The Wandering Jew

legends of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 777

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2001-2013


Contents

  1. The Wandering Jew (A ballad from Reliques of Ancient English Poetry).

  2. Shoemakers Are a Poor Slobbering Race (England).

  3. The Wandering Jew (retold by Horace E. Scudder).

  4. The Jerusalem Shoemaker, or Wandering Jew, in Jutland (Denmark).

  5. The Story of Judas (Italy).

  6. Malchus at the Column (Italy).

  7. Buttadeu (Italy).

  8. Wodan as the Wandering Jew (Germany).

  9. The Lost Jew (Germany).

  10. The Eternal Jew on the Matterhorn (Switzerland).

  11. The Wandering Jew on the Grimsel Pass (Switzerland).

  12. The Mysterious Stranger (England).

  13. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Wandering Jew

England/Germany

The story of the Wandering Jew is of considerable antiquity: it had obtained full credit in this part of the world before the year 1228, as we learn from Mat. Paris. For in that year, it seems, there came an Armenian archbishop into England, to visit the shrines and reliques preserved in our churches; who, being entertained at the monastery of St. Albans, was asked several questions relating to his country, &c. Among the rest a monk, who sat near him, inquired if he had ever seen or heard of the famous person named Joseph, that was so much talked of; who was present at our Lord's crucifixion and conversed with him, and who was still alive in confirmation of the Christian faith.

The archbishop answered, that the fact was true.

And afterwards one of his train, who was well known to a servant of the abbot's, interpreting his master's words, told them in French, that his lord knew the person they spoke of very well: that he had dined at his table but a little while before he left the East: that he had been Pontius Pilate's porter, by name Cartaphilus; who, when they were dragging Jesus out of the door of the Judgment-hall, struck him with his fist on the back, saying, "Go faster, Jesus, go faster; why dost thou linger?"

Upon which Jesus looked at him with a frown and said, "I indeed am going, but thou shalt tarry till I come."

Soon after he was converted, and baptized by the name of Joseph. He lives for ever, but at the end of every hundred years falls into an incurable illness, and at length into a fit or ecstasy, out of which when he recovers, he returns to the same state of youth he was in when Jesus suffered, being then about 30 years of age. He remembers all the circumstances of the death and resurrection of Christ, the saints that arose with him, the composing of the Apostles' creed, their preaching, and dispersion; and is himself a very grave and holy person.

This is the substance of Matthew Paris's account, who was himself a monk of St. Albans, and was living at the time when this Armenian archbishop made the above relation.

Since his time several impostors have appeared at intervals under the name and character of the Wandering Jew; whose several histories may be seen in Calmet's dictionary of the Bible. See also The Turkish Spy, vol. II. book 3, let. 1.

The story that is copied in the following ballad is of one, who appeared at Hamburg in 1547, and pretended he had been a Jewish shoemaker at the time of Christ's crucifixion. The ballad however seems to be of later date. It is preserved in black-letter in the Pepys collection.

Footnote: We need hardly recount the numerous fictions, or poems, which have since been founded on this story, such as Shelley's "Ahasuerus"; a novel by John Gait; a tale in an early work of Lord John Russell's, entitled, "Essays by a Gentleman who had left his Lodgings"; and Cioly's splendid romance of "Salathiel," which the literary world would like to see completed. -- Ed.
When as in faire Jerusalem
Our Saviour Christ did live,
And for the sins of all the worlde
His own deare life did give;
The wicked Jewes with scoffes and scornes
Did dailye him molest,
That never till he left his life,
Our Saviour could not rest.

When they had crown'd his head with thornes,
And scourg'd him to disgrace,
In scornfull sort they led him forthe
Unto his dying place;
Where thousand thousands in the streete
Beheld him passe along,
Yet not one gentle heart was there,
That pityed this his wrong.

Both old and young reviled him,
As in the streete he wente,
And nought he found but churlish tauntes,
By every ones consente:
His owne deare crosse he bore himselfe,
A burthen far too great,
Which made him in the street to fainte,
With blood and water sweat.

Being weary thus, he sought for rest,
To ease his burthened soule,
Upon a stone; the which a wretch
Did churlishly controule;
And sayd, "Awaye, thou king of Jewes,
Thou shalt not rest thee here;
Pass on; thy execution place
Thou seest nowe draweth neare."

And thereupon he thrust him thence;
At which our Saviour sayd,
I sure will rest, but thou shalt walke,
And have no journey stayed."
With that this cursed shoemaker,
For offering Christ this wrong,
Left wife and children, house and all,
And went from thence along.

Where after he had seene the bloude
Of Jesus Christ thus shed,
And to the crosse his bodye nail'd,
Awaye with speed he fled Without returning backe againe
Unto his dwelling place,
And wandred up and downe the worlde,
A runnagate most base.

No resting could he finde at all,
No ease, nor hearts content; Bo No house, nor home, nor biding place:
But wandring forth he went
From towne to towne in foreigne landes,
With grieved conscience still,
Repenting for the heinous guilt
Of his fore-passed ill.

Thus after some fewe ages past
In wandring up and downe;
He much again desired to see
Jerusalems renowne,
But finding it all quite destroyd,
He wandred thence with woe,
Our Saviour's wordes, which he had spoke,
To verifie and showe.

"I'll rest," sayd hee, "but thou shalt walke,
So doth this wandring Jew
From place to place, but cannot rest
For seeing countries newe;
Declaring still the power of him,
Whereas he comes or goes,
And of all things done in the east,
Since Christ his death, he showes.

The world he hath still compast round
And seene those nations strange,
That hearing of the name of Christ,
Their idol gods doe change:
To whom he hath told wondrous thinges
Of time forepast, and gone,
And to the princes of the worlde
Declares his cause of moane:

Desiring still to be dissolved,
And yeild his mortal breath;

But, if the Lord hath thus decreed,
He shall not yet see death.
For neither lookes he old nor young,
But as he did those times,
When Christ did suffer on the crosse
For mortall sinners crimes.

He hath past through many a foreigne place,
Arabia, Egypt, Africa,
Grecia, Syria, and great Thrace,
And throughout all Hungaria;
Where Paul and Peter preached Christ,
Those blest apostles deare;
There he hath told our Saviours wordes,
In countries far, and neare.

And lately in Bohemia,
With many a German towne;
And now in Flanders, as tis thought,
He wandreth up and downe:
Where learned men with him conferre
Of those his lingering dayes,
And wonder much to heare him tell
His journeyes, and his wayes.

If people give this Jew an almes,
The most that he will take
Is not above a groat a time:
Which he, for Jesus' sake,
Will kindlye give unto the poore,
And thereof make no spare,
Affirming still that Jesus Christ
Of him hath dailye care.

He ne'er was seene to laugh nor smile,
But weepe and make great moane;
Lamenting still his miseries,
And dayes forepast and gone:
If he heare any one blaspheme,
Or take God's name in vaine,
He telles them that they crucifie
Their Saviour Christe againe.

"If you had seene his death," saith he,
"As these mine eyes have done,
Ten thousand thousand times would yee
His torments think upon:
And suffer for his sake all paine
Of torments, and all woes."
These are his wordes and eke his life
Whereas he comes or goes.




Shoemakers Are a Poor Slobbering Race

England

An old woman of the North Riding once asked a friend of mine whether it was wrong to wash on Good Friday.

"I used to do so," she said, "and thought no harm of it, till once, when I was hanging out my clothes, a young woman passed by (a dressmaker she was, and a Methodist); and she reproved me, and told me this story.

While our Lord Jesus was being led to Calvary they took Him past a woman who was washing, and the woman "blirted" the thing she was washing in His face; on which He said, "Cursed be every one who hereafter shall wash on this day!"

"And never again," added the old woman, "have I washed on Good Friday."

Now it is said in Cleveland that clothes washed and hung out to dry on Good Friday will become spotted with blood; but the Methodist girl's wild legend reminds me more of one which a relation of mine elicited from a poor Devonshire shoemaker. She was remonstrating with him for his indolence and want of spirit, when he astonished her by replying, "Dont'ee be hard on me. We shoemakers are a poor slobbering race, and so have been ever since the curse that Jesus Christ laid on us."

"And what was that?" she asked.

"Why," said he, "when they were carrying Him to the cross they passed a shoemaker's bench, and the man looked up and spat at Him; and the Lord turned and said, 'A poor slobbering fellow shalt thou be, and all shoemakers after thee, for what thou hast done to Me.'"

Footnote: This curse is suggested, I presume, by the legend of the Wandering Jew; Cartaphilus or Ahasuerns, whichever was his name, having been a shoemaker, and cursed, it is said, by Our Lord, for refusing to allow Him to rest on the doorstep of his shop. -- S. B. G. [Sabine Baring-Gould]




The Wandering Jew

Retold by Horace E. Scudder

When our Saviour was passing out of Jerusalem to the place where he was to be crucified, he was made to carry the heavy cross on his shoulders. Many people followed him, and others stood in the doorways of the houses he passed, or looked out of the windows.

One of these who looked on was a shoemaker, Ahasuerus by name. He did not believe in Christ. He had been present when Pilate pronounced the sentence of death, and, knowing that Christ would be dragged past his house, he ran home and called his household to see this person, who, he said, had been deceiving the Jews.

Ahasuerus stood in the doorway, holding his little child on his arm. Presently the crowd came by and Jesus in the midst, bearing his cross. The load was heavy, and Jesus stood a moment, as if he would rest in the doorway. But the Jew, willing to gain favor with the crowd, roughly bade him go forward.

Jesus obeyed, but, as he moved away, he turned and looked on the shoemaker and said: "I shall at last rest, but thou shalt go on till the last day."

Ahasuerus heard him. Stirred by some im pulse, he knew not what, he set his child down, and followed the crowd to the place of crucifixion. There he stayed till the end. And when the people turned back, he turned back with them, and went to his house, but not to stay. He bade his wife and children farewell.

"Go on!" a voice said to him, and on that day he began his wanderings.

Years afterward he came back, but Jerusalem was a heap of ruins. The city had been destroyed, and he knew that his wife and children had long since been dead.

"Go on!" he heard, and he wandered forth, begging his way from house to house, from town to town, from one country to another.

He wandered from Judaea to Greece, from Greece to Rome. He grew old, and his face was like leather, but his eyes were bright, and he never lost his vigor.

He went through storms and the cold of winter, he endured the dry heat of summer, but no sickness overtook him. He joined armies that were going forth to battle, but death never came his way, though men fell by his side.

He was never seen to laugh. Now and then, some learned man would draw him into talk, not knowing who he was, and would find him familiar with great events in history. It was not as if he had learned these in books. He talked as if he himself had been present.

Then the learned man would shake his head, and say to himself, "Poor man, he is mad," and only after the old wanderer had left would the thought suddenly come, "Why, that must have been the Wandering Jew."

Where is he now? No one knows. Wandering, weary, he moves from place to place. Sometimes he is driven off by the people, he looks so uncanny.

When war breaks out, he says to himself, "Perhaps now at last the end of the world is coming."

But though wars have lasted a hundred years, they cease at last, and still the Wandering Jew goes on, on.




The Jerusalem Shoemaker, or Wandering Jew, in Jutland

Denmark

It is now very long since there was seen in Jutland a man mean and lowly in his garments, riding on a little white horse, with stirrups made of wood. When any one asked him whence he came and whither he was directing his course, he was wont to answer: "From Vendsyssel over Himmelsyssel southwards."

He foretold, and said of a stone in Mae: "A thorn shall grow through the fissure in the stone, and in the thorn a magpie shall build her nest, hatch her young, and afterwards fly away with them."

And this came to pass as he had said. He further foretold that when the magpie was flown, there should be a great battle in Vendsyssel, and the greater part of the people perish. Afterwards the women should acquire the courage and heart of men and slay the enemy.

But when he was asked what further should happen, he answered: "Let the end follow."

In Aalborg he foretold something to the town magistrate, which did not particularly please him, and for which he caused him to be scourged. He then foretold again, that like as his blood was running down his back, so should the magistrate's blood run over the streets of Aalborg. And it happened as he had said; for in a quarrel which arose in the town, the townsmen slew the magistrate in the street.

Of Haseriisaa, which at that time did not flow through Aalborg, he foretold that a time should come when it should run through the town; which also took place as he had predicted.

Coming one day to Bolstrup, and having according to his custom taken up his quarters in a kiln, he rode the next day to the public assembly (Ting), where the judge of the district asked him: "How will it fare with me?" and got for answer: "Thou shalt die in a kiln."

Nor did he fare better; for coming to poverty, he had at last no other place of shelter.

Once when some boys scoffed at him, and one among them threw a cask stave after him, he said, that a stave should be the boy's death; and the same boy, some time after, fell from a tree and struck a stave into his body.

Of alms he accepted only so much as he required for the moment, and thus traveled from place to place.




The Story of Judas

Italy

You must know that Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus Christ.

Now when Judas betrayed him, his Master said: "Repent, Judas, for I pardon you."

But Judas, not at all! He departed with his bag of money, in despair and cursing heaven and earth. What did he do? While he was going along thus desperate he came across a tamarind tree. (You must know that the tamarind was formerly a large tree, like the olive and walnut.) When he saw this tamarind a wild thought entered his mind, remembering the treason he had committed. He made a noose in a rope and hung himself to the tamarind. And hence it is (because this traitor Judas was cursed by God) that the tamarind tree dried up, and from that time on it ceased growing up into a tree and became a short, twisted, and tangled bush; and its wood is good for nothing, neither to burn, nor to make anything out of, and all on account of Judas, who hanged himself on it.

Some say that the soul of Judas went to the lowest hell, to suffer the most painful torments; but I have heard, from older persons who can know, that Judas's soul has a severer sentence. They say that it is in the air, always wandering about the world, without being able to rise higher or fall lower; and every day, on all the tamarind shrubs that it meets, it sees its body hanging and torn by the dogs and birds of prey. They say that the pain he suffers cannot be told, and that it makes the flesh creep to think of it. And thus Jesus Christ condemned him for his great treason.




Malchus at the Column

Italy

Malchus was the head of the Jews who killed our Lord. The Lord pardoned them all, and likewise the good thief, but he never pardoned Malchus, because it was he who gave the Madonna a blow.

He is confined under a mountain, and condemned to walk around a column, without resting, as long as the world lasts. Every time that he walks about the column he gives it a blow in memory of the blow he gave the mother of our Lord. He has walked around the column so long that he has sunk into the ground. He is now up to his neck. When he is under, head and all, the world will come to an end, and God will then send him to the place prepared for him. He asks all those who go to see him (for there are such) whether children are yet born; and when they say yes, he gives a deep sigh and resumes his walk, saying: "The time is not yet!" for before the world comes to an end there will be no children born for seven years.




Buttadeu

Italy

It was in winter, and my good father was at Sacalone, in the warehouse, warming himself at the fire, when he saw a man enter, dressed differently from the people of that region, with breeches striped in yellow, red, and black, and his cap the same way. My good father was frightened. "Oh!" he said, "what is this person?"

"Do not be afraid," the man said. "I am called Buttadeu."

"Oh!" said my father, "I have heard you mentioned. Be pleased to sit down a while a tell me something."

"I cannot sit, for I am condemned by my God always to walk." And while he was speaking he was always walking up and down and had no rest. Then he said: "Listen. I am going away; I leave you, in memory of me, this, that you must say a credo at the right hand of our Lord, and five other credos at his left, and a salve regina to the Virgin, for the grief I suffer on account of her son. I salute you."

"Farewell."

"Farewell, my name is Buttadeu."




Wodan as the Wandering Jew

Germany

At the introduction of Christianity we find a new development of the ancient myths. Wodan becomes the foul fiend, then the godless Hunter, and the Wandering Jew. In the Black Forest the Eternal Hunter and the Eternal Jew are regarded as the same person. They both always carry a groschen in the pocket. In some parts of Germany the harrows are placed in the fields with the teeth together, that the wanderer may rest himself. According to some authorities, he may only rest Christmas night, and then only when he finds a plough in the field; only on that may he sit down.

Every seven years the Huntsman passes over the seven mining towns of the Harz, and woe to him who calls after him.

According to one legend, the Wild Huntsman met Christ at a river where He sought to quench His thirst, and would not permit Him to drink; he also drove Him from a cattle trough, and when the Saviour found water in a horse's foot-print, and would drink there, he drove Him away. As a punishment, he is doomed to wander for ever, and eat only horse-flesh.

This is the pagan legend Christianized. In West and South Germany we find the Wild Army. Odin, or Wodan, was the god, too, of armies, and always went out from Walhalla at the head of his ghostly array, while his nine Walküren [Valkyries] conducted the fallen heroes back to Walhalla [Valhalla].




The Lost Jew

Germany

Eighty-one year old Frau Bandow from Fünfeichen narrated:

Once in my life I saw the lost Jew. One afternoon I was home alone when a youthful Jewish man entered my house. He wanted neither to buy nor to sell anything, but with his Jewish accent asked me for a bite of bread.
I said to him, "You won't like our coarse peasant bread," to which he replied, "I will like it, if the lady would just give me some."
I then asked him, "Have you come a long way?"
He answered, "My way is long! I must travel forever throughout the world!" With that he left, but a short time later he returned and asked again for a bite of bread.
I immediately said to myself, "Today you have seen the lost Jew," but to make sure I asked the preacher. He listened to my story and said that he could not prove it, but that the belief was there.

This answer only strengthened the woman's opinion, which was further verified through an innkeeper's wife from a neighboring village, where the Jew had stayed overnight. She reported that he had eaten nothing and that he had not slept. She had prepared a place for him to lie down, but he paced back and forth in the sitting room the entire night.

Even in her old age, the woman who told this story took great pleasure that she had had the good fortune to have seen the lost Jew.




The Eternal Jew on the Matterhorn

Switzerland

Mount Matter beneath the Matterhorn in Valais is a high glacier from which the Vispa River flows. According to popular legend, an imposing city existed there ages ago. The Wandering Jew (as many Swiss call the Eternal Jew) came there once and said: "When I pass this way a second time there will be nothing but trees and rocks where you now see houses and streets. And when my path leads me here a third time, there will be nothing but snow and ice."

And now nothing can be seen there but snow and ice.




The Wandering Jew on the Grimsel Pass

Switzerland

On the way from Meiringen to the famous Rhône glacier, one sees some of the most beautiful and varied scenery in the world. After passing charming points too numerous to mention, the road, which rises rapidly, leads over the barren Grimsel Pass, where stands a famous refuge for poor travellers, the well-known Grimsel Hospice.

A legend claims that in olden times this region blossomed like the rose, and that the highest mountains were as fertile as any valley nestling in a sheltered location at their foot. When Our Lord bade the Wandering Jew [footnote: See the author's Legends of the Virgin and Christ.] begin the never-ending journey for which he is so noted, he immediately set out, and tramping incessantly, started to cross the Alps at the Grimsel.

Although constantly urged along by a power he could not resist, Ahasuerus, the Jew, marked the happy people dwelling on the banks of the Aare and the Rhône, and marvelled at the extreme fertility of the pass, where grapes and figs grew in abundance, where no barren spot could be seen, and where mighty oaks covered the tops of mountains now crowned by eternal snows.

The air was mild and balmy, even at the greatest altitude; and hosts of birds in bright plumage flitted about, twittering and singing in the merriest way. Ahasuerus also noticed that the people were gentle and hospitable, for wherever he asked for food or drink it was quickly granted, and he was warmly invited to tarry with them and rest his weary limbs. This invitation, however, he could not accept; but hurried on, unconscious of the fact that a blight fell over every place through which he passed; for the curse laid upon him not only condemned him to move on for ever, but enhanced his punishment by making cold, want, and pestilence follow in his train.

Many years passed by before the Wandering Jew again found himself near the Alps; but weary as he was, he somewhat quickened his footsteps, hoping to feast his eyes upon the landscape which had so charmed him the first time, and to meet again the warm-hearted people who had been so kind to him once before.

As he drew near the mountains, however, sad forebodings wrung his heart, for they were enveloped in a dense fog, which seemed to him particularly cold and clammy. Hurrying on up the pass, he eagerly looked from side to side, yet saw nothing but dark pines wildly tossing their sombre branches against a gray sky, while ravens and owls flew past him, croaking and hooting. Vines, figs, and oaks had vanished, and the happy people, driven away by the constant windstorms which swept the mountains, had taken refuge in the sheltered valleys. But although all else was changed, the spirit of hospitality still lingered on the heights, for the charcoal-burners gladly shared their meagre supply of coarse food with the Wandering Jew, and warmly invited him to be seated at their campfire.

The Jew, however, had to hasten on; and many long years elapsed before he again trod the Grimsel Pass. For a while he still perceived dark firs and smouldering fires, but it seemed to him that they were much nearer the foot of the mountain than they had been at his second visit. As he climbed upward he also noticed that the path was much more rugged than before, for rocks and stones had fallen down upon it from above, making it almost impassable in certain places. As no obstacle could stop this involuntary traveller, he went on over rolling stones and jagged rocks, and nearing the top of the pass discovered that every trace of vegetation had vanished, and that the place formerly so fertile was now covered with barren rocks and vast fields of snow. Raising his eyes to the peaks all around him he perceived that oaks, beeches, and pines had all vanished, and that the steep mountain sides were heavily coated with ice, which ran far down into the valleys in great frozen streams.

The sight of all this desolation, which had taken the place of such luxuriant vegetation, proved too much for poor Ahasuerus, who sank down on a rock by the wayside and burst into tears. There he sat and sobbed, as he realised for the first time the blighting effect of his passage. His tears flowed so freely that they trickled down into a rocky basin, and when he rose to pursue his way down into the Hasli Valley, he left a little lake behind him.

In spite of the masses of snow and ice all around, and of the cold winds which constantly sweep over that region, the waters of the lake still remain as warm as the tears which fell from Ahasuerus's eyes; and no fish are ever found in this pool.

Still, notwithstanding the desolate landscape, Ahasuerus found the spirit of hospitality not quite dead, for far up on the pass rose a shelter for weary travellers, where they were carefully tended by pious monks. But even here he could not rest, and as he passed along down the mountain, he heard the thunder of falling avalanches behind him. It is during this last journey that he is supposed to have lost the queer old shoe which was long treasured in one of the vaults of the Bern Library.

It is also said that when pausing at one of the huts in the Hasli Valley, he sorrowfully foretold that when fate brought him there for the fourth and last time, the whole fruitful valley, from the top of the mountains down to the Lake of Brienz, would be transformed into a huge unbroken field of ice, where he would wander alone in quest of the final resting-place which until now has been denied him, although Eugene Field claims he found it in the New World. [Footnote: See "The Holy Cross" by Eugene Field.]

This account of the passage of the Wandering Jew is told with slight variations of all the passes between Switzerland and Italy. Every particularly barren spot in the former country is supposed to have been blighted because he passed through there, or because mortals sinned so grievously that they brought a curse down upon it.




The Mysterious Stranger

England

Anno 165_.

At _ _in the Moorlands in Staffordshire, lived a poor old man, who had been a long time lame. One Sunday, in the afternoon, he being alone, one knocked at his door; he bade him open it, and come in. The stranger desired a cup of beer; the lame man desired him to take a dish and draw some, for he was not able to do it himself. The stranger asked the poor old man how long he had been ill.

The poor man told him.

Said the stranger, "I can cure you. Take two or three balm leaves steeped in your beer for a fortnight or three weeks, and you will be restored to your health; but constantly and zealously serve God." The poor man did so, and became perfectly well.

This stranger was in a purple-shag gown, such as was not seen or known in those parts. And nobody in the street after evensong did see any one in such a colored habit.

Doctor Gilbert Sheldon, since Archbishop of Canterbury, was then in the Moorlands, and justified the truth of this to Elias Ashmole, Esq., from whom I had this account, and he hath inserted it in some of his memoirs, which are in the [Ashmolean] Museum at Oxford.




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Revised September 9, 2013.