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13.09.2021

The Cloisters Cross

ca. 1150–60

The cross is made of walrus bone.

On this elaborately carved cross ninety-two figures and ninety-eight inscriptions represent the elaborate theological program found on the facade of the cathedral. The exceptional quality of the carvings and the copious references to scripture give an impression of sophistication and erudition.

But among the Latin inscriptions are several insidious swear words against Jews, a sobering testimony to the perniciousness of anti-Jewish sentiment in medieval Europe. Although the words on this particular cross were known only to the community of English churchmen, such hateful sentiments permeated society and led to waves of unscrupulous persecution of Jews from London to York. At Bury St. Edmunds, the Suffolk town with which this cross is often associated, scores of Jewish residents were murdered and the survivors expelled in 1189, around the time this cross was carved. A century later, in 1290, Edward I expelled all Jews from England.

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