The Wandering Jew – Medieval Tales


The Wandering Jew is a mythical man who originally lived during the time of Jesus. According to the legends, this man mocked Jesus or pushed him as Jesus was being taken to the Cross.

At this, Jesus told him that he would wander the Earth until the Second Coming of Jesus. Based on this account, many stories have been spun around the tale of the Wandering Jew.

In some of these stories, it is claimed that the Wandering Jew still wanders the Earth and is occasionally witnessed by others.

The Story of the Wandering Jew

The story of the Wandering Jew goes as follows. When Jesus had been arrested by the Jewish soldiers, he was asked to carry a cross and go to Calvary, where he was to be crucified.

As Jesus carried this heavy cross on his back and slowly moved towards the Calvary, one of the Jews along the way asked him to go faster.

At this, Jesus replied that the Wandering Jew would have to wait till the Second Coming of Jesus. This is seen as a curse that the Wandering Jew is doomed to roam the Earth until Jesus comes a second time on the Earth.

Who was the Wandering Jew?

The precise identity of the Wandering Jew is not known. It has been differently given by different sources. Some sources state that he was merely one of the Jews who lined Jesus’ walk to the Cross.

In other sources, it is stated that the said person was a doorkeeper at the estate of Pontius Pilate. Yet other traditions claim that the Wandering Jew was a tradesman, probably a shoemaker.

One of the names ascribed to the legendary Wandering Jew is Buttadeus. This name has Latin origins and means ‘someone who beats or strikes.’

The name derives from the story that the said person struck Jesus or pushed him to move faster towards Calvary. The Wandering Jew is also sometimes called the ‘Eternal Jew’ on account of the fact that he is condemned to roam the world till the End of Days.

Medieval Legends about Wandering Jew

Many legends sprang up about the Wandering Jew during the medieval period. One of these was that the Wandering Jew was granted a respite every year on Christmas.

On this day, he could rest by sitting on a plow only. Another legend had it that every 100 years, the Wandering Jew returned to the age of 30 which ensured that he remained immortal till the Second Coming.

Another story contained in the famous 13th-century work Flores Historiarum states that an Armenian bishop met a man in Armenia. This man claimed to be the Jew who struck and scolded Jesus to go faster. The bishop gave his name Cartaphilus.

According to the story, Cartaphilus later converted to Christianity and continued his endless days preaching or living a solitary life.

Claimed Sightings of the Wandering Jew

Towards the end of the medieval period and through Reformation, several claimed sightings of the Wandering Jew occurred. These coincided with a time when on the one hand, anti-Semitic sentiments were on the rise, and on the other hand, the Jewish Question had been raised.

One of these alleged sightings occurred in Hamburg in 1542. Other sightings occurred in other parts of Europe. Some have also been claimed to have occurred in the United States.

The Theme in Art and Culture

The theme of the Wandering Jew has been explored in the art and culture of Europe since the medieval ages. Many novels, plays, stories, and paintings have been made on the theme. The artists behind these works have broadly interpreted the character.