Communion Wafer Sacrileges, Blood Miracles, Well Poisonings:
Lies as a Structural Element of Anti-Judaism
Legends about image sacrileges accused chiefly Jews of having disgraced images of Jesus of Nazareth or of saints. The origin of those legends may be traced back to the Jewish custom of mocking an image of Haman on Purim. Already during late Antiquity that traditional mockery of Haman was perceived as a derision of Jesus and was thus abolished. The alleged happenings often were interpreted as conversion miracles: a Jew disgraced an image of Jesus or a saint, the image started shedding blood (or some other miraculous incident took place), the felonious Jew understood their err and converted to Christianity.
Legends about cases of suspicion that epidemics resulted from well poisonings are documented for as early eras as the Antiquity.
In 1321 lepers in Southern France were accused of having been bribed by Muslim rulers with the help of Jewish middlemen to contaminate wells for the purpose of eradicating Christians. The accusations resulted in massacres of lepers and Jews.
When in 1348 the plague was spreading, Jews were accused of well poisonings; world conspiracy theories developed in conjunction with accusations of ritual murders.
In the summer of 1348 Pope Clemens VI. came to the Jews' defence and prohibitted the persecutions.
Confirmation of well poisonings were achieved through extorted confessions in Savoy in the autumn of 1348. Protocols of the trials spread the news of an attempted extinction of Christians throughout the Alsace and Switzerland. Waves of persecutions followed in which the majority of Jewish congregations in Western and Central Europe got eradicated.
Later-on, other fringe groups were accused of well poisonings (French beggars, 1390; Waldensians in Arras, 1460; “witches”).
Communion Wafer Desecration / Communion Wafer Sacrileges
Narrations of bleeding communion wafers served as evidence for the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Jesus' flesh and blood from late Antiquity on.
From the ninth century CE on, blood miracles were traded on as conversion or punishment miracles after desecrations of communion wafers had alledgedly been committed by heretics, 'wizards' or thieves.
Actually, legends about communion wafer sacrileges came into existence out of a combination of communion wafer sacrileges and image sacrileges. The culprits exclusively were Jews, who got accused of repeating the passion out of inappeasable hatred for Jesus. This combination of sources eventually constituted itself in the Paris communion wafer sacrilege trial: allegedly, a Jew bought a communion wafer and started torturing it with other Jews in attendance. The wafer started bleeding, the sacrilege got discovered, the Jews die on the stake as they refuse to accept baptism.
The legend quickly circulated in Western and Central Europe, pre-eminently in today's Germany, where it caused numerous persecutions ('Rintfleisch' / 'Rindfleisch' and 'Armleder' persecutions; named after impoverished noblemen that led angry mobs) and was used as an excuse for earlier persecutions.
A few parishes deliberately staged blood miracles to initiate lucrative pilgrimages.
Ritual Murder Accusations
From Antiquity on, minorities in many societies were accused of murder as an element of religious rituals. Accusations of ritual murders from Christians towards Jews were noted from the twelfth century CE on.
The background of such accusations often either was the discovery of a child's corpse or the disappearance of a child. Noteworthily, it was not uncommon during the Middle Ages to find corpses of children lying in the streets.
The primary motif behind blaming the deaths of those children on Jews was that the dead children would only qualify as martyrs if they had been murdered by Jews to reproduce Jesus' passion or for magical atonement. Martyrdom-cult became a new revenue for local parishes. The murders became a matter of joint guilt as they were blamed on all Jews in the light of world conspiracy theories.
A few earlier incidents of ritual murder accusations did not immediately result in persecutions of Jews (Norwich, 1144; Pontoise, 1163; Gloucester, 1168; Bury St Edmunds, 1181) while later cases led to massacres, mass executions and expulsions of Jews (Fulda, 1235; Lincoln, 1255; Bacharach, 1287; Trient, 1475).
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