Professor of Art Véronique Plesch and Pulver Family Associate Professor of Jewish Studies David Freidenreich have coauthored a paper recently published in the journal Studies in Iconography. Titled “’What is That to Us?’: The Eucharistic Liturgy and the Enemies of Christ in the Beam of the Passion,” the paper “addresses the so-called Beam of the Passion, an early 13th-century painted pine beam created in Iberia for display above the eucharistic altar, which unexpectedly depicts Judas’s second encounter with the priests in its central Crucifixion scene,” according to the paper’s abstract.

“Even more surprisingly, the priests and elders of first-century Jerusalem look like stereotypical African Muslims. Prior scholarship emphasizes the Beam’s depictions of Muslims as Christ’s enemies, but this work is not ultimately about Muslims. Rather, “Moorish” figures—like the Jewish figures they displace—play an instrumental role in an effort to bolster faith in Christ and the eucharist. In this respect, the Beam’s anomalous iconography illustrates a common dynamic within medieval anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim rhetoric, whose true focus is often a fellow Christian. The full significance of the Crucifixion’s Moorish figures and their dismissive quid ad nos becomes apparent through analysis of the Beam in its entirety within its architectural, liturgical, and political contexts.”

Plesch frequently lectures on art in Freidenreich’s classes (in particular on depictions of Jews in medieval art) and this is how this research first started. Over the course of years, different Colby students were involved in the project, in particular, Anna Spencer ’16 and more recently, Plesch’s research assistants Sarah Rossien ’19 and Annie Muller ’22.

Véronique and David are also grateful for the assistance they received from David Simon, who taught for many years in the Art Department, and whose specialty is Spanish Romanesque art.