#49 Between Toleration and Persecution: Jewish Life around 1100 AD: The Pogrom of 1096 and the First Crusade

We will talk this episode about a small but significant minority in medieval Cologne of the late 11th/ early 12th century. The Jewish community of Cologne.

Coexistence between the Jewish and the majority Christian population during the High Middle Ages was subject to constant changes. Long periods of almost good coexistence alternated with extremely brutal periods. One of them would happen in the year 1096. When crusaders on their way to the Holy Land passed through Cologne.

Codex Theodosianus / Decree of Constantine the Great

The contents of the Decree of 321 are recorded in the Codex Theodosianus from the 6th century. This Codex Theodosianus, an Eastern Roman collection of laws, was written down on parchment. Like most ancient texts, the original copy of the Decree of 321 has not survived.

In 321, the Roman Emperor Constantine issued the following decree: “We allow all city councils by general law to appoint Jews to the city senate.” What this exactly entailed, I have already mentioned in episode 15 about the religions in Jewish Cologne. The mention of the Cologne Jewish community is thus the oldest written record of Jewish life north of the Alps.

Based on this historical evidence, today’s Jewish community in Cologne calls itself the oldest community north of the Alps. 

Jewish Quarter in Cologne

Detail from the Mercator map of 1570 showing the area of the Jewish quarter. Marked in blue. In the 16th century, however, no Jews lived here anymore. Also the town hall with its imposing tower did not stand here in 1096.

Excavations in the Jewish quarter

On this old photo of mine you can still see a part of the town hall square before the new building of the Miqua Museum was started. Under this glass dome you could see the remains of the Jewish ritual bath, the Mikveh. It will now be even better to admire in the new museum building.

Von HOWI – Horsch, Willy – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Jewish Ritual Bath (Mikveh) in the underground dating back to the 11th century.

Here you can see the southern part of the former Jewish quarter. The northern part is nowadays built with an annex of the Cologne City Hall, which you can see here clearly directly behind the construction crane.

Here you can see the foundation walls of plots of destroyed houses, marked with the names of the once Jewish homeowners.

Shrine Book

An excerpt from a shrine book, unfortunately I only found one in black and white.

The neighboring Christian parish church of St Laurenz that kept the Jewish Shrine Book.

The Crusader Armies traveling through Europe to the Holy Land

Von Captain Blood, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Click to enlarge: Here you can see how traveling crusading armies passed Cologne (Köln) on their way to the Holy Land in 1096. (green lines)

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