This chapter concentrates on aspects of the dealings which went on between European Jews and their Christian neighbours. A Castilian document of 1482 indicates that Jews were subject to violence on the roads, even before the buildup to the expulsion. While the programme of the Fourth Lateran Council continued to be implemented, with varying degrees of efficiency and commitment, in Spain as in other countries, Italy was still able to produce vivid indications of the real nature of Jewish-Christian relations in the period. The chapter is concerned with a false accusation against Jews which went back to twelfth-century England. This was the charge that Jews habitually, and from time to time, kidnapped Christian children and subjected them to torments which were intended to repeat those supposedly suffered by Christ at Jewish hands.
This chapter considers the main aspects of the involvement of Jews in the European economy of the late medieval and early modern periods. In all western European countries with Jewish populations in this period, there were restrictions on the economic roles which Jews might fulfil. In the great majority of cases, the result of the Church policies was to confine Jews to trade and finance, whatever their personal inclinations may have been. Although examples are given of Jews who performed various economic functions in this period, in public or private capacities, the chapter discusses a contemporary account of how Jews were commonly perceived by the Christian majority. Despite the 1412 prohibition of royal tax collection by Jews, as late as 1488, just four years before the Spanish expulsion edict, a Jew might still obtain a national contract to collect taxes for the Castilian Crown.
There is generally an unconscious or else admitted assumption that, as the Reformation changed so many things for Europe's Christians, it must therefore have had a similar effect on Jews. It is clear that, even in the Christian Renaissance, the accurate study of the Hebrew scriptures was still regarded with suspicion, even by apparently 'enlightened' scholars. More interesting, perhaps, are German Hebraist Johann Reuchlin's comments on the mystical Jewish Kabbalah, which turn late medieval Christian approaches to rabbinical Judaism in another direction, towards works which had previously hardly been considered by Christian scholars. Reuchlin's work was condemned by Christian intellectuals at the time, but the notion of Christian Hebraism was to survive through the period of the Reformation and beyond.
As European politics, society, economy and religion underwent epoch-making changes between 1400 and 1600, the treatment of Europe's Jews by the non-Jewish majority was, then as in later periods, a symptom of social problems and tensions in the Continent as a whole. This book discusses the history and background of the Jewish presence in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe. As far as the late medieval Church was concerned, the basis for the treatment of Jews, by ecclesiastical and secular authorities, was to be found in the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council of the Roman Church, which were issued in 1215. The book is concerned with Jewish economic activities for their own sake, and Jews' financial relations with Christian rulers. It then concentrates on other aspects of the dealings which went on between European Jews and their Christian neighbours. The book includes the Jews' own economic presence and culture, social relations between Jews and Christians, the policies and actions of Christian authorities in Church and State. It draws upon original source material to convey ordinary people's prejudices about Jews, including myths about Jewish 'devilishness', money-grabbing, and 'ritual murder' of Christian children. Finally, the book demonstrates from the outset that much of the treatment of European Jews, in the period up to the Reformation and thereafter, was to be a practical result of the controversies within 'Christendom' on the subject of authority, whether ecclesiastical or secular.
The mass was the central ceremony of the Church: the consecration of the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ. The centrality of the mass was emphasised by its utility: masses could be said for a variety of purposes, ranging from securing good weather to assisting in the release of souls from Purgatory. Attendance, or paying for the celebration of a mass, might also secure an indulgence or other spiritual benefit. The Lay Folks' Mass Book was an early text constructed to give guidance to action during the ceremony, instructing in the choreography and the appropriate prayers to be said by the laity as a counterpoint to the clerical actions. Originally written in French, it was later translated into English, and survives in a number of versions which seem to reflect actual variations in practices during the mass.
The vitality of parish celebrations is only imperfectly conveyed by the financial records which they generated. The round at Scarborough does indicate something of the number of celebrations, especially those for the major rites of passage: the purification of mothers after childbirth, solemnisation of marriages, and funerals. Post-mortem commemoration is indicated by the celebration of obits. Among the other aspects worth noting are the levels of offerings at major feast days and the few payments for special masses for individual guilds. The accounts for Yarmouth and King's Lynn, although much more summary, give a better indication of the totality of the demands made by the local church as a benefice. Over the years the totals received in the churches fluctuated, as did the distribution between the various categories of receipts. One particularly striking feature of the King's Lynn accounts is the way in which receipts rocketed upwards in plague years.
The wide variety of religious commitments which were available generally required an individual to set him or herself aside from 'normality', either through commitment to a religious order, the life of a hermit or the extreme of total seclusion in an anchorage. The activities within the private oratories have led one commentator to refer to the household itself as a 'religious community'. For those who sought advanced domestic spiritual satisfaction, an episcopal licence for the celebration of divine offices within a private chapel or oratory was necessary. The inventories offer insights into the furnishing of the private sacred spaces, although what they actually reveal about the owners of the property is perhaps less easily discernible. To turn from the creation of officially sanctioned oratorical spaces to the acceptance of some degree of practical regulation is a major shift in direction, but nevertheless remains within the sphere of private religion.
A striking feature of late medieval England is the Christ- and crucifix-centred nature of the spirituality, expressed in small-scale daily devotions, in visionary and devotional literature. Alongside Christ, the saints also attracted considerable devotion. Saints acted as intercessors, and provided miracles; their shrines were the focus of aspirations, and of pilgrimages. A key feature of the late Middle Ages in England was also the development of a multiplicity of shrines centred on images of the Virgin, and of a plethora of wayside crosses. Both were foci for offerings, and thus for pilgrimage and miracles. Pilgrimage might also be encouraged by the offering of indulgences and spiritual privileges for those visiting specified locations. The accounts for the shrine-keepers of Ely and Hereford permit an assessment of the scale of cash offerings, but not of the overall numerical flow of pilgrims.
While there was considerable concern to accumulate spiritual benefits during life, the most important issue was to secure salvation after death. The doctrine of Purgatory required almost everyone destined for Heaven to undergo a period of purging of their sins after death. Numerous short-term bequests to establish prayers are recorded in wills; more elaborate foundations were often arranged before death, or with the details being settled by the executors beyond the confines of the will. Testamentary attempts to erect such prayer institutions cannot always be assumed to have been implemented: executors and heirs were notoriously unreliable. The post-mortem prayers varied in form, from the trental and the more elaborate St Gregory's trental, to a fully-endowed perpetual chantry, which entailed a daily mass for the soul of the founder in perpetuity.
The attempt to secure salvation generated a variety of social and other involvements. The doctrine of good works obviously imposed charitable obligations; the search for assurances of salvation also generated numerous attempts to secure prayers and limit the penalties of sin. Actions before death to secure salvation took several forms, besides making arrangements for commemorations after death. The participation in prayers and indulgences was the main focus, obtained in several forms. Indulgences, whatever the canonical interpretation, were generally taken to guarantee time off Purgatory in the future; and were widely distributed. The Hospital of St Anthony in London was a nation-wide collecting institution, which farmed out its sale of indulgences. Concurrent membership of several fraternities was relatively common; so too was the multiple purchase of indulgences.