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Chagall window with Jesus Crucifixion scene in Fraumunster Church, Old Towne Zurich

The red-orange "Prophets" window in the FrauMunster depicts Elisha watching Elijah's ascension in a fiery chariot. Above that is a blue area in which Jeremiah sits above, head in hands, lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. A multicolored God in heaven, sending beams of enlightenment to his prophets.

The blue "Jacob" window shows the patriarch's wrestling match with an Angel of the Lord and his dream of the ladder full of reddish-colored angels. I paid the least attention to the green "Christ" window, wth a family tree of Jesus and looked at the the blue window, in which Moses holds the Ten Commandments.

Why Did Chagall Paint Jesus Crucifixion Scenes in A Church in Old Towne Zurich ?

by Rhonda Spivak, November 10, 2013

I was in Old Towne Zurich last February  and had just accidentally discovered  the site of a former synagogue  in  what used to be a Jewish ghetto before the Jews were  expelled from Zurich in the Middle Ages. It was a very chilly day and I decided to have a peak at the landmark Church known as the FrauMunster (I am reminded of Herman Munster every time I say the name.) thinking more of getting a reprieve from the cold wind than anything. After opening the heavy wooden door, I entered the church and gazed up at the five marvelous windows by famed Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall. A woman motioned to me to sit down and pray with the others, and I was going to tell her that I couldn't because it was too early for "mincha -maariv", but I thought that might confuse her. After telling her that I was there to admire the Chagall Windows, I set out to learn how Chagall ended up with this window contract, (windows were installed in 1970).

The story is rather interesting. The church had tried and failed to find a local artist to redesign colored windows for the Fraumunster. Then a 1967 Chagall exhibition at the Kunsthaus (Art Museum) of Zurich led to the project for Chagall, to create these windows. (In 1967, 80-year old  Chagall accepted the commission.)

What interested me most was the Green window, Chagall 's Christ Window, in which he painted the family tree of Jesus and the Crucifixion.  I have wondered whether Chagall knew the reasons that Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah when he created this window, although I assume he must have as he was raised in a Hasidic home. 

Jews during Jesus's time (and onwards) didn't accept Jesus as the Messiah because according to Judaism a number of conditions were supposed to have been met when the Messiah arrived: 1. A catastrophe was to have occurred 2. There was supposed to be an ingathering of the exiles before the Messiah 3. The Messiah was to rule the land of Israel (as opposed to having the Messiah killed as Jesus was) 4. There was to be a New Covenant (a re-commitment as opposed to the doing away with the laws of Kashrut, circumcision, etc.) 5. A new Temple was to be built  6. A period of peace was to be ushered in 7. All the nations of the world were to recognize God (and were to abide by the seven basic Noahide laws, as opposed to the Christian notion of the end of times where everyone who doesn't accept Jesus is burned in hell  

Another reason Jews didn't accept Jesus was that according to Judaism the Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of King David on his father's side-the Messiah was supposed to have human parents (vs. Jesus who had no father and whose Mother Mary had a virgin birth). In fact, by showing Jesus's  virgin Mary lineage, Chagall exposes one of the reasons why Jews did not accept Jesus, in his green window depiction of Jesus in the Fraumunster.


When I saw the Chagall windows in this Church I had just accidentally found the site of  the first Jewish synagogue in Zurich in what was the Medieval Jewish ghetto in 1349.  It is only a few blocks away from the Fraumunster church with Chagall's windows, a church which existed in Medieval times.  [In those times, the population believed the deicide charge that, as was written in the Gospels of the New Testament, Jews had been behind the killing of Jesus, and Christians believed without any basis that Jews were responsible for the Black Death because they were poisoning the wells. When in 1349 the body of a young boy was found in a stream behind the synagogue, the Christians burned Jews at the stake, and almost overnight Zurich was cleansed of Jews until 1868.]

I assume Chagall knew of this awful history, but agreed to this commission in the Fraumunster  in 1967 as a way of contributing to Christian-Jewish reconciliation. Interestingly, Chagall , who himself fled France under Nazi occupation, create stained glass windows in a number of Churches, and included Jesus crucifixion scenes.  Apparently, as a way of contributing to Christian-Jewish reconciliation, he even painted choir windows in St. Stephan 's Cathedral  in Germany between 1978 and his death in 1985.

From what I could tell, in the green window of the Fraumunster church, Chagall's crucifixion depiction was not of a Jewish Jesus, unlike many of his paintings where he depicted a Jewish Jesus. In the Fraumunster church window, I couldn't discern any obvious depiction of Jesus as a Jew. This is unlike paintings where the artist depicted Jesus as a Jew, where  Jesus’s  private parts were covered with a tallit or he was wearing t'fillin.


In his paintings during the Nazi period Chagall made Jesus unmistakably Jewish, highlighting the fact that the Romans crucified Jesus as a Jew. In the midst of the Holocaust, Chagall wanted to alert the world to look at Jewish suffering and used tJesus as a messenger whose purpose was to bear witness to the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and bring it to the attention of the world."

Since seeing the Fraumunster's Jesus stained glass window, I have wondered what message Chagall was trying to give. Some say Chagall was obsessed with painting Jesus's crucifixion. Apparently he had his own doubts about using Christian imagery in his paintings,  at various points consulting the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Israeli president Chaim Weizmann on the matter.


I left the FrauMunster to return to watch the swans and seagulls over Lake Zurich, and then to my hotel and the Laptop mit Drucker Fur hotelgaste (laptop and printer for hotel guests), where I tried to find more information about the Fraumunster's Chagall Windows.

But it is only now on writing this article that I have wondered whether Chagall in retrospect may have done fewer Church commissions had he known that in the end he would be buried in a Christian, not a Jewish cemetery. As Jacob  Baal-Teshuva  has written in his book titled 'Chagall',

"In contrast to Chagall's first wife Bella, who was deeply rooted in Jewish culture...his second wife Vava was more indifferent to Jewry, although her origins were Jewish. When the artist died in 1985, it was Vava who insisted on him being buried in the Catholic cemetery on Saint Paul de Vence, although Joseph Pinson, the Chief Rabbi of Nice, had suggested burying the artist in th

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.