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Three Jews accused of ritual child murder, were executed at Venice

On 6 July 1480, three Jews accused of ritual child murder, required for the performance of their Passover rites, during the Passover period of that year, were executed at Venice. Servadio da Colonia, money lender at Portobuffolè, Mosè da Treviso and Giacobbe of Cologne [1], having confessed -- sometimes spontaneously and sometimes under torture -- were impaled and burned alive in public in the Piazza San Marco, between the two columns of San Marco and San Todaro. Another defendant, Giacobbe "with the beard", committed suicide in prison to avoid torture.

Other Jews, from Portobuffolè and Treviso, were condemned to various punishments of imprisonment for complicity in the crime and thereafter banned from Venice and its territory. Tried and condemned before the podestà of Portobuffolè, the Venetian Andrea Dolfin, the defendants had appealed to the Avogaria di Commun, but, notwithstanding the fact that they were defended by some of the best lawyers in Padua, their sentence was upheld. [2]

According to the indictment, a small wandering beggar about six years of age, a native of Seriate in the Bergamo region, had been abducted from the market place at Treviso, where he had been begging, by two Jews, who were alleged to have taken him to nearby Portobuffolè, on the Livenza river, in an eventful journey, the stages of which did not pass entirely unobserved by travelers and boatmen.

Here, in the dwelling of the local money lender, Servadio, who was also the instigator of the abduction, the cruel crime was said to have been committed for ritual purposes, in the presence and with the active participation of other local and foreign Jews. After draining off the blood, the perpetrators burnt the body in the oven of a house owned by Mosè da Treviso, another money lender at Portobuffolè. Denunciations and informer's reports, including Donato, Seradio's servant, then converted to Christianity, are said to have led to the indictment

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of the Jewish defendants and to their condemnation for the murder of the nameless little victim, immediately rebaptized under the name of Sebastiano Novello, of obvious significance.

Portobuffolè, like so many other small centres of the Marca of Treviso and the territory of Venice, was, in the 15th century the seat of a community of Ashkenazi Jews, the traces of which have remained in Hebraic manuscript texts, copied in that small city in the years preceding the Sebastiano Novello murder. [3]

The chronicle of this cruel execution, as described by the diarist apologists of the time, inform us that at least one of the defendants, Servadio, faced death in prayer, accompanied by contemptuous remarks about Christianity. [4]

This detail may be related to the legendary story of a stone slab, walled in the Ashkenazim synagogue Scola Canton of the ghetto of Venice, containing a verse from the psalms

(32:10: 'Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall encompass him ’).

In the local Hebraic tradition, this phrase is said to have been pronounced by Servadio himself, among the flames of the stake in the Piazza San Marco. During these terrible moments, the condemned man is said to have taken the time to point out the unhappy informer, his servant Donato, baptized under the name of Sebastiano, to the Jews in the crowd, who were present at this terrifying ceremony.

The spectators are said to have included Josef, cantor of the synagogue of Portobuffolè (who was perhaps the same Fays who acted as teacher in Servadio’s dwelling), who is said to have interpreted the Psalm with a new meaning, imparted by the person reciting it: "The bitter pains which I suffer, will fall on the wicked". [5]

Thus history and hagiography became confused, while the authenticity and memory of the child’s true martyrdom ricocheted back and forth between Christians and Jews.

Two Jews publicly executed for ritual murder

Milan, summer of 1482. A brother of the Order of the Serviti, Giovanni Guerra, and Simone, Jew of Tortona were publicly executed by order of the Duke. Guerra was said to have been accused of barbarously killing a child about nine years of age, near the farmhouse Scorticavacca di Volpedo, near Tortona, on Holy Tuesday of that year; the second defendant was accused of instigating the friar to commit the crime, so as to obtain the blood of a Christian child, as required for the Jewish Passover rites.

Both defendants confessed. In the preceding May, a special commission had left the Court of the Sforzas with the assignment of investigating the cruel death of Giovannino Costa, a young shepherd, who was accustomed to coming down from the hills to Tortona to sell eggs and butter on market days. [6]

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The diligent commissioner ordered the arrest of all the members of the little Jewish community of German origin, including Madio (Mohar, Meir), the local money lender, and the requisition of all pledges deposited in the bank. The persons under investigation were subsequently transferred to Milan. At the conclusion of the investigation, the culpability of the Jew Simone, the instigator, and the "scoundrel friar", the unnatural, cruel executioner, was clearly established. The other persons under investigation, including the banker, were released, following a finding that they had had nothing to do with the crime, and were permitted to leave Tortona.

The official correspondence sent by the court

From the official correspondence sent by the court of the Sforzas to the podestà and the bishop of Tortona, we learn that:

"A certain homicide being committed during the past Holy Days against the person of a boy, at the instance of certain Jews in the diocese of Derthona, the following persons are held in prison here: Fra Giovanni Guerra of the Order of the Servants, and one Simon, a Jew, who did not deny having committed the said excess, the horrible and detestable nature of which, in the eyes of any faithful Christian, we leave to you to judge [...]. The wicked friar, with many wounds, cruelly killed the innocent boy in the region of Derthona to sell his blood to the Jews". [7]

The death of the presumed guilty parties and the prompt release of the other suspected Jews were insufficient to restore equilibrium to their relations with the community of Tortona. Many Jews emigrated elsewhere, the others became Christian. Simon's widow, executed at Milan, was left with a daughter, who took the name of Michela. Simon’s other four sons, two aged less than seven, and the other two ten and twelve respectively, were made to take refuge with the Jews of Piacenza, out of fear that they might be converted to Christianity.

On 24 April 1483, the Duke of Milan, under pressure from the justly impatient bishop of Tortona, Giacomo Botta, requested the podestà of Piazenza to do everything possible to ensure that his two smaller sons were returned with speed to Donna Michela to receive the holy baptism. [8]

In the collective memory of the Ashkenazi Jews of Northern Italy, the crime of Volpedo was to appear rather similar to that of Trent; it is true that Yoseph Ha-Cohen (Giuseppe Sacerdoti), one of the most famous Jewish chroniclers of the 16th century, after sadly reporting the events linked to the martyrdom of Simonino, observed that

"in those years, the Jews in the territory of Tortona were slandered because of a Jew of the place, as had happened at Trent, and here, as well, the boy, named Giovannino, was called a saint;

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and the people went fornicating behind him, and for us, it was only harm and disgrace". [9]

The Volpedo case, involving a criminal wearing the cassock of a brother in the Holy Orders, was not an isolated one.

Minorite Franciscan friar arrested for accepting a commission from local Jews to commit a child murder to get Christian blood for their Passover

In the summer of 1481, a Minorite Franciscan friar was arrested at Cortemaggiore on a charge of accepting a commission from local Jews to commit a child murder intended to provide them with Christian blood for their Passover, the generous commission amounting to four hundred gold ducats. Placed in a cage and appended from the bell tower at Cremona, the friar was left to die slowly of starvation, after which his body became a feast for birds of prey. [10] The documents say nothing of the fate of the Jews, the presumed instigators of this holy homicide.

Arena, April 1479. In this village on the banks of the Po river, a child disappeared along the road from Padua to Piacenza during the Passover period of that year, while suspicion immediately fell on the local money lenders Bellomo di Madio (Simha Bunim b. Meir), and his entourage. Finally, David, employed by Bellomo, decided to spill the beans and reveal the particulars of this obscure crime. His patron had commissioned Donato, a Jew from Padua, to abduct a Christian child "to prepare for the Jewish ceremonies".

False accusation of a child cruelly crucified in a holy ceremony with the participation of all the local Jews

Conveyed in secrecy to Bellomo’s dwelling, the child, known only by the nickname "Turlulu", was said to have been cruelly crucified in a holy ceremony with the participation of all the local Jews and others from other neighboring villages. The little victim’s body is finally said to have been thrown by night into the muddy waters of the Po. [11]

This was considered sufficient to proceed with the arrest of the parties guilty of this brutal crime, as well as that of their accomplices, both men and women, including Bellomo’s wife, who uselessly but vehemently protested her husband’s innocence.

Sacle (Izchak), a money lender from the Borgo San Giovanni, in the Piacenza region, who had, years before, been mentioned in the defendant’s depositions at the Trent trial as an habitual consumer of Christian blood, and had for this reason been exposed to more than a few minor risks, was also arrested and taken to Pavia, where he was to be tried. [12]

In the meantime, Donato, the supposed author of the abduction and one of the principal perpetrators of the child’s crucifixion, at the conclusion of a difficult interrogation confessed everything and pointed an accusing finger at Belomo and his family. The podestà of Pavia lost no time and proceeded with the seizure and confiscation of all the goods of the Jews of Arena.

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But then a sensation occurred. Turlulu, the crucified child, turned up perfectly safe and sound. His body, examined by physicians and experts with all due diligence, didn’t even have a scratch on it. At this point, Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza and his mother, the duchess Bona, imperiously requested that Bellomo and Donato, the principle defendant, accused of a ritual infanticide that never happened, were transferred, without further delay, to Milan, together with the resurrected boy.

The protests of the Pavian authorities, who desired unperturbedly to proceed with preparations for the trial, as if nothing had happened, produced no effect. The guileless Turlurlu was presented on a seat in the Senate, in Milan, unaware of the reasons for all the hullabaloo, having himself become the principal personage in a sort of "virtual" ritual homicide. His interrogation helped disperse the fog of mystery which still envelopes this grotesque tale. Finally, as might have been anticipated, Bellomo and Donato were acquitted of all charges in the indictment for a crime which was never committed, were released from jail and permitted to return to Arena.

The Duke of Milan and his mother did not fail to voice their own profound disappointment to the rulers of Pavia in a missive, sent after the release of the Jews, written without any moderation of discourse: "We are amazed, not without annoyance, by this scandalous invention, of which have just caused such great inconvenience to both people and subjects". He concluded the letter, celebrating his own sense of justice and equanimity, "that we have caused the truth to be known about such a scandalous imputation". The Duke then demanded that the property illegally seized at Bellomo and other Jews of Arena be immediately returned. [13]

One month later, there was still no change in the situation, and, as a result of the protests from the Jews, the Duke of Milan repeated, with renewed vigor, his request that the goods seized from them at the time should be returned. The response, from the podestà of Pavia, is an inimitable example of both impudence and insensitivity. He would release the Jews’ property, and sign it back over to them, but the heavy burden of procedural costs, plus the salaries of all judges, notaries and functionaries having concerned themselves with the case, would have to be paid by the acquitted defendants. The ineffable podestà said that he was fully convinced that the Jews would be open-minded and well disposed to accede to the paradoxical statement that, "for so little money, I am certain the Jews will not prove themselves too unwilling". [14]

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The facts of the Arena case led the representatives of the Jewish communities of Lombardy to appeal to Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza, so that he might defend them from the ritual murder accusations which were spreading dangerously, like a spot of oil on water, throughout all the territories at that time, threatening to conclude in the same tragic manner as the Trent affair.

Nor could the confessions, often extorted with torture and violence, constitute valid proof linking the Jews to such horrendous crimes, as indicated by the outcome of the affair at Arena Po ("the accused, at the said locality of Arena, as a result of the tremendous torments inflicted upon them in various parts of the body, confessed to committing a crime of which they were innocent, and confined in the Castello, and in the Casa del Capitanio di Giustizia, for acknowledging that what they had said was actually true, and if God, in his grace, had not sent word that the boy had been found, they would have fared worse than the defendants at Trent, which only God knows whether it was true or not, and let us just hope that God makes a demonstration of the truth in due time").

The Arena case was not an isolated one. The Jews, in their appeal of 19 May 1479, informed Sforza that other, repeated, accusations of ritual infanticide, all proving false and inconsistent, had been made over the last few months in various cities of the Dukedom, from Pavia to Valenza, from Stradella to Bormio. [15]

"The following case occurred two months ago: in Valenza, finding that a boy was missing, suspicion being aroused against the Jews of that region, the Jews were badly threatened, and if, by the grace of God, the boy had not been found drowned in a ditch, they would certainly have suffered worse. Similarly, a boy from Monte Castillo being lost, the Jews of that region were accused, but the boy was later found [...].

The same thing happened at Bormio, as well as at Pavia: a boy remained outside the bridge of Ticino after nightfall and was taken in by a gentleman, to stay at his house, so as to return him to his own home; and as the boy was not immediately found, suspicion fell upon the Jews, with much murmuring against the Jews; a house was searched with many threats, in such a way that the patron of the house fled in fear and has still not returned. And if the boy had not then been found, the Jews would not have been without danger and serious trouble, as happened to the Jews of Stradella, as well as at Pavia, which were sacked, causing the people to grumble, at the risk of raising a great scandal and disorder to the detriment and danger of the State of Your Illustrious Lordship". [16]

After stating the classical motives, which should have deprived the ritual murder accusation of all credibility, particularly, in light of the Biblical prohibition against killing and against the consumption of blood, the

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representatives of the Jewish communities of Lombardy added another motive, which to our minds appears seems odd. In the lands of the Great Turk, where powerful and wealthy Jews lived and prospered, owning large numbers of Christian slaves, both adults and children, it was said to be an easy matter for Jews to procure the blood of Christian children without running any risk to their persons and property at all.

But this did not occur, and there was no news from those regions of child murders committed by Jews for ritual purposes.

"There are, it is said there, innumerable rich Jews in the lands of the Turks, Moors and other infidels, who hold slaves and servants, and are able to have the [Christian] boys at their pleasure, to do what they liked with them without respect or danger, which does not prevent them from doing such things in the lands of the Christians, at the price of great danger, not only to their property but also to their person". [17]

The argument could just as easily have been turned around. Even the most inveterate anti-Semites knew in fact that the accusations of ritual murder and profanation of the Host were confined to relatively small geographical areas, which included all Jewish communities of the German-language regions, as well as all the Ashkenazi regions in Italy, at the foot of the Alps. [18]

Giovanni Hinderbach himself, in the autographic preamble to the trials, explained the manner in which the child murder committed by the Jews of Trent was in no way a novelty.

"In fact", he added, "the impiety of the Jews has come cruelly to light over the past few years in many cities and localities of Germany, as well as in regions such as Swabia and Bavaria, Austria and Styria, the Rhineland and Saxony, as well as in Poland and Hungary". [19]

The lands of the Great Turk were obviously excluded.

A five-year old child, Lorenzino Sossio, was found murdered, his body horribly mutilated

Not many years had passed since the incidents at Arena, Portobuffolè and Volpedo, when a new ritual murder case came to light, upsetting the lives of the Jewish communities of northern Italy. During Holy Week, April of 1485, in Valrovina, in the territories of the Marostica region, a five-year old child, Lorenzino Sossio, was found murdered, his body horribly mutilated. [20]

The macabre discovery, at the feet of an oak tree in a pasture on the upland plain, was made by a local goatherd, while a hermit ("a devout hermit, who had long been a spectator and had diligently observed everything") informed the authorities and populace that the killers had committed the horrendous crime by mutilating

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poor Lorenzino in the foreskin, [21] "inflicting upon him by force of repeated punctures and wounds in the blood vessels", finally stoning the body and covering it with stones. The news was immediately disseminated that the persons responsible for the ritual murder were Jews, from Bassano, "having come to the Vicentino for business or pleasure, but perhaps principally to commit the crime".

Thus the chronicles reported the tragic fate of Lorenzino Sossio da Valrovina, later beatified as Simoncino of Trent, de quo adest traditio cum fuisse ab hebreis occisum [of whom tradition has it that he was killed by the Jews].

"In 1485, 5 April in the Villa di Valrovina under Marostica in the territory of the Vicentino region, the Jews stoned the Sainted Lorenzino, 5 years old, and buried him several times under rocks; but one of his arms always extended from the grave. Once discovered, the delinquents were punished, and all the Jews were expelled by the above mentioned residents of the Vicentino from their City and District; and the Serenissima Prince of Venice confirmed the sentence by Ducal order in 1486". [22]

Five years later, in the spring of 1500, the podestà of Vicenza, Alvise Moro, informed the Venetian authorities that the "devote hermit", sole eyewitness to the crime, after being incarcerated and duly tortured, had revealed the name of the person guilty of Lorenzino’s murder. The murderer was alleged to be ben Marcuccio, money lender at Bassano ("which hermit is in prison here, and would like permission to speak, wishing to know the truth: that if they took one Marcuzzo, a Jew, they would find out something [...] take the Jew, accused of killing the boy, and take Marchuzo da Bassan, and you will learn the truth, is what the hermit said, in those very words"). [23]

Marcuccio was the son of Lazzaro Sacerdote of Treviso, who worked at Cittadella and was a nephew of Salamone da Piove di Sacco. [24]

Active at Bassano although highly unpopular locally, he had until then enjoyed the protection of Venice, constant over time, the City having renewed his ten-year money lending permit in April 1499. [25]

We do not know whether the tardy revelations of the "devote hermit" induced Marcuccio to leave Bassano and turn over the management of the local money lending bank. But that was precisely what happened: after the nephew of Salamone da Piove had become, it seems, the principal protagonist of a tardy trial, brought at Vicenza for the murder of the boy Marostica. However that may be, even in that region, the mystery of the crime was not solved, nor were the guilty ever identified with certainty.

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In the light of what we have just observed, it seems obvious that the expulsion of the Jews from Vicenza in 1486 and the cessation of their money-lending activities were not related to the presumed martyrdom of the Saint Lorenzino. [26]

Of course, none of this will discourage historians, scholars and local priests constantly on the lookout for more or less imaginary holy personages by means of whom their own poverty-stricken, obscure village or locality may be exalted, causing it to perform an otherwise inconceivable quantum leap of fame.

A company of Jewish merchants ritually murder a child for the Christian blood

Twenty three years before, at Rinn, diocese of Bressanone, on the road to Innsbruck. A company of Jewish merchants, returning from the fair at Merano, were traversing a small village in the Tyrol and bumped into a three-year old child, Andrea Oxner. Having informed themselves as to his family, the Jews knew that the mother was far from home, in the fields at Ambras reaping wheat, and that little Andrea had been entrusted to the care of his godfather, the "Weisselbauer" of Rinn, Hannes Mayr.

Employing every possible stratagem and pretext, the Jews induced this dishonest peasant to hand the child over to them, promising that they would take him away with them to live a life of ease and comfort. But they had no intention of traveling very far with him. Stopping in a birch tree thicket, a little ways above Rinn, "the innocent victim’s veins were barbarously and cruelly severed by those inhuman creatures, who then hung the bloodless cadaver from a tree".

Having obtained the Christian blood which they needed, the Jewish merchants hurried to leave the scene, crossing the northern confines of the Tyrol on the road to Ellbogen. [27]

The martyred child’s body was discovered by the desperate mother. The godfather, under intense interrogation, admitted entrusting Andrea to the Jews on the promise that they would educate the child in luxury and riches. He then confessed that he had been persuaded by innumerable glasses of wine, drunk in the company of those foreigners, and a hatful of gold coins which had been placed in his hand. The impious Mayr’s fate was signed, more by God than by men. "The perfidious peasant who sold the child was condemned to perpetual imprisonment in his own house, linked with chains, where he lived imprisoned and mad for a good two whole years". [28]

Thus recites the implausible hagriography of Andrea of Rinn, which is full of gaps and for which there is no convincing contemporary documentation. The report remains inextricably linked to local traditions whose relationship to reality can only leave one perplexed and dubious.

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Nevertheless, the cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli, later Pope Clement XIV, in his famous report of 19 January 1760, presented to the Congregation of the Holy Office, with which he intended in general to absolve the Jews from the accusation of ritual infanticide, made an exception, in addition to for the martyrdom of Simon of Trent, also for that of Andreas of Rinn. The two cases were to be considered exceptional events, not to be generalized, but were nevertheless concrete and real [29]:

"I therefore admit as true the fact of the sainted Simon, the boy of three years of age killed by Jews in hatred of the faith of Jesus Christ in Trent in the year 1475 [...] I accept as true another crime, committed in the village of Rinn, diocese of Bressanone, in 1462, against the sainted Andrea, a boy barbarously killed by the Jews in hatred of the faith of Jesus Christ [...] I do not, however, believe, even admitting as true the true facts of Bressanone and Trent, that one can justifiably deduce that this is a maxim, either theoretical or practical, of the Hebrew nation, since two events alone are insufficient to establish a certain and common axiom". [30]

The accused in the Trent trial in 1475, under torture, supplied ample testimony of ritual homicides committed, according to them, in the preceding years in the German-speaking lands from which they came, and in the centers of northern Italy where communities of Ashkenazi Jews had formed more or less recently. The defendants were alleged to have assisted or participated in these murders directly; in some cases, they had only heard about them from others. Sometimes they were able to remember the names of the other Jews who had taken part.

Isacco da Gridel, near Vedera, immigrated from Voitsberg, a village near Cleburg, was employed as a cook by Angelo of Verona, one of the principle defendants in the trial for the death of Simonino. In 1460, Isacco attended the lower courses of a Talmudic school at Worms, in the territory of the Rhineland, and it was there that he participated in a ritual murder, a little before Passover.

Ritual murder of a two year old child for blood

A Jew by the name of Hozelpocher is said to have purchased a two-year old child from a Christian beggar at a very high price and to have taken the child to his dwelling in the Jewish quarter. The murder is said to have been committed here, in the spacious "stufa" [parlor] of the house, in a collective ritual, with the participation of about forty local Jews. The blood is said to have been gathered in a glass receptacle, but is not said to have reached the quantity of liquid contained in two egg shells. [31]

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Joav of Ansbach in Franconia was a domestic servant in the house of the Maestro Tobias da Magdeburg, the occulist physician of Trent. Joav had recently immigrated from the city of Prince Bishop Hinderbach, and had previously rendered service in the house of a Jew named Mohar (Meir) at Würzburg for over fifteen years. During this period, Joav testified to having seen the Christian servant, Elisabeth Baumgartner, assigned to housework, which was forbidden to Jews on Sabbath days, introduce Christian children into the dwelling, in secrecy and during the night, on at least three occasions.

The murders were said to have been committed in the wood-shed, in a collective ritual which then concluded in the chapel-synagogue, in a ceremony with the participation of numerous local Jews. The blood was gathered in a silver chalice, while the children’s bodies were buried at night in a terrain owned by Mohar, outside the city. [32]

Mosè of Ansbach, the young teacher of Maestro Tobias’s children, for his part, informed the judges that, in 1472, while he was working at Nuremberg, he had learned that a ritual murder had been committed approximately eight years beforehand, in the dwelling of a certain Mayer Pilmon, in the presence of and with the participation of all the males of the family. [33]

Professional child hunters - ritual murderers for the Christian blood

Mosè da Bamberg was a poor traveler who, having left Bayreuth with his son on his way to Pavia, had stopped for a brief stay in the city of Trent, as a guest in money lender Samuele da Nuremberg’s house, and had, to his disgrace, been present during the tragic days of the murder, confessing his knowledge of the murders to the judges.

In 1466, on the road from Frankfurt on the Oder, in the Marca of Brandenburg, while transporting some goods to be sold in that city, he had stumbled across some professional child hunters. While traveling through a thick forest, Mosè had, in fact, encountered two Jews, remembering only the their first names, Salamone and Giacobbe, in the act of preparing to hurl into a nearby river the bodies of two boys, massacred by them previously. Their prey had been captured in a small peasant village at the foot of the forest. [34]

The two hunters showed the appalled Mosè their tin-plated iron bottles, filled with red liquid, and were satisfied at the thought that they were going to rake in a tidy sum through the sale of that liquid. But they needed the money to live. [35]

Whether or not this was all simply a Grimm's Brothers fairy tale, which might well be told at the right time and place to frighten children and give them sleepless nights, we don't know. It is certain that the poor Mosè da Bamberg could not precisely remember the identity of the two hunters and was unable to locate the

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forest in which the crimes had been committed; nor did he know the names of the two victims or the village from which they had been abducted, or the name of the river into which they were said to have been thrown. He recited this fantastic confession before his attentive inquisitors, oscillating, suspended by a rope tied around his feet and his head downwards. [36]

Israel of Brandenburg, the strange young painter, later baptized under the name of Wolfgang, knew how to be loquacious when he had to be, and had heaps of picturesque ritual murder tales to tell, tales which had reached his ears more or less directly, with which to regale his avid and powerful interlocutors. He had allegedly gathered this information for several months, moving from the Rhineland to the Tyrol, then down to Venice, traveling through the cities of the Veneto. He claimed to possess first hand information on the ritual murders of Christian children committed at Güzenhausen in 1461 and Wending ten years afterwards. At Piove di Sacco and Feltre, Jews from his native country had told him of the ritual murders recently committed at Padua and at Mestre. [37]

The women in the trial were no less prominent and their report of the child murders committed by their men, husbands, parents, friends and friends, were precise and detailed. Bona, Angelo da Verona’s sister, was a survivor of family and marital problems. She had lived with her stepfather, Chaim, from the time she was a little girl, first at Conegliano del Friuli and then at Mestre. When she was little over fourteen years old, she had been married off, against her will, to Madio (Meir), a Jew from Borgomanero in the Novara region.

Madio had a reputation as a madman and a thoroughly bad egg, who, after wasting the already scanty family fortune in gambling, had abandoned her, moving elsewhere. As a result, Bona had returned to her mother's house at Conegliano del Friuli, and was then taken to Trent with her mother Brunetta (Brünnlein), also an unhappy and frustrated woman, as the more or less welcome guests of her brother, Angelo da Verona, who had, in recent years, been able to scrape together a small fortune in the money trade.

Before the judges, Bona admitted to using Christian blood during the Passover period, beginning as early as her brief matrimonial journey to Borgomanero. Her husband Madio had obtained it from a carpenter friend, guilty of killing a boy for this purpose from Masserano in Piedmont.

"(Bona) [said that], during the entire time that she stayed with the said husband (Madio), her husband used the blood of a Christian child [...] and she did the same during the three year period of her stay at the Castello di Borgomanero, adding, when asked, that her husband had obtained the blood he used from a certain

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Mosè, a Jewish carpenter and resident of Masserano in Piedmont; that Mosè had conveyed the blood to her husband through a servant of the said Mosè, whose name Bona said she did not know, and that the servant, in bringing the blood, in Bona’s presence, had told Madio that Mosè had obtained the blood in this manner; and that one day, as Mosè was on his way home from someplace, he had met a Christian child whom he abducted and brought in secrecy to his dwelling, killing him and draining the blood". [38]

A three-year old child murdered for blood

On the other hand, Bona, in perfect accord with Sara, Maestro Tobias’s second wife, who came from Swabia and had lived in Marburg and the Tyrol, with Bella, Mosè da Würzburg’s daughter-in-law, who had married Mosè’s son Mayer (Meir) and knew how to write Yiddish, and Anna, Samuele da Nuremberg’s young daughter-in-law, remembered another child murder committed a few years before, in 1472 or 1473, also at Trent, committed by more or less the same people guilty in the Simon of Trent affair.

This victim of this murder was a three-year old child, sold to Maestro Tobias by a beggar in the German-speaking region and brought to Trent. The child was killed during a collective ceremony in the antechamber of the synagogue, with the participation of the majority of the Jews living in the city; the blood being collected in a silver vase. At night, this same Tobias took charge of throwing the body of the child into the Adige. [39]

Sara, Maestro Tobias’s wife, also remembered having talk, in the house, of another homicide, committed at Trent in 1451 by Isacco and other Jews from Trent; however, she knew nothing of the details. [40]

Isacco was Maestro Tobias’s father-in-law, being the father of Tobias’s first wife, Anna, who had died, leaving Tobias a widower; Isacco is almost certainly identical with the money lender of the same name active at Trent in the first half of the 14th century. [41]

There are, of course, no objective records of these ritual murder stories, eventful and cruel, with their horrible and repulsive connotations.

The defendants were capable of inventing accusations out of whole cloth to placate their jailers; to make them more believable, these stories might have caused the names of relatives or even distant acquaintances to emerge jumbled up from the mists of the past, from the localities of the defendants’ childhood or youth, or from localities in which they had lived for a while. It is impossible to believe that the ritual murders the same period and within the same geographical confines as those we have discussed so far, are any more reliable.


[1] Giacobbe da Colonia was arrested under the accusation of having abducted the child while he was in Treviso, where he had stayed on his way from Piove di Sacco to Portobuffolè. He is almost certainly identical with the Yaakov b. Shimon Levi, who appears in Hebrew documents of the period (cfr. D. Nissim, Famiglie Rapa e Rapaport nell'Italia settentrionale, sec. XV-XVI. With an appendix on the origins of the Miscellanea Rotschild, in A. Piattelli and M. Silvera, authors, Minhat Yehuda. Saggi sul ebraismo italiano in memoria de Yehuda Nello Pavoncello, Rome, 2001, p. 188).

[2] On the ritual murder at Portobuffolè, see, in particular, S.G. Radzik's documented monograph, Portobuffolè, Florence, 1984. In this regard, see the important compendium of texts in [Benedetto Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica sul martirio del beato Simone da Trento nell'anno MCCCCLXXV dagli ebrei ucciso, Trent, Gianbattista Parone, 1747, pp. 272-282, and furthermore A. Ciscato, Gli ebrei a Padova (1300- 1800), Padua, 1901, pp. 136-137; B. Pullan, Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice, Oxford, 1971, pp. 458-460; A. Esposito and D. Quaglioni, Processi contro gli ebrei di Trento, 1475-1478. I: I Processi del 1475; Padua, 1990, pp. 86-89.

[3] At Portobuffolè in 1464, Chaim Israel Stein copied one manuscript of a text by Abraham Ibn Ezra (cfr. A. Freimann, Jewish Scribes in Medieval Italy, in M. Marx Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume, New York, 1950, p. 262, no. 129j). See also Nissim's arguments in Famiglia Rape e Rapaport, cit., pp. 178-181.

[4] "In Piazza di San Marco in ognimano / piena di d'innumerabile persone / per veder arder quel ternario insano / che confirmando la sua confessione / brusaron vivi nell'Ebraico errore / del battesimo sprezzando l'oblazione" ["In the Piazza di San Marco, packed with innumerable people, they watched that maddened lunatic being burnt alive in the Jewish error, despising the offertory of baptism"]

(Giorgio Sommariva da Verona, Martyrium Sebastiani Novelli trucidati a perfidis Judaeis, Treviso, Bernardinmo Celario de Luere, 12 May 1480, reported in [Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., pp. 278);

"[...] ligati sunt et circum circa ignis est accensus, quem sentientes, et se circum circa volventes, ab igne coquebantur et adurebantur, se lamentes et ululantes, quorum senior induratus alios socios ad martyrdom exhortabatur, legem suam enarrans" ["they were tied up and wood was piled up all around them. The wood was set light, which they perceived, and looked all around them while the wood cooked them and hardened them, with their laments and screams. The oldest one of them, tougher than his associates in martyrdom, exhorted them by reciting Jewish law"] in the Diarium parmense, in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. XXII Milan, Tipografia della Società Palatina, 1733, p. 345.

[5] Cfr. A. Ottolenghi, Per il IV centenario della Scuola Canton. Notizie storiche sui templi veneziani di rito tedesco e su alcuni e su alcuni templi privati con cenni della vista ebraica nei secoli XVI-XIX, Venice, 1932, pp. 18-19.

[6] In this regard, see F. Cogo, Vita e martirio del Beato Giovannino da Volpedo, Tortona, 1920; V. Legè, Il Borgo di Volpedo e il Beato Giovannino Costa, Venice, 1921, and, recently, I. Cammarata U. Rozzo, Il beato Giovannino patrono di Volpedo. Un fanciullo "martyr" alla fine del secolo XV, Volpedo, 1997.

[7] Cfr. Cammarata and Rozzo, Il beato Giovannino patrono di Volpedo, cit., pp. 19-24.

[8] Cfr. Sh. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, Jerusalem, 1982, vol. II, p. 873, no. 2103.

[9] Y. Ha-Cohen, Sefer 'Emeq-Bakha (the Vale of Tears), with the Chronicle of the Anonymous Collector, by K. Almbladh, 1981, p. 59 (in Hebrew). It is important to note that, as observed by Isai Sonne, "Yoseph Ha-Cohen generally attributes the deterioration of relations between the Jewish communities in Italy with the surrounding Christian society to the deplorable conduct of the Ashkenazi Jews and their unscrupulousness. The attitude of Italian Jews towards Ashkenazi Jews was exactly similar to that of cultured and refined Italians towards barbarous and uncouth Germans [...]. The events and circumstances in which the responsibility of the Ashkenazi were ascertained and led to the saddest consequences for the entire Jewish community were covered up by Jewish historians in fear of encouraging anti-Semitism. At the most, they could be handed down to a small elect in whom one could trust" (cfr. I. Sonne, Da Paolo IV a Pio V, Jerusalem, 1954, pp. 185-186 [in Hebrew]. These observations had already been published in "Hebrew Union College Annual", XXII (1949), pp. 23-44.

[10] Chronica Gestorum in partibus Lombardie et reliquis Italie, by G. Bonazzi, in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. XXII, tome III, Città del Castello, 1904, p. 106. In this regard, see also Cammarata and Rozzo, Il beato Giovannino patrono di Volpedo, cit., p. 18. The few Jews in Cortemaggiore were linked with the larger community in Piacenza, Dal Monte di Pietà alla Cassa di Risparmio: l'esempio piacentino, in G. Boschiero and B. Molina, authors, Politiche del credito. Investimento consumo solidarietà, Asti, 2004, p. 348).

[11] On the facts of Arena del Po in 1479, see in particular C. Guidetti, Pro Judaeis. Riflessioni e documenti. Turin, 1884, pp. 280-294, and above all Simonson, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I, p. XXII, and vol. II, pp. 738-789, nos. 1794, 1868, 1877-1880, 1882-1884, 1888-1889, 1891-1892, 1895-1897.

[12] Mosè da Bamberg, a German traveller staying in Angelo da Verona's dwelling, told the Trent judges hat he had been in the service of the Sacle, a money lender at Borgo San Giovanni, near Piacenza, and his wife, Potina. According to him, the Ashkenazi Jew had been accustomed to dissolve powdered blood, presumably that of a Christian child, in wine, during the Passover meal, pouring it from his silver chalice into the glasses of the guests. His wife Potina was said to have mixed the blood into the dough of the unleavened bread (cfr. G. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, Trent, 1902, vol. II, pp. 28-29). It should be noted that the name Sacle or Secle (Seckle), a rendering of the Hebrew Izchak (Isaac) was widespread among Jews from Frankfurt and Hessen (cfr. A. Beider, A Dictionary of Ashkenazi Given Names, Bergenfeld, N.J., 2001, p. 342).

[13] Cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. II, p. 784, no. 1888.

[14] Cfr., Ibidem, vol. II, pp. 784-785, no. 1891.

[15] The petition of the Jews to the Duke of Milan (19 May 1479), the original of which is still preserved in the archives of the Jewish community of Verona, was apparently published for the first time by the famous Marrano apologist Isac Cardoso at the end of the Seventeenth Century (D. De Castro Tartas, 1679), who occupies himself at length with the question of the ritual murders. In this regard, see the important analysis, although sometimes accompanied by inexact references, of Y.H. Yerushalmi, Dalla Corte di Spagna al Ghetto italiano, Milan, 1991. The document was published in extenso by Guidetti, Pro Judaeis, cit., pp. 289-294, and later by G.A. Zaviziano, Un raggio di luce. La Persecuzione degli ebrei nella storia. Riflessioni , Corfu, 1891, pp. 173-180 (doc. XVIIIbis). In this regard, as well as with regard to the identification of Corrado Guidetti with the Paduan Jew Giacomo Treves, believed to be pseudonym used by Guidetti, cfr. D. Nissim, La risposta di Isacco Vita Cantarini all'accusa di omicidio rituale di Trento (Padua 1670-1685), in "Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche", LXXIX (2000), pp. 829-835. References to the Jewish petition of the Duchy of Milan in 1479 are also found in V. Manzini, La superstizione omicida e i sacrifici umani, Padua, 1930, pp. 237-239, and in Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit. vol. II, pp. 788- 789.

[16] Cfr. Guidetti, Pro Judaeis, cit. pp. 289-290; Zaviziano, Un raggio di luce, cit., p. 174.

[17] Cfr. Guidetti, Pro Judaeis, p. 291; Zaviziano, Un raggio di luce, cit. p. 176.

[18] Cfr. R. Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475. A Ritual Murder Trial, New Haven (Conn.), 1992, pp. 92-93; "If we construct a cultural geography of blood libel in the region, the location of ritual murder trials coincided with the boundary of German settlements in the Alpine Highlands". Concerning himself with the geography of trials for desecration of the host, Rubin (Gentile Tales. The Narrative Assault on the Late Medieval Jews, New Haven, Conn., 1999, pp. 190-195) reaches the same conclusions, stating that "our story deals with German-speaking regions".

[19] "Nec novum videatur hanc pessimam rem ac nefarium scelus in civitate nostra (sc. Tridenti) hoc anno per impios Judeos esse perpetratum; cum longe crudeliora et atrociora retroactis temporibus in plerisque civitatibus et locis Germaniae et aliarum regionum, utpote Sveviae, Bavariae, Austriae, Stiriae, Rhenique ac Saxoniae, nec non Poloniae et Hungariae" (cfr. [Bonnelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit. pp. 65-66.

[20] On the child murder of Lorenzino Sossio, later beatified, attributed to the Jews on the grounds of ritual murder, see, among others, Francesco Barbarano, Historia ecclestica della citta, territori e diocesei di Vicenza, Cristoforo Rosio, 1652, pp. 172-177; I. Scotton, Compendio della vita, martirio e miracoli del Beato Lorenzino da Valrovina, Venice, 1863; G. Chiuppani, Gli ebrei a Bassano, Bassano, 1907, pp. 73-76; G. Volli, Il beato Lorenzino da Marostica, presunta vittima d'un omicidio rituale, in "La Rassegna Mensile di Israel", XXXIV (1968), pp. 513-526, 564-569; M. Nardello, Il presunto martirio del beato Lorenzino da Marostica, in "Archivio Veneto", CIII (1972), pp. 25-45; T. Caliò, Un omicidio rituale tra storia e leggenda. Il caso del beato Lorenzino da Marostica, in "Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religione", n.s., I (1995), no. 19, pp. 55-82.

[21] "Pueri cadaver, cuius abscisum fuisse videtur praeputium, quia a Judaeis occisu fuerit" ["The boy’s body was seen to have had the foreskin cut off, as if he had been killed by the Jews".]

[22] Cfr. [Bonnelli], Dissertazioni apologetica, cit., pp. 246-255.

[23] The information is derived from Sanudo, (I diarii, by R. Fulin et al, Venice, 1879-1903, columns 250-266, 283). In this regard, see also T. Calio, Il "puer a Judaeis necatus". Il ruolo del racconto agiografico nella diffusione dello stereotipo dell'omicidio rituale, in Le inquisizioni cristiane e gli ebrei, "Atti dei Convegni Lincei", CXCI (2003), p. 475.

[24] Marcuccio moved to the Cittadella in Bassano after 1467 (cfr. Carpi, L’individuo e la collettività, cit., p. 38).

[25] We know that in April 1492, the Consiglio di Bassano had unsuccessfully asked Venice for authorization to expel Marcucio from the City, revoking his permit. On these events, see Chiuppani, Gli ebrei a Bassano, cit., pp. 100-104.

[26] For a serious investigation into the real motives for the expulsion of the Jews from Vicenz in 1486, see Scuro, Alcune notizie sulla presenza ebraica a Vicenza, cit. 27. In the ample, although tardy, bibliography on the martyrdom of Andrea of Rinn, see Ippolito Guarinoni, Triumph Cron Marter und Grabschaft des Heilig-Unschuldigen, Innsbruck, Michael Wagner, 1642; G.R. Schroubeck, Zur Frage der Historizitat des Andreas von Rinn, in "Fenster", XXXVIII (1988), pp. 3766-3774; XXXIX (1986), pp. 3845-3855; G. Kofler, La leggenda dell'omicidio rituale di Andrea Oxner di Rinn, in "Materiali di lavori", 1988, nn. 1-4, pp. 143-149; B. Freschacher, Anderl von Rinn; Ritualmordkult und Neuorientierung in Judenstein 1945-1995; Innsbruck, 1996; G.R. Schroubek, The Question of the Historicity of Andreas of Rinn, in Buttaroni e Musial, Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 159-180.

[28] Cfr. [Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., pp. 235-242.

[29] Cfr. Zaviziano, Un raggio di luce, cit., pp. 115-157 (doc. XIV); C. Roth, The Ritual Murder Liber and the Jews. The Report by Cardinal Lorenzo Gangarelli on Ritual Murder, in S. Buttaroni and S. Musial, Ritual Murder Legend in European History, Cracow-Nuremberg- Frankfurt, 2003, pp. 211-223. Cardinal Ganganelli's report has now been republished by M. Introvigne, Cattolici, antisemitismo e sangue. Il mito dell'omicidio rituale, Milan, 2004, pp. 83-123. Otherwise, Introvigne's work is nothing other than an encyclopaedia of the problem, accompanied by a bibliography which has been only partially updated.

[30] Cfr. Zaviziano, Un raggio di luce, pp. 144-147.

[31] "Dum ipse Isaac staret in dicta Civitate Burmi [...] quadam die ante festum Paschae ipsorum Judaeorum, in quadam stuba magna, in qua aderant circa quadraginta Judaei, dicti Judaei omnes adjuverunt ad interficiendum Puerum Christianum" ["When Isaac was in the said city of Worms [...] a few days before the Jewish feast of Passover, in a large parlor, in the presence of about forty Jews, who helped kill the boy"].

(cfr. [Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 144). See also Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, pp. 94-96; Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., p. 91. It should be noted that in the halakhah, Hebraic ritual law, the minimum unit of measurement for foods, both solid and liquid, are the olive (zait), and the egg (bezah). Isacco's reference to the egg to quantify the amount of blood taken, which seemed so strange to Divina, should not surprise us.

[32] "Quaedam mulier Christiana, nomine Elisabth dicta Paumghartnerin et quae multum praticabat in Domo Mohar praedicti, clandestine portavit tres Pueros Christianos dicto Mohar Judaeo, et quos tres Pueros sic portavit in tribus vicibus et diversis annis, quibus iste Joff stetit famulus Mohar sexdecim annis [...] et dictos Pueros sic portavit de nocte et illos tradebat dictor Mohar". The ritual of the murder and meal of blood was committed "in quadam Camera, qua tenebantur ligna, et quae apud stabulum dictae domus" (cfr. Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., pp. 142-143). On this case, see also Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., pp. 90-91.

[33] Cfr. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 91; Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., p. 91.

[34] "Dum ipse Moyses iret [..] ad quendam terram vocatam Franchort, quae est terra sub dominio Domini Marchionis de Brandenburg, una cum Salomon Hebraeo, cum applicuissent ad quoddam magnum nemus, ibi reperunt Salomonem et Jacob Hebraeos, et aliter nescit cognomina illorum [...] qui habebant quendam puerum, et aliter nescit cognomina illorum [...] qui habebant quendam puerum, quem jam interfecerant et jugulaverant [...] etiam habebant unum alium puerum, qui videbatur mortuus et jugulatus, et quod dicta duo corpora fuerunt projecta in preadictum flumen. Et qui etiam dixerant [...] quod ipse acceperant ipsos pueros in quadam Villa parva, in qua poterant esse quinque vel sex domus [...] et aliter nescit nomen dictae Villae" (cfr. Bonnelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., pp. 143-144). See also Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., pp. 89-90. It should be noted that Bonelli confuses Mosè da Bamberg, the author of the deposition, with Mosè da Ansbach, preceptor to Maestro Tobias' children. Po-Chia Hsia, for this part, erroneously stresses that the two "cacciatori di bambini" [child hunters] Salomone and Giacobbe, were both travel and destination companions of Mosè.

[35] "Qui Salomon et Jacob dixerunt ipsi Moysi et Salomon, socius ipsius Moysi, quod ipsi Jacob et Salomon interfecerant dictos pueros causa habendi sanguinem et causa portandi illum sanguinem ad venendem et quod oportebat ita ipsos lucrari et ita vivere [...] et quod colligerunt sanguinem hoc modo: unuisquisque habebat suum flascum de ferro stagnato, qui habebat foramen, seu buchetum, multum latum ad magnitudinem unius pomi mediocritus grossitudinis [...] et Jacob et Salomon cum dictis flaschis colligebant sanguinem defluentem ex iugulatura per ipso facta in gutture dictorum Puerorum".

[36] "Et cum fuisset elevatus et staret appensus, Moyses fuit interrogatus ut supra"

[37] "In Paschate proxime praeterito fuit unus annus, dum ipse Wolfgangus esset Feltri, in Domo Abrahami Judaei, et loquetur cum Lazaro, fratre dicti Abrahame; idem Lazarus dixit sibi Wolfgango, quod Hebraei interfecerant quendam Puerum Christianum in loco Mestri, apud Venetias" (cfr. [Bonelli], Disssertazione apologetica, cit., pp. 141-142. See also Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 45; Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., p. 97.

[38] Deposition of Bona dated 11 March 1476, Vienna, Osterr. Nationalbibl., MS 5360, c. 189v (doc. in of D. Quaglioni, in D. Nissim, D. Quaglioni and O. Stock, author, Simonino 1475, Trento e gli ebrei, cit. vol. II, 2001, CD ROM). See also Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 46. The first news having reached us on the Jews of Masserano, apart from the Trent trials, dates back to approximately one century afterwards (cfr. R. Segre, The Jews in Piedmont Jerusalem, 1986, vol. I, p. 475, no. 1052). It should be noted that in January of 1459, a Jewish woman from Borgomanero, named Bona, had expressed the desire to convert to Christianity with her children (cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I, p. 270, no 579).

[39] On this ritual murder, which is said to have been committed at Trent two or three years before that of Simon, see, in particular, Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, pp. 47-53. Cfr. moreover Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., p. 112.

[40] "Tobias dixit sibi Sarrae, quod ipse Isaac Hebreus habitor Tridenti et socer ipsius Tobiae, dixerat sibi Tobiae quod ipse Isaac, una cum certis aliis Judaeis interfecerant quendam puerum Christianu, jam tunc annis 24" (cfr. [Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 144). See moreover Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 46.

[41] Cfr. Menestrina, Ebrei a Trento, cit., pp. 304-306.


Revised by the original translators, Feb. 2011

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