In class we often talk about the need of Christians in the medieval period to experience information viscerally in order to understand or “feel” its truth, especially in the case of racial conflict and segregation. This is heavily evidenced in their reliance on extremely graphic depictions of violence in secular art and literature. In the “Child Slain by Jews,” an innocent Christian boy is slain by a Jewish man and then kept alive by the Virgin Mary and paraded around Paris in order to display her love, God’s majesty as well as to highlight the barbarism of the Jews.
I found that the despite this tale’s intention to serve as religious propaganda, it function more as tools to perpetuate and define racial difference between the sometimes physically indistinguishable Christians and Jews. For me, even the tale’s use of the iconic lily flower is brutally ironic. Associated with cleanliness and purity, the lily is discovered “withinne the childes throte” by the bishop and is described as, “so briht and cler/ so feir a lylie nas nevere seyen er” (lines 120-122). While serving as a literal life source, the lily also makes the slain child’s procession around Paris possible, rendering him a martyr in the eyes of Christians. This familiar tale of resurrection (Jesus is slain by the Romans, an outsider race, and then resurrected) is meant to evokes both empathy and hate by it’s depiction of the Jews as violators of one the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill,” with it’s emphasis on the murder of an innocent and God-loving child.
In fact, it seemed to many of the other religious literature, like Chaucer’s The Prioress’s Tale, possessed dual focuses that laid the foundations for the continuing of a ruling class of dominated by white, Christian males. For by keeping the horror and wonder of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection alive and “recent” through art and literature, the literate (and therefore powerful) segment of the population was made to fear any sort of integration and racial equality because to do so who endanger not only their racial purity but also the sanctity of their belief system.