Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2015


The Christian religion was founded on a tradition of self-sacrifice, a custom sparked by the crucifixion of Jesus himself. As the Christian faith evolved and expanded throughout late antiquity and the Middle Ages it consistently maintained this emphasis; devotion through self-denial has been a foundational pillar of popular Christian thought from the early evangelists to the late Medieval era. Within this vein of Christian morality Martyrdom, that is the practice of self-sacrifice, or more specifically the sacrifice of the body in the name of the divine, has held a position of undisputed prestige. With the rise of Christian power in the Western world, and the subsequent dominance of Christian culture over non-Christian European minorities, the Christian tradition of self-immolation was given a unique opportunity to influence thought beyond the peripheries of its own religious community. This potential for influence was especially relevant for the Western European Jewish community. This was a culture surrounded, governed, and exposed to Christian secular authority and religious theology from late antiquity onward. Some of the clearest examples of how Christian cultural influences effected European Jews can be found in periods of high inter-religious tension. In the year 1096, the initial expedition of the First Crusade, aimed at reclaiming Jerusalem from Islamic rule, moved across the German Rhineland. Here the Crusading host unleashed its religious fervor on the Jewish community, massacring or forcibly converting Jews in settlements from the northern Rhine River all the way down to the Danube. In the wake of this devastation, Jewish writers in the Rhineland began composing venerative chronicles. These recounted the persecution and the plight of the Rhenish victims and, important for the purposes of this analysis, praised those who died rather than convert as martyrs. What role might the cultural influences of Christian martyr tradition have played in the way the Rhenish Chroniclers portrayed the Rhineland persecutions? It is this question that prompts the following investigation.


Winner of the $1000 prize

Course: HIST 4430-1, Death and Dying in the Middle Ages