Osney Mill and Abbey
A plaque which commemorates the martyrdom of Robert of Reading is fixed to a decaying wall, part of the old Osney Abbey in the
grounds of Osney Marina at the far end of Mill Street, Oxford. This plaque was one of a set erected in 1931 by the Oxford City
Council and extracts from the articles in the Oxford Mail and Times of 1931 are reproduced elsewhere on this site.
The story behind the plaque is that at a time when anti-Jewish feeling was at its height, a young Christian Deacon, a student of Hebrew at Oxford University, decided to become a Jew. He had himself circumcised and married a Jewess. When asked by the Church authorities to account for his conduct, he is reported to have said: "I renounce the new-fangled Law and the comments of Jesus, the false prophet". His outspokenness cost him his life and he was burnt alive for heresy. His courageous stand and his suffering are commemorated on the plaque.
This story is well described in Volume 1 of The Collected Papers of Frederic Maitland (1911) held by the Online Library of Liberty under the title "The Deacon and the Jewess". This nameless convert is often confused with another, Robert of Reading, who also converted in the 1270s and took the name 'Haggai' but details of his fate are unknown. See also Abrahams and Maitland 'The Deacon and the Jewess' in the Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society, vol 16 (1908-1910) pp. 254-276 for a discussion of the distinctions Robert -v- the Unknown Deacon. Cecil Roth in his History of the Jews in England (1941) pp76, 83 also discusses this issue.
Another version of the story by Naomi Alderman can be found in the New Statesman of May 28th 2012