Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Black Death exhibition

An interesting little exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London. It goes by the name of Treasures of the Black Death, and features Mediaeval jewellery and coins found at Erfurt in Germany in the 1990’s and at Colmar in France in the 19th Century. They were almost certainly buried by Jewish families at the time of the Black Death.

This pestilence was perhaps the worst disaster ever to afflict humankind – killing off maybe a third of the population of Europe. In the panic, the Jews often got the blame, and there were massacres at Frankfurt, Narbonne, Carcassone, Basel, Mainz and many other places. (In a variation on this theme, the islanders of Cyprus murdered their Arab slaves instead.)

As for the places featured in the exhibition – the city council at Colmar announced on December 29, 1348 that the cantor of the Strasbourg synagogue had admitted to sending someone to poison the wells at Colmar (this was a fairly standard accusation). The townspeople then burned the Jews outside the city gates.

More than 100 Jews were massacred at Erfurt in March 1349, and the rest were driven from the town. Later the town council invited them to return, though they added that they could not guarantee their safety. However, some clearly were brave enough to come back. In 1357, they built a new synagogue and by the following century, Erfurt had one of the most important Jewish communities in Germany.

The exhibition runs until May 10.

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