Contemporary Jewish Enmity—The Host and the Jews


Host desecration, Brussels

Host desecration, Cathedral of St. Gudule,, Brussels

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Eucharist became increasingly central to Church practice and thinking. Celebration of the host wafer came to play an increasingly important role in Church ritual and in Christian imagination. Given the prevalent view of Jews as the historic foes of Jesus, in fact responsible for his crucifixion, and the growing perception of Jews as here-and-now enemies of Christianity and Christians, it is not entirely surprising that accusations of Jewish crimes against the host wafer should have emerged.

The host desecration allegation first surfaced in Paris at the end of the thirteenth century. The core elements continued to involve historic and contemporary Jewish hatred of Christianity and Jesus. The sense of victims shifted, however, from contemporary Christians back to Jesus himself, transubstantiated into the host wafer. Jews were accused of attempting to harm Jesus once again, this time through maltreatment ofthe host via boiling, piercing, or mutilating. The reports of host desecration were regularly accompanied by tales of miracles accomplished by the maltreated host, exposing the purported Jewish hatred and cruelty. Church leadership was less vigorous in combating the claims of host desecration than it was in challenging the various forms of allegation of ritualized murder of human victims.

Secondary Literature

  1. S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 11-164-170.
  2. M. Rubin, Gentile Tales- The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven- Yale University Press, 1999).
  3. R. Stacey, “From Ritual Crucifixion to Host Desecration- Jews and the Body of Christ,” Jewish History 12 (1998)- 11-28.

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