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48. Anti-Semitic Seal of Metz


+ Seal of Saint Stephen from the Community of Metz

Dimensions: 90 nun. Impression.

Location: French National Archives, Paris, D 5699 and St 7808; Departmental Archives of Moselle, 742.

Bibliography: Bedos, 1980a, No. 410.

Reduced in size.

This large seal impression, one of three great city seals from Metz described by Brigitte Bedos, shows the stoning of Saint Stephen by two Jews. The saint, to the right, is on his knees, nimbed, his hands reaching up to the Holy Spirit, which descends in the form of a dove. To make the meaning even clearer, the two Jews are wearing Jews’ hats. Though the seal edges are fragmented, most of the legend, running round between beaded lines, can still be read. This seal is appended to acts from 283 (New Style), 1297, and 1505 (also New Style).

The stoning of Saint Stephen by Jews was a popular anti-Semitic image of the Middle Ages. Known as the proto-martyr because he was the first Christian martyr according to Acts 6 and 7, Saint Stephen was also the first deacon of the early Church. Because of his proselytizing for the new faith, he was brought before the Sanhedrin on the charge of blasphemy, condemned, and judicially stoned, on a date calculated as around A.D. 36.

Some scholars take the position that the representation of the stoning of Saint Stephen is not anti-Jewish but is merely a general iconographie motif of medieval Christianity. There are indeed cases where the matter is conjectural. An excellent example is another seal impression described by Bedos, No. 679. Also a thirteenth-century seal, from Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle), it shows Saint Stephen stoned by a Jew. In this case, curiously, the saint seems to be wearing a Jew’s hat while the Jew stoning does not. The seal engraver, who must have followed a design approved by the Toul municipal authorities, thus specifically calls attention to Saint Stephen as a Jew (which indeed, in the technical sense, he was), while the Jewish executioner is not so shown. Metz and Toul, in the old duchy of Lorraine, are only some forty miles apart. Furthermore, the cathedral at Metz and the noted Gothic church at Toul are both dedicated to Saint Stephen, the obvious reason for the choice of subject of these city seals.

In the opinion of this writer, when the Jews who stone Saint Stephen are wearing Jews’ hats and Saint Stephen is not, the intent is decidedly anti-Semitic. The hatred of Jews not only for religious differenees but for their usurious activities would make any depiction of their role in killing one of the most beloved Christian saints a deliberate incitement. It cannot be an accident that this city seal, like No. 47, comes from Metz. The hatred of the Jews on the part of the Metz patrician city leaders was probably inflamed because they considered them allies of the bishops in the contest for political supremacy being waged in this period.

Anti-Semitic seals, of course, are not Jewish seals. However, Nos. 47 and 48 (plus a similar seal issued at Halberstadt, No. 145) relate Jews to the larger cultural environment and are therefore included.

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