The many Jewish links to Westminster Abbey (yes, really!)

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The many Jewish links to Westminster Abbey (yes, really!)

More than 3,000 people are buried or commemorated in Westminster Abbey. Many played an important role in the development of Jewish life in Britain, writes Professor David Latchman

Oliver Cromwell memorial stone
Oliver Cromwell memorial stone

Ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III, a historical perspective on the characters who played a part in Jewish life here in the UK.

1. Lord Macaulay (historian) and Lord John Russell (prime minister) were supporters of the admission of Jews to parliament

First World War 1914-1918-poets-Westminster-Abbey

2. Benjamin Disraeli was the first – and so far only – prime minister of Jewish birth


3. Jewish poets are commemorated on a memorial to First World War poets: Siegfried Sassoon (officer from upper-class Jewish family) and Isaac Rosenberg (private from poor East End family)

4. Oliver Cromwell was responsible for the readmission of Jews to England in 1656. Originally buried in the Abbey, his body was dug up when the monarchy was restored, and his head exhibited on a stake. There is now a memorial plaque in his honour (see above).

Allenby memorial

5. General Allenby (British soldier who captured Jerusalem from the Turks) and Ernest Bevin (foreign secretary who opposed Jewish immigration into Palestine) were hugely influential in the Zionism/British Mandate in Palestine.

Benjamin Disraeli statue, Westminster Abbey

6. Fiction writers who portrayed Jews sympathetically: Richard Cumberland (18th-century playwright and author of the play The Jew), George Eliot (19th-century novelist and author of the early Zionist novel Daniel Deronda)

7. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: poet who translated into English Hebrew dirges produced by Hyman Hurwitz (first Anglo–Jewish professor) on the deaths of
George lll and Princess Charlotte

8. Jewish philanthropists commemorated with an individual stained-glass window recording their support for Abbey restoration projects: Holocaust survivor Leopold Muller and Sir Harry Djanogly (with Hebrew inscription gam zu l’tova – this is also for good)

  • Professor David Latchman CBE is a British academic, philanthropist, and avid collector of Anglo-Judaica artefacts. He serves as Vice-Chancellor of Birkbeck University of London

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