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Christian Images of Jews


stained-glass window with images of Ecclesia and Synogoga

Both inside and outside church buildings we often find figurative depictions of a triumphant Ecclesia next to a defeated Synagoga.
© Parish of Werben, photo: Martin Detloff

Christian images of Jews were marked by false ideas, prejudices and condemnation from the Middle Ages onward. Many of these stereotypes have survived into the modern era.

The pair portrayed on and in many church buildings – the radiant, victorious Ecclesia and the blinded, ugly Synagoga – reflects the defamatory attitude that dominated in medieval dioceses. From the church's point of view, the Jewish religion of laws had been annulled and overcome by the Christian doctrine of salvation. That Jews resisted attempts to convert them and held fast to their tradition was an incomprehensible annoyance.

Christian-European anti-Judaism was manifested in various types of slander, including that Jews indulged in sacrileges such as violating the sacraments, in ritual murder, and the poisoning of wells. Paintings, woodcuts, songs, and stories of these alleged activities helped spread the false accusations and provoked attacks, including the torture and murder of Jews.

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