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'Otherness’ in Space and Architecture

Jews, Muslims and Christians in Western European Art (1200-1650)

Maria Portmann

This conference proceeding (Sessions on "Otherness in Space and Architecture", International Medieval Conference, Leeds, 2017 and 2018) is a compilation of articles written by both young and senior scholars, who are working on the question of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ in Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures. The articles examine how material, ‘oriental’ objects and knowledge originating in non-Western communities helped building and strengthening the identity of Iberia’s, southern France and northern Italian nobility and its lineages. It is shown how, in the perception of Christians, the public image of Jews and Moslems became constructed as that of adversaries, while their cultural knowledge, at the same time, would be integrated into Christian culture in a paradox manner, in which the ‘self’ necessarily depends on the ‘other’ and how visual tensions in art and space have been used as symbols of power.

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3. Jews and Conversos in Christian Space: Distinctive Signs of the ‘Other’ in the St. Blaise Chapel in the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain: (Maria Portmann)

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Maria Portmann

After 1085, the Jews in Toledo belonged to the Kingdom of Castile.121 The aljama (Jewish community) was the largest one in Castile (i.e. one quarter of the entire population of the city). Jews lived among Christians and Muslims and took part in the political and economic life of the city. Although the relationships between Jews, Christians and Muslims in Spain has been interpreted as positive and often romanticized as the convivencia, there were violent outbursts against the Jews. These worsened at the end of the 13th century when Andalusia was reconquered from the Muslims. During that period, the legislation changed for Jews, who were considered ‘foreign’ people.122 While the Church condemned usury, Talmudic interpretations of the Bible123 allowed Jews to lend money to non-Jews, which would have been a very interesting situation for them.124 Their activity was meant to cover the financial needs of Christians.

The Catholic Church had prohibited moneylending and usury for Christians in 1215; it considered them as deadly sins and the sign of an unwillingness of the Jews to convert to Christianity. According to St. Augustine, their refusal to believe in the Incarnation and in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was considered as acedia (“the deadly sin of sloth”) or as blindness.125 The Church stated that Judas was responsible for Jesus’ ←51 | 52→death and considered him a traitor, because he had sold Jesus to the priests of the temple. By extension, all Jews were held responsible...

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