*translated and/or edited by D. L. Ashliman
These legends reflect an anti-Jewish sentiment long exhibited by European Christians. These tales, like their witchcraft analogs, illustrate a tragic and lengthy chapter in ecclesiastical history. Archives, like microscopes, often reveal root causes of sickness and evil. Our best hope of correcting the errors of the past lies in exposing their root causes to the light of day.
1. The Jews' Stone (Austria)
2. The Girl Who Was Killed by Jews (Germany)
3. Pfefferkorn the Jew at Halle (Germany)
4. The Expulsion of the Jews from Prussia (Germany)
5. The Bloody Children of the Jews (Germany)
6. The Imprisoned Jew at Magdeburg (Germany)
7. The Chapel of the Holy Body at Magdeburg (Germany)
8. The Lost Jew (Germany)
9. The Story of Judas (Italy)
10. Malchus at the Column (Italy)
11. Buttadeu (Sicily)
12. The Eternal Jew on the Matterhorn (Switzerland)
In the year 1462 in the village of Rinn in Tyrol a number of Jews convinced a poor farmer to surrender his small child to them in return for a large sum of money. They took the child out into the woods, where, on a large stone, they martyred it to death in the most unspeakable manner. From that time the stone has been called the Jews' Stone. Afterward they hung the mutilated body on a birch tree not far from a bridge.
The child's mother was working in a field when the murder took place. She suddenly thought of her child, and without knowing why, she was overcome with fear. Meanwhile, three drops of fresh blood fell onto her hand, one after the other. Filled with terror she rushed home and asked for her child. Her husband brought her inside and confessed what he had done. He was about to show her the money that would free them from poverty, but it had turned into leaves. Then the father became mad and died from sorrow, but the mother went out and sought her child. She found it hanging from the tree and, with hot tears, took it down and carried it to the church at Rinn. It is lying there to this day, and the people look on it as a holy child. They also brought the Jews' Stone there.
According to legend a shepherd cut down the birch tree, from which the child had hung, but when he attempted to carry it home he broke his leg and died from the injury.
Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), no. 353.
The Girl Who Was Killed by Jews
In the year 1267 in Pforzheim an old woman, driven by greed, sold an innocent seven-year-old girl to the Jews. The Jews gagged her to keep her from crying out, cut open her veins, and surrounded her in order to catch her blood with cloths. The child soon died from the torture, and they weighted her down with stones and threw her into the Enz River.
A few days later little Margaret reached her little hand above the streaming water. A number of people, including the Margrave himself soon assembled. Some boatmen succeeded in pulling the child out of the water. She was still alive, but as soon as she had called for vengeance against her murderers, she died.
Suspicion fell upon the Jews, and they were all summoned to appear. As they approached the corpse, blood began to stream from its open wounds. The Jews and the old woman confessed the evil deed and were executed. The child's coffin, with an inscription, stands next to the bell rope near the entrance to the palace church at Pforzheim.
Children of the members the boatmen's guild unanimously pass the legend from generation to generation that at that time the Margrave rewarded their ancestors by freeing them from sentry duty in the city of Pforzheim "as long as the sun and the moon continue to shine." At the same time they were given the right to be represented by twenty-four boatmen, carrying arms and musical instruments, who parade and stand watch over the city every year at the Carnival celebration. This privilege applies even to this day.
Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), no. 354.
Pfefferkorn the Jew at Halle
In the year 1515, or according to others 1514, on September 13, the Wednesday following Saint Aegidius' Day, at the Jewish cemetery near Moritz Castle, Johann Pfefferkorn, a baptized Jew from Halle, after having been tortured with red-hot pincers, was bound to a column with a chain fastened around his body in such a manner that he could walk around the column. Burning coals were place around him, then raked ever closer to him, until he was roasted and then burned to death. He had confessed that:
1. For about twenty years he had served as a priest, although he had never been ordained or consecrated.
2. He had stolen three consecrated hosts. He had kept one of them, martyring and piercing it. The other two he had sold to the Jews.
3. Having received one hundred guilder from the Jews, he had sworn an oath to them that he would poison Archbishop Albrecht of Magdeburg and Elector Joachim of Brandenburg, together with all of their court officials. This very nearly happened, for he was in possession of poison at the time of his arrest.
4. Likewise, to give poison to all the subjects of the Archbishoprics of Magdeburg and Halberstadt and to persecute them with arson.
5. He had stolen two children, one of whom he sold to the Jews. He himself helped them to martyr and pierce the one child, so they could collect its blood to mix with their excrement. Because it had red hair, he gave the other one away without harming it.
6. He had presented himself as a physician. However, instead of helping his patients, he gave them poison, thus killing fifteen people.
7. He had stolen a bound devil from a priest in Franconia, using it to practice sorcery. He later sold in for five guilders.
8. He had poisoned wells.
Source: J. G. Th. Grässe, Sagenbuch des Preußischen Staats, vol. 1 (Glogau: Verlag von Carl Flemming, 1868), no. 339, p. 301.
The Expulsion of the Jews from Prussia
The Jews were expelled from Prussia under Grand Master Ludolph König, for the following reason:
At the time of this Grand Master in the city of Schwetz
there lived a fisherman who had but little luck fishing on the Weichsel
River and who was therefore very poor. One day a Jew came to him and
taught him how he could take a consecrated host, place it in his net,
and thus catch as many fish as he wanted.
Source: W. A. J. von Tettau and J. D. H. Temme, Die Volkssagen Ostpreußens, Litthauens und Westpreußens (Berlin: In der Nikolaischen Buchhandlung, 1837), no. 71.
The Bloody Children of the Jews
Between about 1492 and 1500 in many areas of Germany, for example in Brandenburg and in Mecklenburg, the Jews were committing all kinds of godless sins, especially the desecration of the holy sacrament. For this reason they were expelled from the country by their lords. Duke Bogislav of Pomerania was among those who expelled the Jews, many of whom at that time were living at Damm near Stettin, at Bart, and in all the small towns in the country.
Among these Jews there were a man and a woman who had themselves baptized. The Duke allowed them to stay, and they moved to the vicinity of Lake Trieb. However, their baptism was only for the sake of appearance, and in reality they remained Jews. For this reason, they were visibly punished by God.
Every time the woman gave birth to a child, it came to the earth with a bloody hand. Because the Christian women observed this, everyone shied away from them, and no one wanted to have anything to do with them. Therefore the Jew and his wife moved away from Lake Trieb, first to Lassahn, and then to Usedom. But the curse followed them wherever they went, until they finally underwent a spiritual conversion and confessed that previously they had remained Jews in their hearts.
Source: J. D. H. Temme, Die Volkssagen von Pommern und Rügen (Berlin: In der Nikolaischen Buchhandlung, 1840), no. 81.
The Imprisoned Jew at Magdeburg
At the time of Bishop Conrad of Magdeburg, who was born a Count of Sternberg, and who died in the year 1278, a Jew fell into a privy on a Saturday. Because it was the Sabbath, the Jews would not pull him out, nor would they allow Christians to do so, because the Jew would have had to help by grabbing hold with his hands.
The Bishop was so outraged by this superstition that the following day, Sunday -- the Christian Sabbath, he decreed that the Jews would have to keep the Christian Sabbath as well. Thus the poor fool had to spend two days and two nights stuck in a privy.
The Chapel of the Holy Body at Magdeburg
In the year 1315 a thief broke into Saint Paul's Church in Magdeburg during the night and stole a box containing consecrated hosts, which were used for the sacrament. The next morning he took them to Saint Peter's Church, intending to place them on the altar there. However, he changed his mind and threw the sacrament into a puddle between the paving stones behind the churchyard. He turned the box over to the Jews.
Now it happened that someone came by with a water cart that was used to carry water from the River Elbe for the purpose of beer brewing. The horses stopped when they came to the place where the sacrament was lying, and they would not proceed. The cart driver became aware of the sacrament lying there, and a miller, who just happened upon the scene, picked it up with his sword.
They soon discovered who the thief was. He was captured in the clothing market with the Jews and was afterward dragged to death.
In commemoration of this miracle, the citizens built a chapel where the sacrament had been found. The chapel was named the Chapel of the Holy Body. Inside they painted a mural depicting the event and hung the sword that had been used to pick up the sacrament.
The chapel was still standing behind the Saint Mary Magdalene Convent until a short time ago. One could enter the chapel either from the convent or from the churchyard.
Inside the chapel there was also a well and an iron bucket with which one could draw water.
Source: J. D. H. Temme, Die Volkssagen der Altmark, mit einem Anhange von Sagen aus den übrigen Marken und aus dem Magdeburgischen (Berlin: In der Nicolaischen Buchhandlung, 1839), pp. 133-134.
The Lost Jew
Eighty-one year old Frau Bandow from Fünfeichen narrated:
Once in my life I saw the lost Jew. One afternoon I
was home alone when a youthful Jewish man entered my house. He wanted
neither to buy nor to sell anything, but with his Jewish accent asked
me for a bite of bread.
I then asked him, "Have you come a long way?"
He answered, "My way is long! I must travel forever throughout the world!" With that he left, but a short time later he returned and asked again for a bite of bread.
I immediately said to myself, "Today you have seen the lost Jew," but to make sure I asked the preacher. He listened to my story and said that he could not prove it, but that the belief was there.
This answer only strengthened the woman's opinion,
which was further verified through an innkeeper's wife from a neighboring
village, where the Jew had stayed overnight. She reported that he had
eaten nothing and that he had not slept. She had prepared a place for
him to lie down, but he paced back and forth in the sitting room the
Source: Karl Gander, Niederlausitzer Volkssagen, vornehmlich aus dem Stadt- und Landkreis Guben (Berlin: Deutsche Schriftsteller-Genossenschaft, 1894), no. 41, pp. 14-15.
The Story of Judas
You must know that Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus Christ.
Now when Judas betrayed him, his Master said: "Repent, Judas, for I pardon you."
But Judas, not at all! He departed with his bag of money, in despair and cursing heaven and earth. What did he do? While he was going along thus desperate he came across a tamarind tree. (You must know that the tamarind was formerly a large tree, like the olive and walnut.) When he saw this tamarind a wild thought entered his mind, remembering the treason he had committed. He made a noose in a rope and hung himself to the tamarind. And hence it is (because this traitor Judas was cursed by God) that the tamarind tree dried up, and from that time on it ceased growing up into a tree and became a short, twisted, and tangled bush; and its wood is good for nothing, neither to burn, nor to make anything out of, and all on account of Judas, who hanged himself on it.
Some say that the soul of Judas went to the lowest hell, to suffer the most painful torments; but I have heard, from older persons who can know, that Judas's soul has a severer sentence. They say that it is in the air, always wandering about the world, without being able to rise higher or fall lower; and every day, on all the tamarind shrubs that it meets, it sees its body hanging and torn by the dogs and birds of prey. They say that the pain he suffers cannot be told, and that it makes the flesh creep to think of it. And thus Jesus Christ condemned him for his great treason.
Source: Thomas Frederick Crane, Italian Popular Tales (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1885), no. 56, pp. 195-196.
Malchus was the head of the Jews who killed our Lord. The Lord pardoned them all, and likewise the good thief, but he never pardoned Malchus, because it was he who gave the Madonna a blow.
He is confined under a mountain, and condemned to walk around a column, without resting, as long as the world lasts. Every time that he walks about the column he gives it a blow in memory of the blow he gave the mother of our Lord. He has walked around the column so long that he has sunk into the ground. He is now up to his neck. When he is under, head and all, the world will come to an end, and God will then send him to the place prepared for him. He asks all those who go to see him (for there are such) whether children are yet born; and when they say yes, he gives a deep sigh and resumes his walk, saying: "The time is not yet!" for before the world comes to an end there will be no children born for seven years.
Source: Thomas Frederick Crane, Italian Popular Tales (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1885), no. 58, p. 197.
It was in winter, and my good father was at Sacalone, in the warehouse, warming himself at the fire, when he saw a man enter, dressed differently from the people of that region, with breeches striped in yellow, red, and black, and his cap the same way. My good father was frightened. "Oh!" he said, "what is this person?"
"Do not be afraid," the man said. "I am called Buttadeu."
"Oh!" said my father, "I have heard you mentioned. Be pleased to sit down a while a tell me something."
"I cannot sit, for I am condemned by my God always to walk." And while he was speaking he was always walking up and down and had no rest. Then he said: "Listen. I am going away; I leave you, in memory of me, this, that you must say a credo at the right hand of our Lord, and five other credos at his left, and a salve regina to the Virgin, for the grief I suffer on account of her son. I salute you."
"Farewell, my name is Buttadeu."
Source: Thomas Frederick Crane, Italian Popular Tales (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1885), no. 59, pp. 197-198.
Mount Matter beneath the Matterhorn in Valais is a high glacier from which the Vispa River flows. According to popular legend, an imposing city existed there ages ago. The Wandering Jew (as many Swiss call the Eternal Jew) came there once and said: "When I pass this way a second time there will be nothing but trees and rocks where you now see houses and streets. And when my path leads me here a third time, there will be nothing but snow and ice."
And now nothing can be seen there but snow and ice.
Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), no. 344.
Source: Medieval Sourcebook