The rise of anti-Semitism in Latin Christendom appears to be directly involved with the crusading movement, especially the First Crusade, preached by Urban II at Clermont in 1095. Christian soldiers, passing through the Rhineland on the way south, were inclined to regard the Jews in the cities they encountered as enemies of Christ comparable to the Saracens. Why travel several thousand miles to combat the enemies of the Messiah, they argued, and ignore his crucifiers when they were to be found en route? Such confounding of Jews and Saracens was not rare. It causes no great surprise, for example, to find a medieval Welsh chronicle declaring that, in 1188 [sic], ‘the Saracens and the Jews came to Jerusalem [and] took possession of the Cross …’; the reference is to Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem from the Christians in 1187. Anti-Semitism is often expressed in the Latin texts of the conductus repertoire in the form of apostrophes to ‘wretched’ or ‘cruel’ Judea. Veri vitis germine
includes a notable example. In the eyes of Christian clergy, especially the most learned, the obduracy of ‘cruel’ Judea was deeply disturbing, for the Jewish renunciation of Christ was not some provincial or passing heresy; it was rooted in traditions of thought and scholarship already some two millennia old, nurtured throughout Europe by rabbis who were in a better position than most Latin Christians to know how the books of the Old Testament should be construed according to the literal sense of the Hebrew. O levis aurula!
is an unusual expression of Christian contempt, for it seems to present a dialogue between Christ and the Jews (or so it is interpreted here). Veri vitis germine
and Congaudet hodie
sharpen the Christian call to the Jews by placing it in the context of Christ’s nativity, the moment when the Old Law is fulfilled and the New Law comes to replace it. Anti-Semitism is a vital thread in the civilization of the later Middle Ages, and committed performance of unexpurgated texts is one way to remind and warn modern audiences that this was so. If audiences gain aesthetic pleasure from such performances, so much more keen the reminder and so much more potent the warning.
from notes by Christopher Page © 1998