Host Desecration, Chaucer’s “Prioress’s Tale,” and Prague 1389

  • Sarah Stanbury
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In the days following the coincidence of Easter and Passover in 1389, violence broke out in Prague. It was of the sort that was of ten referred to in contemporary Latin chronicles as a tumultus.1 This tumult was set in motion when, on the Saturday before Easter, Jews allegedly threw stones at a priest walking through the Jewry. One account says that the stone-throwers were children.2 The priest was carrying a pyx, or the container with the consecrated Host. The priest shouted at (“abused”) the children, and the children’s parents came. The priest claimed that the Host had fallen and had been desecrated.3 In their Easter sermons the next day, several priests took the event to their congregations and talked about it “tearfully” in their sermons, preaching that Jews had vandalized the Eucharist and had tortured the Host.4 Mob violence ensued. As one chronicle puts it, “The people, hearing of such a terrible act, raised their voices, saying: Jewish perversity, from the blasphemy of which such enormity has sprung up, must indeed be annihilated.”5 And annihilation did indeed follow. The people of Prague, or more exactly, the Christians of Prague, descended as a mob on Jewish homes, slaughtering men, women, and children and burning the synagogues. Some Jews were of fered the choice of baptism or death. Some Jews committed suicide, taking the option of “kiddush ha-shem,” the sacrificial martyrdom historically glorified at Masada.6


Swan Lake Money Lending Ritual Murder Medieval Literature Canterbury Tale 
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© Bonnie Wheeler 2006

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  • Sarah Stanbury

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