Blood libel & host desecration myths
Christian myths against Jews 1144 CE to
Blood libel accusations against Jews:
In 1144 CE, an unfounded rumor began in eastern England, that Jews had kidnapped a
Christian child, tied him to a cross, stabbed his head to simulate Jesus' crown of thorns,
killed him, drained his body completely of blood, and mixed the blood into matzos
(unleavened bread) at time of Passover. The rumor was started by a former Jew, Theobald, who
had become a Christian monk. He said that Jewish representatives gathered each year in
Narbonne, France. They decided in which city a Christian child would be sacrificed.
boy involved in the year 1144 hoax became known as St. William of Norwich. Many people made pilgrimages to his tomb and
claimed that miracles had resulted from appeals to St. William. The myth shows a complete
lack of understanding of mainline Judaism. Aside from the prohibition of killing innocent persons,
the Torah specifically forbids the drinking or eating of any form of blood in any
quantity. However, reality never has had much of an impact on blood libel myths. This
rumor lasted for many centuries; even today it has not completely disappeared.
Pope Innocent IV ordered a study in 1247 CE. His investigators found that the myth was
a Christian invention used to justify persecution of the Jews. At least 4 other popes subsequently
vindicated the Jews. However, the accusations, trials and executions continued.
In 1817, Czar Alexander I of Russia declared that the blood libel was a myth.
Even that did not stop the accusations against Jews in that country.
"Holy shrines were erected to honor innocent Christian victims, and well
into the twentieth century, churches throughout Europe displayed knives and
other instruments that Jews purportedly used for these rituals. Caricatures of
hunchbacked Jews with horns and fangs were depicted in works of art and carved
into stone decorating bridges. Proclaimed by parish priests to be the gospel
truth, each recurrence of the blood libel charge added to its credence, thus
prompting yet more accusations. This vicious cycle continued to spiral."
Nicholl reports that "there are 150 recorded cases of the charge of
ritual murder, and many led to massacres of the Jews of the place."
Some of the incidents were:
|1144 CE: Jews in Norwich, England were accused of the ritual murder.
This is believed to be the first recorded case of the "blood libel"
Jewish leaders in the area were executed.|
|1171: Jews in Blois, France were accused of ritual murder. All of the
Jews in that town (34 men, 16 or 17 women) were "dragged to a wooden
tower where they were given the option of baptism or death. None chose
the former." 7 They were burned alive. A second source says
that 31 were killed.|
|1181: More accusations at Bury, St. Edmund, England|
|1181: Three Christian boys disappeared after playing on a
frozen river in Vienna, Austrai. Several "witnesses" swore that
Jews had slaughtered the boys. Three hundred Jews were burned at the
stake. After the spring thaw, the bodies of the boys were recovered.
They had drowned, and were otherwise unharmed. 7|
|1183: More accusations in Bristol, England|
|1192: More accusations in Winchester, England|
|1199: More accusations and Jewish executions in Erfurt,
|1235: More accusations and Jewish executions in Lauda, Fulda.|
|1244: London Jews were accused of ritual murder and fined heavily.|
|1250: Jews in Saragossa, Spain, were accused of ritually killing a
child, San Domenichino de Val.|
|1255: The body of a little boy, Hugh, was found in a cesspool near the
house of a Jew in Lincoln, England. The latter was tortured, confessed that he had engaged in
ritual murder, dragged through the streets, and finally hung. 100 Jews were transported to
London and charged with ritual murder. One was acquitted; 2 were pardoned; the rest were
hanged, either with or without a trial. One source states that 19 Jews were
hung without benefit of trial.|
|1263: A Dominican monk published a theory that God had
inflicted Jews with a terrible disease because they had murdeed Yeshua.
He reasoned that the only cure was to kill an innocent Christian child
and consume its blood.|
|1283-5: Following a series of ritual murder charges, 10 Jews were
murdered by a mob in Mainz; 26 were executed in Bacharach, 40 in Oberwellil, and 180 in
|1431: After ritual murder charges, several Jewish communities were
destroyed in southern Germany: Ravensburg, Uberlingen and Lindau. 7|
|1451: Pope Nicholas V appointed John of Capistrano to organize the
Inquisition of the Jews. John repeated the old charges of ritual murder and host
|1475: A few days before Easter, Samuel, a Jew in Trent,
Italy, found the body of a Christian infant named Simon. He had
apparently drowned in a nearby river. A number of Jews were arrested and
tortured. All confessed to murdering the infant. They were burned at the
stake. Stories spread of miraculous cures which were believed to have
been caused by contacting Simon's bones. Simon was canonized as a holy
martyr by Pope Gregory XIII. Simon's beatification was reversed in 1965.
|1492: Tomas de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of the
Spanish Inquisition engineered a blood libel case in La Guardia, Spain.
Jews who had converted to Christianity were accused and tortured. They
confessed to helping the chief rabbi to abuse and crucify a Christian
|1541: John Eck, a Roman Catholic writer, wrote a pamphlet "Refutation
of a Jewish Book." He repeated the ritual murder and host desecration myths.|
|1840: An elderly Italian monk-priest, Padre Tommaso,
and his servant disappeared in Damascus, Syria, after having visited the Jewish quarter
in the city. A
French consol to the Ottoman Empire, Ratti-Menton, promoted a groundless
theory of ritual murder that the local Muslim government largely
accepted. Jewish leaders were arrested and tortured. Sixty of
their children were held hostage and starved to pressure their parents into
confessing. One source said that four adults died from the mistreatment;
that two died and some were permanently disabled. 7 Most of the rest confessed involvement in a
ritual murder. 3 Yhe consul then requested permission
from the Syrian government to murder the rest of his suspects. As a result of widespread protests
from Sir Moses,
Montefiore, Adolphe Cremieux, Solomon Munk, and others,
the lives of the survivors were spared. |
This event introduced the blood
libel myth to the Arab world, where it is still circulating. It also led
to an organized effort by Jews in Europe and the Middle East to protect
themselves. This affair spurred early Zionist
writers like Hess to promote the Zionist cause.
|1853: Two Jews of Saratov, Russia, were convicted of ritually
murdering two Christian children. 7|
|1870's: "With the rise of the modern antisemitic movement in
the late 1870s, the traditional blood accusation merged easily with the new scientific
racial arguments, serving as a lowest common denominator to unite its secular (and often
anti-Christian), Catholic, and Protestant members." 3 Roman Catholic Bishop
Martin of Pederborn, Germany, wrote that Jews ritually murdered Christian children.|
|1881: A Roman Catholic journal, Civilta Cattolica, started a
series of articles which attempted to prove that ritual murder was an integral element of
the Jewish religion. They argued that the ritual murders occurred at Purim rather than
Passover. "It is in vain that Jews seek to slough off the weight of argument
against them: the mystery has become known to all." (Not quite all.
Historians have rejected the stories of blood libel as myth.) 3|
|1911-3: The Beilis case, an accusation of ritual murder
of a boy by the name of Andriusha Yustchinsky, surfaced in
Kiev, Russia. At first, his mother looked like a possible suspect. Although
the boy had disappeared eight days before his body was found, she had
not notified the police. She showed no emotion when her son's body was
discovered. Upon his death, she inherited 500 rubles, which had been
held in trust. Suspicion later fell on Vera Tchebiraik who was involved
with a gang of thieves. Andriusha was a schoolmate of her son, and would
often stay overnight in her home. The boy might have heard about or seen
some criminal act by the gang and been murdered to assure his silence.
However, this was a time of great unrest in the country, and widespread
anti-Jewish sentiment. Soon, the blood libel myth surfaced. "Mendel
Beilis was a Jew arrested in 1911 by the Czarist secret police in Kiev
and accused of ritually murdering a Christian boy to use his blood in
baking matzoh. He was jailed for almost two and one-half years, under
horrible conditions, while awaiting trial. In 1913, after a dramatic
trial, he was [unanimously] acquitted by an all Christian jury." 6,7,8,12|
|1920s: Mendel Beilis emigrated to the U.S. and wrote his
autobiography, called "The Story of My Sufferings." 6|
|1960s: Bernard Malamud wrote a novel called "The Fixer."
He received both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Although he claimed that this was an original story, some analysts
believe that Malamud took most of the events and details from Beilis'
|1930's +: Hitler re-used the blood-libel myth as justification for the
Holocaust. The Nazi periodical, Der Stürmer, often published special issues
devoted to allegations of ritual murder by Jews. Hitler had asked that a
propaganda film be made of
the 1840 Damascus case. World War II ended before it could be made.|
|2000's: The Jewish blood-libel myth continues to circulate
among many Muslim countries. Egyptian film producer is making a movie
about the Syrian case in 1840, called "The Matzoh of Zion."
Director Albert Maysles is making a film about the Beilis case.|
|2007: Ariel Toaff, an Israeli historian of Italian origin,
published a book that has revived the blood libel story. It is titled: "Bloody
Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders." Toaff suggests that
several crucifixions of Christian children occurred from 1100 to about 1500
CE. He wrote:|
"My research shows that in the Middle Ages, a group
of fundamentalist Jews did not respect the biblical prohibition and used
blood for healing. It is just one group of Jews, who belonged to the
communities that suffered the severest persecution during the Crusades.
From this trauma came a passion for revenge that in some cases led to
responses, among them ritual murder of Christian children."
He bases his book on the testimony given under torture. Twelve of Italy's
chief rabbis issued a press release stating:
"It is totally inappropriate to utilize declarations extorted under
torture centuries ago to reconstruct bizarre and devious historical
theses. ... The only blood spilled in these stories was that of so many
innocent Jews, massacred on account of unjust and infamous accusations."
Sergio Luzzatto, in an article in the Corriere della Serra wrote:
"Even if the author should manage to prove that a deviant sect
existed for centuries...clearly it could never be identified as a Jewish
group, or as part of a Jewish community. This would be comparable to
saying that the rabbis who were present at [Iranian President Mahmoud]
Ahmadinejad's Holocaust Denial Conference in Teheran represent
mainstream Judaism." 15
Host desecration accusations against Jews:
The host is a wafer used during the Roman Catholic mass. At a certain point during the
ritual, the church teaches that it is converted into the actual body of Jesus Christ, just as the
wine becomes Jesus' actual blood. These elements of the mass are then eaten by the
believers. This belief is not shared by Protestants, who believe that the bread
and wine symbolize -- but do not become -- Jesus' body and blood.
A variation of the blood libel myth developed in Europe early in the 11th century.
Instead of accusing the Jews of killing an innocent child, they were accused of
desecrating the host. Sometimes they were accused stabbing pins into the host, or of
stepping on it. Other times, they were accused of stabbing the host with a knife until
Jesus' blood leaked out. Sometimes, they were accused of nailing the host, in a symbolic
replay of the crucifixion.
Like the blood libel myth, host desecration makes no logical sense. Being Jews, they
would not believe in the Christian doctrine of transubstantiation - that the host during
mass becomes the actual body of Jesus. To them, the host is just a simple wafer with no
Nicholl reports that "100 instances of the charge have been recorded, in
many cases leading to massacres." Some of the incidents were:
|1021: Rome suffered through both an earthquake and hurricane on Good
Friday of that year. Some Jews were charged with having caused the disaster driving a nail
through a stolen host. They were tortured until they confessed; they were then burned
|1215: The Fourth Lateran Council in Rome declared the belief in
transubstantiation. This established the theological basis for the host desecration myth.|
|1243: All Jews in Berlitz, Germany were burned alive for allegedly
torturing a stolen host. 4|
|1308: The Bishop of Strasbourg charged Jews in Sulzmatt and Rufach with
host desecration. They were burned alive.|
|1370: Jews in Brabant, Belgium, were accused of defiling the host and
were burned alive. 5|
|1389: Jews in Prague were accused of attacking a
monk carrying a wafer. All of the Jews in the city were offered the
choice of conversion to Christianity or death. They were all killed.
|1399: A rabbi and 13 elders in Posen, Poland, were charged with
stabbing the host and tossing it into a pit. They were slowly roasted to death. Some
townspeople believed that the host had bled.|
Unlike the basic Blood Libel myth, rumors of host desecration by Jews appear to have
died out in the Middle Ages. It has surfaced recently, during the mid-1990's. In at least
two Roman Catholic cathedrals (one in Ontario, Canada and another in Mississippi) some
parishioners believed that Satanists were masquerading as church members, attending mass
but not swallowing the host. They believed that it was later taken from the cathedral and
used in Satanic rituals.
- M.I. Dimont, "Jews, God and History," Mentor Books, Revised edition,
(1994), Page 235. You can buy this book from Amazon.com
- William Nichol, "Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate," Aronson,
- Jonathan Frankel, "'Ritual Murder' in the Modern Era: The Damascus Affair of
1840," Jewish Social Studies Volume 3, Number 2, at: http://www.indiana.edu/~iupress/journals/jss-art3.html#r4
- Wildwoman, at:
- Edward Vanhoutte, "Importance and unimportance of the Jews of Belgium from the
Middle Ages to the Enlightenment," at: http://pcger17.uia.ac.be/JEWS.html
- "Family of Mendel Beilis: A martyr for his people," at:
- Shari Schwartz, "Editor's Preface: The Making of a Martyr," at:
- "A boy is murdered," at:
- Salo W. Baron, "The Russian Jew under Tsars and Soviets"
- S. M. Dubnow, "History of the Jews in Russia and Poland"
- Alexander B. Tager, "The Decay of Czarism: The Beilis Trial"
- "A government blood libel: The Beilis affair," The history of
Jews in Russia, (1995). at:
- Ronald Florence, "Blood Libel : The Damascus Affair of 1840,"
University of Wisconsin Press, (2004).
Read reviews or order this book
- Jonathan Frankel, "The Damascus Affair : 'Ritual Murder', Politics, and
the Jews in 1840," Cambridge University Press, (1997).
Read reviews or order this book
Historian gives credence
to blood libel," The Jerusalem Post, 2007-FEB-07, at:
Copyright 2003 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2007-AUG-15
Author: B.A. Robinson