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Historic Woman of Winchester

11 Feb 2022

A statue of a Jewish woman whose success in business and connections with powerful people made her a renowned figure in 13th-century England was to be unveiled by the Prince of Wales until he tested positive for Covid. Before this news stopped Prince Charles attending Rabbi Jonathan Romain said: “The fact that the heir to the throne is unveiling the statue is a very strong signal that Britain is a home to all minorities.”.

The lifesize bronze of Licoricia with her son Asher is being installed on Jewry Street in Winchester, the ancient city where she spent much of her life. A widow with four children, Licoricia started moneylending in Winchester in 1234. She was one of a number of Jewish businesswomen in the city and spoke several languages. At the time, there were restrictions on how Jews could make a living. Moneylending was one of the few occupations open to them as church law at the time forbade Christians to make loans.

“On the one hand, it was a livelihood. On the other hand, it earned them an enormous unpopularity because everybody likes a moneylender when they need a loan but not when it comes to paying back. So it was a very toxic profession to go into, but unfortunately one of the only avenues open at that time,” said Rabbi Jonathan Romain. But she did pay a huge windfall tax, much of which went towards building Westminster Abbey. Licoricia and her Christian maid were murdered, probably by a burglur, in her home 13 years before all Jews in England were expelled on the orders of Edward I. Jews did not return to England until the middle of the 17th century. 

The ceremony is the culmination of a five year campaign to raise funds for a monument intended “to act as an inspiration to women of today and also promote tolerance and understanding in our society”. The sculptor, Ian Rank-Broadley, said it was an honour to recognise “a woman who made a significant contribution to this country in terms of financial expertise and one who is probably forgotten by many people today”. This significant statue sends a powerful message to contemporary British society of the importance of industriousness, generosity and respect for all people. On the plinth of the statue are words from Leviticus: “Love thy neighbour as thyself” – in English and Hebrew.