We are first introduced to the narrative that was widely conceived regarding Jews in Europe which began in the late thirteenth century. It was the notion that Jewish people were purposefully desecrating the eucharistic host, which in return lead to Christians killing and tormenting Jews for doing so. We are able to learn of the deep animosity acted upon at the hands of Christian people.
In chapters 1 and 2 we see how the persecution of host desecration came about. For example the Marian tales, stories which told us of Jewish people who converted to the Christian faith. Such stories give us an understanding that the Jewish faith was looked down upon since the late medieval times, and even members of the Jewish community were turning their backs on their own faith. We see stories such as Theophilus and the Jewish boy. In the story of the Jewish boy, we see how an outraged father feels compelled to throw his son the burning flames because of his consumption of the Eucharistic host. In doing so, he sees how son is saved from the flames. Thus, this leads to the conversion of the mother and son and ultimately the deathly fate of the father. Similar stories were seen across many countries, leading people to believe that such incidents could not be questioned. As said by Rubin it “allowed the conflation of violence and compassion, powerful and contradictory sentiments which cannot but stir unease” (24).
As we delve further into the book we also learn of the first actual persecution, which was in Paris in 1290. After this first incident we see countless others which serve as a countless reminder to the Jew of their supposed desecration. Something that had caught my attention was the commission that was led by Ambrose of Heiligenkreuz from 1285-1313 (59). Here we finally see an individual who is not completely engrossed in the idea of killing Jews for the speculated violation. Although there are multiple accounts of divine miracles, such as the bleeding of the host, how could they be completely proven? In my opinion, Ambrose seems to have a true sense of reason. On the contrary of the public, who blatantly accuse and kill Jews, Ambrose obviously questions the validity of the crime and the graveness of the punishment. During the trials we see the exact thing that Ambrose had thus put into question. Many witnesses could not fully testify to the trueness of the crime. And although there was insubstantial evidence, countless Jews, most men, were burned to their deaths.
Ultimately, we see the roles all the individuals play in the greater scene. How the Jewish male was the perpetrator of this sacrilegious crime. Another aspect which caught my attention was the role the clergy and priests had played. These men are typically seen as the voice of reason and our connection to the Lord, yet during these times they were noted as “creators of public opinion and motivators of the crowd” (138). Even though the punishments were being enacted by citizens of the community, the clergy were the ones who incited the revulsion against Jews. This leads to me wonder if the clergy hadn’t played such a drastic role, would the Jews have been persecuted so brutally? And if so, would the number of casualties and accusations still be the same?
Overall, I thought this book was quite interesting, dense at times as Prof. Stuart had mentioned to us but still a good read. I found it quite hard not to have any sympathy toward the Jewish community during this time. I would also like to know the degree of truthfulness behind all of these accusations. But as with any point in history, there is always some room for questioning.