesmen. They were the property of the King, frequently persecuted by the Church, and taxed at will until they were too poor to be of any utility. As a result, those who would not convert to Christianity were forced out of the country by the Edict of Expulsion issued by King Edward I in 1290.
Lessons for today
We wish Licoricia's story to teach important lessons for today:
- Jews of the Middle Ages are an early example of a religious minority in the UK, and their story highlights the danger of the majority limiting the freedom of the minority ("the tyranny of the majority").
- As a minority, the Jews made an outsized contribution to England's society and economy. Diversity of community creates cultural and commercial benefits.
- Many prejudices against the Jews originated in the Middle Ages and shaped Antisemitism, which still exists today. Education is the key to the elimination of prejudice.
- Progress on religious and racial tolerance has been made in society – today the UK is a vibrant multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-racial society – but there is further work to be done.
- The education of women has provided them with increased opportunity. As a result, progress has been made by women in business and other areas of public life, but 800 years after Licoricia lived, women are still striving for equality.
The statue will be modelled by top sculptor, Ian Rank-Broadley FRSS (www.ianrank-broadley.co.uk), and will be of national merit in its own right. His effigy of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II appeared on all UK and Commonwealth coinage between 1998 and 2015. He has recently completed work on one of the most important war memorials since WWII, the Armed Forces Memorial.
The sculpture will be located at the busy library, next door to the Theatre Royal, standing on a plinth on which the biblical entreaty to "Love thy neighbour as thyself" will be inscribed on one side in English and Hebrew, with her name and that of her son on the other. The English font will be Albertus, developed by Berthold Wolpe in Germany before he fled Nazi persecution, and used on British coinage for many years. The translation comes from the King James Version of the Bible, which was partially translated in Winchester in the seventeenth century.
We are producing a leaflet and book to accompany the statue. Well-known author Rebecca Abrams, who recently published 'The Jewish Journey - 4,000 Years in 22 objects' for the Ashmolean Museum, and 'Jewish Treasures in Oxford Libraries' for the Bodleian, is writing the book. Key Stage 3 educational materials are being developed by Hampshire Education Service for distribution free to its 180,000 pupils in Hampshire for the 2021 academic year. Future plans are to complete lessons for Key Stages 1 and 2, hold a major exhibition at the library, convene an academic symposium on Winchester and the English Jewish community, use Virtual Reality to bring Jewish medieval Winchester to life, and hold imaginative lectures and activities. We are also fundraising for illustrations for our book.
The charity to date
The charity was registered in August 2017 and is run by six trustees, with extensive experience of art/sculpture, media, business and charities. Trustees' biographies can be found on our website, www.licoricia.org. Our Patrons are renowned historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore and Dame Jenny Abramsky DBE. We gained planning permission in 2018. In 2019 we unveiled our maquette at a national launch in London, with the support of the Chief Rabbi and The Archbishop of Canterbury. This launch was attended by members of the Board of Deputies, and many others, and gained substantial media coverage. We have now commissioned Ian to sculpt the life-sized sculpture and aim to unveil it in late 2021.
A project of this scale requires support from interested members of the public. If you would be interested in supporting the development of the teaching materials, book and statue, please look at our website or contact us at email@example.com.
We believe that the unique statue of Licoricia will make a significant difference in the way people understand our history and the part that the Jewish community played in England during the Middle Ages, both locally and nationally. Licoricia was a successful businesswoman, an outstanding advocate, and a highly educated mother juggling work and family. We believe people of today will be inspired by her and that the project's cultural and educational benefits will stand the test of time.
Thank you for taking the time to read about our work.
This article is written by William Carver who is Secretary of The Licoricia of Winchester Statue Appeal.
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