Spice Box.jpg

Spice box. Judaica. North Italian, copper-gilt, late 15th century. ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London, M.40-1951

1 sylbern monstrantz, judish haist es ein haydesch

In the days leading to Palm Sunday in 1476, the city council of Regensburg arrested dozens of Jews on a contrived but rather common accusation of ritual murder as part of their campaign to expel the town's Jewish community. After sealing off the Jewish ghetto, the city council, the archbishop, and the duke of Bavaria each sent one notary to transcribe an inventory of each Jewish household, paying special attention to those inhabited by the community's most prolific pawnbrokers. One such lender was Saida Straubinger, the owner of many fine clothes, fabulous jewels, hidden cash, and "a silver monstrance, which in judish is called a haydesch."

According to Wilhelm Volkert, the editor of the inventories, the box was probably a ritual vessel in which the Straubinger family preserved the spices (besamim) typically passed around at the end of shabbat. The notary's description of the object as a "monstrance" suggests that the spice box may have once been a reliquary used by Catholic priests to display the consecrated host. A northern Italian Jewish spice box made from a re-used gilt copper monstrance, also from the late fifteenth century, essentially the exact same object as the one referenced in the Regensburg inventories, can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Despite its ritual significance, Saida Straubinger seems to have wanted to keep the haydesch out of public view. The notaries found the spice box in a small bag, tied off with two belts, stuffed in a larger sack, nestled in a chest under the window, and buried by clothing, jewelry, pearls, and cash. Perhaps Saida Straubinger feared that the monstrance-turned-haydesch would bring to the notary's mind a very common narrative that accused Jews of stealing, hiding, and destroying the consecrated host.