Discover rare medieval Jewish treasures at The Met Cloisters

A Hebrew bible from the 14th century at 
A Hebrew bible from the 14th century at “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy" exhibit at The Met Cloisters on July 22, 2019. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Stained glass window panels and biblical tales illuminate a new exhibit of Jewish medieval history at The Met Cloisters.

“The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy,” on view through Jan. 12, displays religious and cultural Jewish artifacts from the medieval era of Colmar, a French town near the German-Swiss border. A walk through the gallery transports guests onto Colmar’s cobblestone streets, as they see the remnants of 14th-century Jewish-French history. Artifacts range from coins and belts to wedding rings and religious texts, all of which survived the town’s discrimination against Jewish citizens, who were blamed for the plague’s toll in 1348, according to exhibit curators.

“[Jewish medieval history] is not told. There’s so little artifacts,” said exhibit curator Barbara Drake Boehm. “It’s hard if you’re not a scholar of Jewish history, if you’re not a part of the Jewish community, to realize what a vital role the Jewish community played in the history of medieval Europe, and I think that’s a terrible hole in our understanding. It’s part of our obligation to fix that.” 

A jeweled box is among the items in The Met Cloisters' "Colmar Treasure" exhibit.
A jeweled box is among the items in The Met Cloisters’ "Colmar Treasure" exhibit. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Many of the items are on loan from the Musée de Cluny, while the Paris museum undergoes renovations. The loaned items are intertwined with The Met’s own medieval collection, which Boehm said are from the same region and time period as the Colmar treasures. All of the items, she said, paint a personal picture of Jewish community life in the region.

One of her favorites is an onyx ring, a rare item during medieval times, with the Latin inscription “Avdi, vidi,” which means “I heard, I see.” According to Hebrew text, she said, Jewish people would wear onyx rings while they slept to speak with deceased loves ones in their dreams, and she believes this is what the ring was used for.

As Boehm has been researching Jewish medieval history for about 10 years, she hopes the exhibit makes people understand the importance of cross-cultural understanding.

“In this day and age, we need to understand that the world is not just one majority community. There are populations of different beliefs and different practices who have lived for centuries side by side,” she said. “The danger happens when there’s lack of understanding between them. Fear and panic can make a pretty toxic mix when it’s mixed with ignorance.”

A linen and silk purse is among the artifacts on display.
A linen and silk purse is among the artifacts on display. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

If you go

What: "The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy" exhibit

Where: The Met Cloisters, 99 Margaret Corbin Dr., Fort Tryon Park

When: Through Jan. 12

More: metmuseum.org