The Passion, the Jews, and the Crisis of the Individual on the Naumburg West Choir Screen
Jung, Jacqueline E.
Beyond the Yellow Badge: Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism in Medieval and Early Modern Visual Culture, ed. Mitchell B. Merback (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2008)
Marking the boundary of nave and choir, respective domains of laity and clergy in medieval churches, the Gothic choir screen at once reinforced social distinctions and provided a stable, unifying focus during liturgical rituals.1 Yet to cast these structures in strictly binary terms, as has often been the case in earlier scholarship, is to risk oversimplify- ing a situation that was far more complex. First, the binary approach concentrates solely on the solid frame of the screen while ignoring its points of permeability; the Gothic screen was, after all, as important for its capacity for (controlled) passage as it was for its exclusions. Second, this approach implicitly assigns a static, inflexible character to liturgical spaces that is belied by documentary and pictorial evidence alike; just as members of the clergy performed many services outside the choir—at altars distributed throughout the nave, in side chapels, or in elevated galleries—so were at least some laypeople allowed to venture into the clerical sanctuary. The possibility of selective access points to the third inadequacy of the binary approach: that is, its effacement of the internal diversity of the social groups in question. For all the insistence in contemporary writings on the sharp divide between clergy and layfolk, members of both groups were well aware that the subtler distinctions within their own cohort—in social status, institutional affiliation, education, gender, and so forth—were no less visible, consequential, and crucial to maintain.