Anxiety and Vulnerability: Women and Ritual Murder in Medieval Western Europe

  • Mary Andino


“Anxiety and Vulnerability” examines Christian ritual murder and host desecration accusations against Jews in medieval Europe. Analyzing several charges from diverse locations reveals trends in conceptualizations of women in religious discourse between the two groups. Previous studies of these accusations have acknowledged the presence and importance of female characters, but have not treated them as a subject of study in and of themselves. This paper moves female characters from the margins of ritual murder and host desecration charges to the forefront, arguing for the necessity of examining gender in understanding the rhetorical power of these influential narratives. Andino argues that Christians viewed women as the weak links in their struggle against Jews, reflecting anxiety over marginal women and their ability to fulfill their roles in Christian society. In Jewish accounts of these events, representations of women centered on their bodies as sites of Jewish debility and Christian aggression. Both Christians and Jews conceptualized the vulnerabilities of their communities in terms of female weakness. Through their shortcomings, women offered the religious Other a point of entry into the community, enabling and legitimizing the danger of the Other.