2. Medieval Urban Noir: The Jewish House, the Christian Mob, and the City in Postconquest England
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64  Chapter 2 Medieval Urban Noir The Jewish House, the Christian Mob, and the City in Postconquest England If Bede and Cynewulf’s sepulchral imagery signals a disturbing English refusal to give contemporary Jews a space in which to live,the reality of Jews’ongoing presence in Christian lands became evident to the English as never before after 1066, when William the Conqueror brought Ashkenazic Jews from Rouen to the island.1 Jews first lived in London, eventually moving to other locations, and especially to urban sites they perceived as safe, as a reference to rural violence by Rabbi Elijah Menahem of London attests.2 Over the course of the twelfth century, Jews inhabited over thirty towns and cities such as Lincoln,York, Newcastle, Exeter, Hereford, and Bungay (figure 8).3 No longer a remote and regrettable reality for Christians like Bede, the Jewish presence in Christendom finally was palpable in England, prompting Dominic of Evesham (fl. 1125) to observe, some sixty years after 1066, how “every city in every place supports this race within itself.”4 Anglo-Jews were small in number. Between only two thousand and three thousand Jews lived in England at the time of the expulsion.5 But despite their small numbers, Jews were nevertheless prominent, due to their tendency to live in city centers, near marketplaces and royal castles.6 Moreover, as Vivian Lipman has shown, Jewish residences weren’t set apart from but lay side by side with and at times were surrounded by gentile homes.7 That centrality and contiguity likely disturbed certain members of the Christian MEDIEVAL URBAN NOIR 65 majority. As Keith Lilley demonstrates, Normans and other leaders strategically organized medieval cities to support Christian concepts of the nature of the universe. Crucial to medieval Christian ideas of cosmopolis was the idea that “being on the ‘inside,’ at the core, marked out those at the center from those on the ‘outside,’ on the edges of society” in moral, political, and social terms.8 Such notions emerge in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Figure 8. Jewish settlement in England during the twelfth century. Most dates refer to the earliest recorded reference to Jews in that location. While no hard evidence confirms a Newcastle community prior to 1200, it is possible that one existed. Map by Cath D’Alton. Adapted from Mundill, King’s Jews, xiv. 66 CHAPTER 2 mappae mundi that imagine a providentially arranged macrocosm in which Jerusalem is “the spiritual center of the earth and ‘deviant’ Others [are] situated around its edges.”9 Exemplifying that politicized geography on an urban scale,the Anglo-Norman microcosm of Norwich situated its most powerful Christian population (i.e., the Normans) at its center and pushed disenfranchised Anglo-Scandinavian populations to town borders.10 England’s new Jewish population,however,by inhabiting the center or “Jerusalem”of towns and cities,challenged received majority ideas about the divine ordering of the macrocosm and microcosm. During this period of Jewish–Christian cohabitation,English writers continued to write about biblical buildings.11 Bede’s allegorical exegeses became canonical and were widely incorporated into patristic glosses on the bible. New allegories of the temple-tabernacle appeared, particularly during the twelfth century,from writers who at times turned to Jews for “assistance”in confirming their typological readings.12 But alongside such writings about long-gone Jewish buildings, images of contemporary Jewish built environments begin to appear during this period in English texts, many of which gave new life to old eastern legends about the Virgin Mary.13 Instead of portraying , as Bede and Cynewulf do, entombed Jews, monastic writers such as William of Malmesbury, Nigel of Canterbury, and William Adgar portray Jews who are accommodated in both houses and,less frequently,synagogues. Taking English readers into imagined Jewish spaces, miracles of the Virgin produce the Jew as not merely an unbeliever but also an active enemy of Christianity. For example, in “Toledo,” after Mary warns church-goers that the Jews are crucifying her son anew, they break into a Jewish building— usually a synagogue but also “the homes of the felonious Jews”—where they find a waxen image of Christ, which the Jews have abused in mockery of the Crucifixion.14 And in “The Jewish Boy,”a Jewish youth accompanies his Christian playmates on Easter Sunday to Mass, where he receives the host.15 When the boy’s father learns what happened, he furiously tosses his son into an oven, where Mary miraculously preserves the child.16 In these texts...



Subject Headings

  • Jews in literature.
  • Antisemitism in literature.
  • English literature -- Old English, ca. 450-1100 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Antisemitism -- England -- History.
  • Jews -- England -- History.
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