Popular perceptions of the Jews were decidedly negative during our period. This negativity had numerous sources. Perhaps the simplest was the fact that the vitalization of western Christendom attracted Jews to areas of Europe—particularly in the north—in which Jews had not heretofore settled. Newcomers are rarely welcome, and resistance to immigrants in sedentary societies, such as medieval Europe, is especially intense. As we shall see, many of the rulers of medieval western Christendom saw in the Jews a valuable asset and encouraged their immigration. Such support had little impact on popular opinion; in fact, the Jewish alliance with the authorities often served to exacerbate popular dislike. In addition, Jews were—in most sectors of Europe—the only legitimate dissenting group, which served to highlight their uniqueness and difference. Initial resistance to Jews resulted in limited Jewish economic activity, most often centered in innovative areas of the economy, such as money lending—a contribution prized by many rulers but despised by much of the multitude.
Clearly, however, the most potent factor in negative popular perceptions of Judaism and Jews lay in the imagery regularly purveyed by the Church. During the Middle Ages, the basic imagery of Jews as historic enemies of Christ and the faith he founded developed in a variety of new directions, all of which projected Jews as both historic and contemporary enemies of Christianity and Christians, enemies ever poised to inflict gruesome harm on Christian neighbors. This imagery—under certain circumstances—could and did explode into wide-ranging anti-Jewish violence.