On the 21 st August, 1663, Mr. Elias Ashmole, the antiquary (whose memory the University of Oxford still keeps green) was walking in and around St. Chad's Church at Shrewsbury when he noticed a seven-year-old tombstone bearing an English epitaph which ended with four Hebrew letters. The use of Hebrew in epitaphs was not uncommon then in England, and Mr. Ashmole was a student of the language, his teacher having been a convert from Judaism, one Solomon Franco, as has been elsewhere related.2 Moreover, this appeared to be the grave of just such another convert, and so Ashmole made a careful copy of the inscription in a notebook already half-full of jottings from churches in Shropshire. This book has been preserved as MS. Ashmole 854 and this is his entry (p. 201):-
21 Aug. 1663. Shrewsbury. St. Chadds Church wch stands E.B.E. on a grave-stone at the West end of the Church, neere the dore.
Mr. Paul Isaiah, a
learned Jew, con
verted to the
Faith : buried Mar : 21.
If Mr. Ashmole made further inquiry on the spot about this " learned Jew " he may have heard that the dead man was a chance traveller, aged only thirty, who peddled books dealing with the conversion of the Jews (his own included) and that a fellow convert?also young, but less learned?travelled with him and was perhaps responsible for the concluding Hebrew of the epitaph, which stands for ?ichrono Lehaye-Haolom Haba 3 [(May) the memory of him (be preserved in) the life of the world to come.] Ashmole may also have inspected the corresponding entry, still extant, in St. Chad's Register of Burials,4 and he would, of course, have known? what we do not, for the building collapsed in 1788?whether the grave of the ex-Jew was inside or outside the church.
Some months before, the two converts had passed through Dursley in Gloucester? shire, which lies some seventy miles south of Shrewsbury, and a most unedifying account of their doings there appeared early in 1656 in William Prynne's A Short Demurrer to the Jewes Long discontinued Remitter into England. Lucien Wolf shrank from printing this in his Menasseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell written in Victorian times, and he merely gave the reference (at p. xlii). Nowadays we have stronger stomachs and so here is the actual passage:-
p. 73. "... if extraordinary care be not taken herein, under pretext of Jews, we shall have many hundreds of Jesuits, Popish Priests and Friers come over freely into England . . . they having formerly sent over some of late years amongst us, under the notion and vizard of converted Jews, as Ramsey the Scot, and Eleazer, and Joseph ben Isaiah, all Jesuitical, wicked, cheating impostors : the two last whereof, have cheated the honest people of the
1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 20th December, 1938.
2 Miscellanies of the Jew. Hist. Soc., Part III, p. 9, footnotes 7 and 8.