FROM ENDINGEN TO REGENSBURG: RITUAL MURDERS OR GRIMMS BROTHERS' FAIRY
Alfonso de Espina was confessor to King Henry IV of Castille and in 1460 was
completing a treatise against the Jews, Moslems and heretics, intitled
Fortalitium fidei (1). To reach his objective, he
presented his readers with reports of the crimes committed by the Jews to the
detriment of Christians of which he had more or less directly become aware.
Naturally, ritual child murders were the main course of his narration.
The Castillan Franciscan recorded that in 1456 a Jewish notable named Maestro
Salomone, originating from the territories of the Republic of Genoa and
belonging to the illustrious family of physicians, had come to see him in the
Minorite Convent at Valladolid, expressing the desire to be baptized. To
convince Alfonso of the repugnance which Judaisim now aroused in him, the Jew
point precisely to the horrible custom of the ritual murders, of which he had
heard speak or of which he had directly participated (2).
According to him, he had learned from his parents that a famous Jewish physician
from Padua, named Simon, have obtained a four-year old child from an
unscrupulous Christian mercenary soldier and had sacrificed him in his own
dwelling, laying the child across a table and cruelly decapitating him
Maestro Salamone then reported that he had participated, with his father, in
a secret rite, performed at Savonne, with the participation of numerous Jews in
the city at that time, culminating in the crucifixion of a two-year old
Christian child. The victim’s blood was poured into a recipient, the same
recipient normally used to collect the blood during the circumcision of their
own children (4). Subsequently, he personally, together with
other participants in this horrendous rite, claimed to have consumed the blood
as the ingredient in their traditional foods during the Jewish Passover. The
body of the sacrificed child was said to have then been thrown into a filthy
Logically, it is permissible to express serious doubt as to the truthfulness
of this Maestro Salamone da Savona’s testimonies; nor is it impossible that the
entire report might have been invented out of whole cloth by the Spanish friar,
whose violent hostility towards the whole world of Judaism was no secret to
anyone. On the other hand, we cannot but help note the manner in which the
supposed scene of these ritual murders was, once again, the
Jewish communities of German origin (in this case, those of northern Italy, like
Pavia and Savona) (5), instead of the numerous and flourishing
Hebraic nuclei of Castille, Aragon and Catalunya, as one might logically have
expected from a report originating from the imagination of a friar having lived
and worked exclusively within the reality of the Iberian peninsula. If,
therefore, we wish to speak of a stereotype, in reference to the phenomenon of
ritual child murder, we must necessarily admit that, even from the point of view
of a person openly professing his own anti-Jewishness in a general sense, and
with no direct knowledge of events in distant lands, the phenomenon seemed
exclusively confined to the Ashkenazi Jewish world.
There are no objective records of this long series of ritual homicides, in
which the supposed protagonists accused themselves and each other in their
confessions, whether voluntarily or under compulsion. We are speaking of the
sensational cases at Endingen, in Alsace, where the first ritual child murder
trial was held, which has left an ample and detailed documentation, echoes of
which, not surprisingly, might be heard in the halls in which the Trent
defendants were under investigation (6).
At Endingen, a small village of some several hundred people, under the
directorship of Breisach at Riegel in the Breisgau, workers found the remains of
a man and woman, together with those of two decapitated children during
excavation and repair work to the ossuary of the parochial church of San Pietro,
during the Passover period of 1470. In the local region, it was suddenly
remembered that, eight years before, a couple of poor people, with a packhorse
and two children of young age, a boy and girl, had taken shelter in the house of
the brothers Elia, Aberlino (Avraham) and Mercklin (Mordekahai). These were the
days of Pasach, the Jewish Passover. Many people had noticed them when they
entered the dwelling of the Jews, but no one had ever seen them leave. All trace
of them seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Karl, margrave of Baden, on mission from the Archduke of Sigismondo, opened
an inquiry and immediately ordered the arrest of the Jews suspected of having
committed the crime. Even before being subjected to torture, Elia, the older of
the brothers, confessed and
implicated other local Jews as perpetrators or accomplices in the crime,
which was said to have been that same evening, soon after the Christian family
entered their house. To discharge her own responsibility and save her own life,
Elia sustained that she had not participated directly in the murder and
therefore had been warned, with threats and curses, against reporting what
happened to the old people of the Jewish community of Endingen, out of fear that
they would denounce the persons responsible to the authorities.
Aberlino, Elia's brother, hastened to explain to the judges the dynamics of
the facts, and thereby avoid torture. The parents were allegedly the first to be
killed, but their blood was not drained off because it was useless for ritual
purposes. Then it was the children's turn to suffer the same fate, being
decapitated, while their blood was gathered in suitable recipients. To cover up
the victims’ cries, the Jews involved in the macabre ceremony started to shriek
their litanies in loud voices, as if they were in the middle of a religious
ceremony. Finally, to throw police authorities off the track if the bodies were
found, it was decided to bury them at night in the ossuary of the church of San
Aberlino concluded his deposition by expressing his own intention to become a
Christian, to expiate his guilt. Mercklin also confirmed the particulars of the
confession of his brothers, adding other details (7). And so
did the other accused.
One of these Smolle, (Samuele), was not content simply to confess his
participation in the massacre of Endingen, but added other, repugnant details.
He recalled that, ten years before, in 1460, he had purchased the little son of
a beggar woman of Spira for money, and had then resold him to a rich Jew from
Worms, named Lazzaro. The latter, together with other members of his community,
were said to have sacrificed the child to drain off his blood. The victim's body
was said to have been buried in the Jewish cemetery of the city. But that was
not all. In 1465, Smolle was said to have kidnapped a five-year old shepherd boy
at Worde to take him to Nuremberg, where he is said to have sold him in exchange
for a large sum of money. A wealthy local Jew, Mosè of Freyberg, who was
thereafter said to have charged the same ineffable Smolle with killing the boy
for his own account, is said to have benefited from this precious acquisition
That was enough to convince the judges, if there had been any need, of the
guilt of the accused, and to condemn them to capital punishment.
On 4 April 1470, the three brothers, Elia, Aberlino and Mercklin, were
dragged by horses' tails to the place of execution, to be
broken on the wheel and their bodies burnt. When the Emperor Friedrich III,
at the request of the Jews, decided to intervene in favor of the condemned men,
it was then too late and it only remained for him to rebuke the margrave of
Baden, in a letter written one month later, for hastening to have "those accused
of the supposed crime put to death, without awaiting Imperial approval
In the meantime, there then opened the inevitable sequel to the Endingen
trials, concerning the recipients of the blood collected during the two child
murders. From the depositions of the accused, it appeared that the much-esteemed
fluid had been sold at very high prices to the richest and most influential
German Jews, including Leone da Pforzheim, who had, from 1463, enjoyed the
protection of Frederick, elector of the Palatinate (10). By
order of Karl of Baden, Leo was arrested in his lordly habitation at Pforzheim,
together with three other Jews, his guests, who appeared involved in the child
murders of Endingen as well as in the affair of the blood. In this case as well,
the persons under investigation, with Leo leading the way, hastened to confess,
adding significant details relating to the religious ceremonies in which they
had intended to use the blood procured by them. The judges saw no solution but
to decree the penalty of death for the four Jews of Pforzheim as well.
The accused at Trent were only dimly and indirectly aware of the recent
events at Endingen and Pforzheim. Mosè da Ansbach, teacher to Maestro Tobias’s
children, reported to the judges that he had heard talk about a ritual murder
committed by Jews a few years before in a city in Alsace; that some of the
accused had been burnt at the stake, while others had taken refuge in flight
(11). On the same grounds, Lazzaro, servant to money lender
Angelo da Verona, recalled how, while staying at his father's house, at
Serravalle del Friuli, a stranger had told them of a ritual murder committed by
a few Jews of Pforzheim against a Christian boy three years before. The guilty
parties had been incarcerated, and, so that God might save them from certain
death and save them from the hands of the Christians, the Hebraic community of
the German lands had announced a general fast (12). But the
eccentric miniaturist, Israel Wolfgang of Brandenburg, was, as usual, the best
informed of all. The young Saxon related to the judges everything he knew in
this regard, stating that the child murder had indeed been committed at Endingen
and that the guilty had been burnt alive at the stake for that act of
wickedness, committed to obtain the blood for ritual purposes.
Israel had obtained this information in 1470 from Mosè of Ulm, the special
envoy to whom the Germanic Jewish community had entrusted with the task of
traveling to Emperor Frederick III’s palace by horseback to obtain the release
from prison of the Jews involved in the affair (13) . As we
know, the imperial intervention failed because it was received too late, after
the public executions had already occurred. This same Hinderbach, in a missive
sent to Friar Michele Carcano of Milan, remembered that numerous Jews from
Endingen and Pforzheim, both men and women, had been found guilty of ritual
murder and had been put to death on the order of the Count of Baden a few years
before (14) .
One might be tempted to draw a clear line of demarcation between the evidence
given by the Trent defendants, for which exact records exist, and the others,
for which no historical documentation for these accusations and denunciations
has thus far been found. The latter could be dismissed as fantasies and
delirium, produced by atrocious suffering, under torture, by persons devastated
by suffering and incapable of reacting, or as the nightmare projections of
beliefs held by the judges and suggested by the inquisitors. But such an attempt
does not seem logical or convincing, and would, in the last analysis, appear to
be completely counterproductive if an attempt be made to confront the problem of
ritual child murders and place these crimes in their historical context,
establishing their geographical extent and limits. Thus, precisely those exact
records which have come to light, at least where some of the testimonies are
concerned, should teach us not to dismiss their reality out of hand, or without
persuasive justification, even if they are in fact exaggerations or distortions
of events for which the historical documentation has not yet been found
Moreover, at least one other case places us in the same dilemma; we find it
difficult to dismiss detailed testimony confirmed by clear documentary fact. At
the beginning of the trial, the Trent inquisitors decided to interrogate a
convert -- a “Jew turned Christian”, as such converts were then called -- who,
in the days of Simon’s tragic death, was being held prisoner at Trent for
another crime which had nothing to do with ritual child murder. But as to the
child murders, which the Jews were accustomed to commit on Passover eve,
Giovanni of Feltre - - that being the name of the convert, the son of Sacheto
(Shochat), a Jew from Landshut in Bavaria -- seems to have much to tell. Around
1440, at Landshut, to be exact, when he was a child and
still a Jew, the recent convert had heard that the Jews of the local
community, including his own father, had killed a Christian child to collect the
child’s blood for ritual purposes.
The police authorities arrested forty five Jews, as the result of a raid
effected in their district, and later burnt them publicly at the stake. Other
Jews, including Shochat, had taken refuge in flight, seeking shelter with their
families in the Cisalpine regions of Italy (16). Both the child
murder at Landshut and the subsequent massacre of the Jews are precisely
confirmed by the extant contemporary historical documentation
(17) . So it is not easy to dismiss Giovanni di Feltre’s
familiar testimony, although it is considered automatically unreliable on all
the particulars not confirmed by the historical documentation or in relation to
which we lack sufficient means of verification.
According to his own
statement, Israel Wolfgang had directly participated in a spectacular,
sensational, and equally horrible, ritual child murder committed at Regensburg
in 1467. In the second half of the 15th century, that which was considered the
commercial port of the Holy Roman Empire towards south-eastern Europe, located
on the banks of the Danube, was the home of a flourishing Jewish community of
over five hundred people (18). And the young Saxon, according
to his own detailed deposition before the Trent judges, had been at Regensburg
that year, during the feast days of the Jewish Passover. Wolfgang’s report was
lucid and precise down to the smallest particulars.
In those days, Rabbi Jossel di Kelheim had taken advantage of an opportunity
and had purchased a Christian child from a beggar for the price of ten ducats.
He took the child to his house, in the Jewish quarter, where he concealed him
for two days, in anticipation of the solemn event of the Pesach, the
feast of the unleavened bread, when the annual celebrations begin in remembrance
of the miraculous escape of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt would
begin. In the early morning of the first day of the holiday period, Rabbi Jossel
very carefully transferred the boy into the narrow confines of the “stiebel”
[parlor] of Sayer Straubinger, the small and rustic synagogue located a short
distance from his house, where he was accustomed to preside over the collective
rites of the community and its daily and festive liturgical meetings. Awaiting
him were at least twenty five Jews, previously informed of the extraordinary
event. Israel Wolfgang was one of them, and he remembered the exact names of all
the participants in the rite, both those from Regensburg and those from other
regions. The transfer of the
child from Rabbi Jossel’s house to the synagogue, although performed at
night, involved some danger, since it might have been noticed by prying eyes.
But in view of the fact that the district was inhabited by Jews who locked their
doors every night, with the keys entrusted to them by the city authorities, the
margin of safety was considered sufficiently broad (19).
The boy was undressed in the stiebel and placed on a chest
containing the sacred parchments of the synagogue, and was then crucified,
circumcised and finally suffocated over the course of a horrifying collective
ritual, following a script accurately planned and perfectly well known by all
the participants, by Jessel, the rabbi; by Mayr Baumann, the mohel; by
Sayer Straubinger, the owner of the chapel; by Samuel Flieshaker, one of
Wolfgang’s friends; by Mayr Heller; by the above mentioned Jew referred to as
"bonus puer" (Tov 'Elem); by Johoshua, the cantor; and by Isacco, the
water-bearer. Wolfgang himself had taken an active part in the crucifixion of
the child, while the blood was collected in a bowl, to be distributed among the
Jews participating in the rite or sent to the rich of the community
(20). The day after, rumor of the ritual infanticide spread in
the district and many people rushed to Sayer’s stiebel to see the body
of the sacrificed boy, which was placed quite visibly inside the chest. The
evening after, at the beginning of the ceremonies of the second day of
Pesach, in the central room of the small synagogue, in the confined
space of which about thirty of the faithful now crammed themselves, excited and
curious, while the little victim was publicly exhibited, and the grisly ritual,
which had now become merely commemorative, began afresh (21).
Finally, the child’s body was buried in the courtyard of the chapel, in a remote
corner, surrounded by a wall, accessed through a small door which was usually
kept locked (22).
Israel Wolfgang’s report was too precise in its particulars and accurate in
its descriptions to avoid awakening the interest of inquisitors in places other
than Trent. His report contained exact names, dates, places, and facts requiring
cogent verification. Perhaps the closest and most significant precedent to
Simonino’s martyrdom at Trent was to be sought at Regensburg: in the spectacular
story of an unknown synagogue ceremony according to ritual standards following a
pre-established order with a mysterious symbolism. During the first night of
Pesach at Regensburg in 1467, in Sayer’s stiebel, from which
noisy flow of the waters of the Danube was quite audible, might provide a
clue to the mystery of what really happened eight years later, during the
Pesach period of 1475, at Samuele da Nuremberg’s house, in the small
synagogue of the Jews of Trent, located along a small murky canal used by
tanners in the German-speaking district. Perhaps it was only fantasies, fearful
fables, nourished by ancestral suspicions, settled stereotypes and crystallized
from years back; but the authorities had to be certain that the tale had no
basis in truth.
In early 1476, Heinrich, the bishop of Regensburg was passing through Trent
on his way back from Rome, when, suddenly, someone handed him a copy of
Wolfgang’s deposition before the Trent judges. Notwithstanding circumstances of
this kind, it would hardly have been unprecedented, in the 15th century panorama
of this city on the Danube, for the Jews of Regensburg to be accused of a good
four cases of desecration of the Host and ritual murder in barely six years,
from 1470 to 1476 (23); the good prelate was forcefully
impressed and justifiably scandalized when he read the document. Returning to
Germany, Heinrich hasted to advise the authorities of Regensburg to open an
immediate inquiry intended to determine whether or not a ritual murder had
really occurred in the Jewish quarter during the Passover feast of 1467
At the end of March of that year, the authorities of Regensburg proceeded
with the arrest of the rabbi Jossel di Kelheim and another five influential
leaders of the Jewish communities, including Sayer Straubinger, the owner of the
stiebel, and Samuele Fleischaker, Wolfgang's friend. A few days after,
seventeen Jews, all accused of participation or complicity in the ritual child
murder were placed in irons. The interrogations were carried out under torture,
and at least six of the accused issued a complete confession mentioning the
names of other persons involved in the wickedness. Rabbi Jossel was the first to
admit to the judges that he had purchased the child from a beggar woman at
Regensburg eight years before, and had brought it to the synagogue as a
sacrifice during the days of the Jewish Passover; he then withdrew his
confession, accusing his inquisitors of extorting it through indescribable
torture. Before him, Samuel Fleischaker had also confessed that the Jews had
made use of children's blood, mixing it into the dough of the unleavened bread
The admissions, obtained from the accused by force, appeared overly general
and insufficiently detailed to be convincing; the confessions were deemed
insufficient factual basis for a ritual murder trial. Thus, on 15 April 1476,
Friedrich III personally ordered the
city counsel of Regensburg to free the prisoners immediately and hand them
over to the Imperial authorities. But one week later, a dramatic sensation
A few workers, engaged in repairs on Rabbi Jossel’s dwelling, found a
skeleton while excavating and cleaning up the cellars. The skeleton, examined by
a commission of physicians and surgeons in the presence of the bishop and other
civil authorities, proved to be that of a child, presumably aged between three
and six years (26). The Jews replied to the accusations by
claiming that the bones had been deliberately planted in the rabbi’s cellar by
those interested in his condemnation. Notwithstanding the discovery of the new
evidence, Friedrich did nothing, and continued unperturbedly to demand the
release of the incarcerated Jews, despite the claims of bishop Heinrich, who
sustained the validity and plausibility of the defendant’s confessions to the
crime; Ludwig, Duke of Regensburg, petitioned the Emperor not to interfere in
the internal affairs of the city (27).
On 8 May 1478, two years after they began, the trials might be said to have
concluded with the absolution of the Jews, imposed by the inflexible Imperial
will. But the defendant’s release was not obtained cheaply. Frederick demanded
eighteen thousand florins from the Jews as payment for his intervention in their
favor, while the judiciary of Regensburg declared itself prepared to release
only following payment of all procedural expenses, amounting to five thousand
florins, plus a fine of eight thousand florins, imposed on the city by the
Emperor for holding the trial. In a plenary meeting announced by the rabbis of
the German lands at Nuremberg, presumably in early 1478, an obligatory
collection of funds began among the Jewish communities of Germany, accompanied
by the creation of suitable committees responsible for coordinating the efforts
made to save prisoners. In Italy, Yoseph Colon, formerly a rabbi at Mantua
(until 1475) and now at Pavia, intervened with all his related authority; Colon
is said to have died at Pavia a few years later, in 1480, after recommending
that the appeal of the spiritual heads of German Judaism receive a rapid,
positive and generous response (28). From the very outset, the
affair of the Jews of Regensburg made a profound impression on the Jews of the
Ashkenazi communities of northern Italy. In a letter written in Hebrew dated 11
May 1476, the daughter and son-in-law of Crassino (Gherhon) of Novara, one of
the richest and most influential Ashkenazi bankers of the Duchy of Milan, both
wrote to him,
probably from Brescia, making explicit reference to the "sensational affair
in which, as a result of our sins, members of the holy community of Regensburg
have been arrested and confined to prison, where God the pitiful and merciful
caused them to exit the darkness and enter the intense light"
In another missive, written in Yiddish by the same Ashkenazi Jews, the
son-in-law again complained of the sad fate of the Jews of Regensburg, victims
of the blood accusation.
"Alas! We have heard sad news, caused by our innumerable sins, originating
from Regensburg. They have arrested all the Jews of the city and slandered them,
turning against them the blood accusation of Trent. That God should have pity
and not cause us to hear lying accusations of this type anywhere. We wish Him to
render us assistance with His love. Amen."
Another message, also in Yiddish, sent by the young Geilin (Gaylein) to his
father, the same Crassino of Novara mentioned above, dated mid-May 1476, once
again made explicit reference to facts of Regensburg.
"The sad news reached me from Pavia. May God be merciful and help His people
and the Jews of Regensburg who have suffered, for our sins, for this infamous
slander. Ever since I heard this bad news, I have been unable to sleep. How much
you must suffer for certain [...] May God give you strength and health; that is,
how I wish your daughter Geilin, unhappy for having heard this unhappy news"
The courier of this letter was Paolo of Novara, the shady priest who,
according to him, had been paid by the Jews of the Dukedom of Milan to poison
the bishop of Trent. The Jews alluded to him calling him gallech, the
cleric, the man with the tonsure (31).
Another two years went by before the Jews of the Ashkenazi communities on
both sides of the Alps succeeded in scraping together the huge sums required to
liberate the prisoners at Regensburg. But the seventeen defendants, still
incarcerated, were finally removed from their shackles on 4 September 1480, four
years and half after their arrest (32). Thus concluded a matter
which perhaps began at Regensburg, rebounded to Trent, and new returned to
Regensburg, leaving many unanswered questions and unresolved doubts, which the
payment of another twenty thousand florins
in gold by the German-speaking Jewish communities was certainly insufficient
to dissipate. If the ritual child murder at Regensburg was really a fact, it
should be possible to track down the blood, distributed free of charge among the
participants, or put up for sale by them immediately afterwards, admitting that
it might have reached the Jewish communities of northern Italy. The
interrogation of the accused, more or less based on leading questions as to this
point, seemed to vindicate the accusation.
The most important clue appeared to point to a certain Rizzardo (Reichard), a
Jew from Regensburg who had moved to Brescia with his family in 1464
(33). The latter, with their two brothers Enselino (Anselmo)
and Jacob, were engaged in lending money at interest through a bank they owned
at Barvardo, deriving a large proportion of their clientele from the city of
Brescia, where Rizzardo lived. Rizzardo of Regensburg had top connections, and
enjoyed protection as a member of the influential entourage of Bartolomeo
Calleone, Captain of the Serenissima (34). In Angelo da
Verona’s house, Rizzardo was often mentioned, partly because Lazzaro, who
rendered services for the banker, was his nephew, and did not hesitate to spend
his holidays and vacations in his uncle’s company. On one of these occasions, a
few years before, when Lazzaro found himself at Brescia to be cured of an
illness of the eyes, Rizzardo confessed to him that he had bought a certain
quantity of blood originating from the Regensburg child murder. In addition, the
Brescian Jew allegedly made use of it during the Jewish Passover period,
administering it to his wife Osella (Feige), his sons Jossele and Mezla (Mazal),
and his servant, Jacobo da Germania (35) . Angelo da Verona
also knew that Rizzardo trafficked in the blood of Regensburg, among other
things, and had sent a letter to his brother Enselino, at Gavarda, promising him
to supply him with some of the blood (36). Isacco, Angelo's
cook, confirmed that he had often heard the patron of the house and the young
servant, Lazzaro, mention Rizzardo as the person who had received the precious
blood of the infant boy sacrificed at Regensburg (37).
But once again, it was the ineffable Israel Wolfgang to cast light on the
entire affair. In the summer of 1474, he had been sent to Brescia as Rizzardo’s
guest, who had commissioned him with the execution of the miniatures for a
precious Hebraic code owned by Rizzardo (38). On one occasion,
Rizzardo bragged to the young painter that he, Rizzardo, had come into
possession of the blood
of the child killed at Regensburg. He had been given it by his step-father,
precisely the same Rabbi Jossel who had been one of the principal defendants in
this sensational child murder. It was at this point that the young Wolfgang’s
vainglorious nature exploded in all its variegated intensity. Perhaps Rizzardo
was unaware that he, Israel Wolfgang, had personally participated in the child
murder in Sayer’s stiebel at Regensburg? The Brescian Jew, even if he
had been unwilling to believe it, now had to listen to Wolfgang blabbing out the
whole story, down to the slightest detail, and congratulate himself upon
receiving one of the lucky and fearless perpetrators in his own house
Confidence by confidence, Rizzardo, too, not to be outdone, reported that he
had participated in a ritual homicide organized at Padua in the German synagogue
together with the other Jews of the city and the district, four or five years
Since the plague was raging at Brescia, Israel Wolfgang was compelled to cut
short his stay at Rizzardo’s house and move to nearby Gavardo, as Enselino’s
guest, with whom Angelo da Verona had long been in contact during his stay in
Brescia. To earn some pocket money, he agreed to bind a breviary owned by the
archpriest. In the six months spent in Padua, Wolfgang found further
confirmation of the Padua child murder, the murder in which Rizzardo had
participated. He was informed of this by Enselino, who had allegedly obtained
the same blood, marketed in the Brescia region, by a certain Liebmann of
Castelfranco da Treviso (41).
This was too much, even for the inquisitors of Trent, no matter how eager
they might have been for confirmation -- real or imagined -- of their
suspicions. The eccentric painter from Brandenburg seemed to be teasing his
inquisitors, churning out a continual stream of stories, new at all times,
picturesque and astonishing, largely invented or exaggerated, calculated to make
an impression on an audience whom he imagined to be highly naive. Instruments of
torture may have been, and were, used on the other defendants to loosen their
tongues; in the case of the wily Wolfgang, perhaps they might have been of more
use in damming up the torrent of incredible revelations which he seemed unable
to control. Hurt to the quick, and stung in his vanity, the young painter
completely flew off the handle, raised his voice and shouted defiantly at anyone
who would listen:
"By God! I have reported what Rizzardo told me, word for word, and thus I
will repeat it, before any Lord or Prince: just take me to the place of
execution and decapitate me, or kill me
in any other way, but I will not speak otherwise than I have done “
Rizzardo, the Brescian resident from Regensburg, Lazzaro's uncle, servant of
Angelo of Verona, had been telling the truth. Or at least, his truth. Or so
Wolfgang claimed to have learned that truth during the hot days of the preceding
summer, while the plague raged at Brescia.
For his part, Rizzardo da Brescia had a no less famous namesake. The Jew
Rizzardo (Reichard) of Mospach was a swindler and good-for nothing, arrested for
theft at Regensburg in 1475. To his inquisitors, the latter Rizzardo confessed
that he had been baptized several times to obtain money and other benefits from
ingenuous Christians to whom he turned, both city people and peasants. But even
the Jews, according to him, had proven the gullible victims of his tricks. The
Jews Krautheim, Bamberg and Regensburg had purchased fake Hosts, which he
claimed to have purloined from various churches in the area, to be “tortured” by
the Jews during their anti-Christian rites. Rizzardo-Reichard -- who lived
alternatively as a Jew and alternatively as a Christian -- was married to three
women simultaneously, each one of them unaware of the existence of the others.
Starting in 1476, he had spent years wandering back and forth between the
villages and cities of Bohemia and Moravia, of the Rhineland and Brandenburg, of
Alsace and Württemberg. He had been in Bern, Bamberg and Nuremberg. He admitted
to having lived in Italy for a while, in various cities whose names he could no
longer remember (was Brescia one of them?). But he clearly recalled having
stayed at Trent, where he was in contact with the Jewish families then accused
of the ritual murder of little Simon (43).
If, as we have seen, one clue seemed to point to Rizzardo and the city of
Brescia, a second clue pointed back to Regensburg, leading the authorities to a
certain Hoberle (Kobele, Jacob or perhaps Hoverle, Haver), who earned his living
selling powdered blood, wandering from one locality to another in the
German-speaking lands in search of clients. According to Wolfgang, Hoberle had
not participated in the ritual homicide in the stiebel at Regensburg,
but certain persons had later proceeded to supply Hoberle with the blood which
he [Hoberle] needed (44) . Mosè da Bamberg, the traveler who
happened to be at Trent the night before Simon’s killing, knew Hoberle
personally and had followed his movements. He [Mosè da Bamberg] also recalled
Hoberle’s features perfectly. He might have been about sixty years old, low in
stature, bald, with a white beard. He had an ugly stain on the skin of his head,
as if he had had leprosy; for this
reason, he wore a type of cloth cap beneath his beret. He usually wore a long
loose gray overcoat (45).
Before the judges at Trent, Mosè da Bamberg stated that he had met Hoberle
for the first time in 1471, in the imperial city of Ulm. A few weeks later, he
had seen him again at Padua, in the house of the Jews, and later at Piacenza,
where he had stayed as the guest of Abramo, active in the city as money lender
(46). At Pavia, he lodged in the tavern of Falcone, the "Inn of
the Jews", a place of dubious reputation where gambling was practiced and there
were frequent brawls (47). Falcone (Haqim), son of Yoseph
Cohen, had opened the place around 1470, and is said to have managed it for
about ten years (48). The wife, unsatisfied with her husband's
activity, had sought to induce him to abandon that rather uncouth undertaking,
but without success. Annoyed, out of spite she had abandoned him and had taken
refuge in a convent, threatening to become a Christian. Then, due to a sudden
change of mind, she had asked to be reconciled with him and to be able to return
to the conjugal domicile. The rabbi Yoseph Colon, questioned on this matter, had
authorized Falcone to take her back with him (49).
In the summer of 1477, when a boy, son of a Christian shoemaker of Pavia,
disappeared from his home, Falcone had some serious problems, accused of being
the abductor and the executioner during a ritual homicide. A great crowd had
gathered around the tavern, seeking to take justice into their own hands, while
the guards had had a hard time controlling them and dispersing them. Luckily for
him, the child then reappeared, alive and healthy, and the Jewish innkeeper was
able to draw a breath of relief (50).
Mosè da Bamberg knew that the merchant Hoberle, visiting the cities of the
Veneto and Lombardy, wherever there were Jews, had sold a certain quantity of
blood to Manno da Pavia, the richest Jewish banker in the dominions of the
Sforzas (51). As we have already seen, this same Manno is said
to have been accused, together with other important exponents of the Jewish
community of the Duchy of Milan, of hiring the priest Paolo of Trent to poison
the Prince Bishop of Trent in 1476, for condemning to death and executing the
presumed murderers of the sainted Simon. According to Mosè da Bamberg’s
deposition, Manno da Pavia, in turn, sold part of the blood obtained from
Hoberle -- for money -- to the family of Madio (Mohar, Meir), a money lender at
Tortona; the blood is then supposed to have been used during the Passover
celebration. As we have seen, Madio is said to have been implicated in the
supposed ritual murder of the sainted Giovannino of Volpedo in 1482, but, to his
is said to have been acquitted. Mosè of Bamberg, according to his own
statement, had, for almost a year, been in the service of Leone, Madio’s son,
and his [Madio’s] sister Sara, who lived in the nearby castle of Serravalle with
her son, Mosè, and, with them, had consumed the same powdered blood, obtained at
Regensburg, dissolved in wine during the Passover dinner of 1472
According to Leone, it was said that, during his sumptuous marriage to Sara,
held in February of 1470 at Tortona, attended by over one hundred guests from
the Ashkenazi communities of northern Italy, some local nobles, displeased at
their exclusion from those princely festivities, had, perhaps with excessive
enthusiasm, attempted to force open the host’s doors. Unluckily for them, they
were ill-received by the Jews who, with weapons in their hands, threw them out
of the palace, pursuing them as far as the local the piazza. A case of
ill-breeding and poor hospitality which cried out for vengeance. Obviously,
Madio da Tortona’s version of the facts and that of the guests differed
radically. Taking advantage of the nuptial celebrations, general noise and
confusion, the nobles of Tortona reportedly attempted, rather clumsily, if not
downright stupidly, to break into the premises of the local bank, for the
purpose of stealing money, collateral and other valuables, but were said to have
been ingloriously routed (53).
Jews in the Duchy of
Milan were tried and sentenced for the possession of books, liturgical and study
texts containing offensive and insulting expressions about Jesus, the Messiah,
the Virgin Mary, the dogmas of the Christian religion and anyone practicing
Christianity On at least four occasions during the second half of the 15th
century. In 1459, they were convicted, and fined sixteen thousand ducats
(54). In 1474 and 1480, the fines were increased to thirty two
thousand ducats, promptly paid by the Jewish communities of the Duchy. As early
as 1476, a large group of rich and influential Lombard Jews, active at
Alessandria, Broni, Piacenza, Monza and Piove di Sacco, headed, as usual, by
Manno da Pavia, were officially pardoned by Gian Galeazzo Sforza, presumably
after paying a conspicuous fine, for insubordination; bad manners, and defaming
and offending the Duke’s illustrious father (55). The mysteries
of this trial -- if any trial was held – remain to be revealed in full.
At any rate an undoubted echo of these events may be found in the predication
of the Minorite Friar Antonio da
Cremona at Chivasso in December 1471, in which the pious friar invoked the
expulsion of the "perfidious and wicked Jewish race", guilty of continuous
blasphemy the Holy Faith in Christ in their books and prayers
But a trial held at Milan in the spring of 1488 was more serious and
dangerous than ever. Denounced by a converted Jew, forty of the most influential
exponents of the Ashkenazim community in the Dukedom were arrested and
transferred to the provincial capital in chains, accused of possessing texts --
particularly, liturgical breviaries -- suspected of containing prayers attacking
Jesus as well as anti-Christian invective. The trial began on 16 March, in the
presence of a commission of inquisitors, deputized by Ludovico the Moor, made up
of Franciscan and Dominican friars in addition to Ducal officials, and presided
over by the vicar of the curia of the archbishop of Milan. The accused, in the
long and detailed interrogations, were requested to supply a due explanations
for the apparently contemptuous phrases found in their texts regarding
Christians and the Christian religion, the Pope and baptized Jews, as well as
Christ and Mary. The sentence, a severe one, was handed down the following 31
May. Nine of the accused were condemned to death; the rest were expelled from
the territory of the Duchy, all property owned by all the accused was declared
confiscated. Luckily for them, the Jews succeeded in commuting the cruel
sentence into a heavy fine of nineteen thousand ducats, to be paid by January
When the due date rolled around, the full sum had not yet been collected, and
only part of the sum had found its way to the coffers of the Sforzas. A few
months later, the disillusioned Ludovico the Moor ordered a public bonfire of
the seized books. Mendele (Menachem) Oldendorf, a young German Jew and son of a
bankrupt merchant, a certain Herz (Naftali), also known as “Golden”, perhaps in
remembrance of when he had been rich, no doubt possessed a lively and versatile
wit, in addition to an unusual degree of Hebraic culture; he was known for
holding brilliant homilies in the synagogue and functioned as a ritual butcher,
he was an able writer in the Yiddish language and was a respected copier of
Hebraic codes. In 1474, he traveled from Regensburg to Venice, where he stayed
until at least 1483, when he was present at the famous bonfire at the Ducal
Palace. In his autobiography, the young Oldendorf described the manner in which
he had been informed by trust-worthy persons of bonfires of Jewish texts at
Milan and other places in the Duchy of Milan in 1490, regretting that the burnt
manuscripts included some which he had copied personally (58).
"I learned from one of the wise men of Israel [...] that in the year 5248
(=1488) Lord Ludovico the Moor ordering the burning of a great number of Jewish
books at Milan, the capital city, as well as in other localities in his
territories. I, personally, a copier of codes, saw some of my own texts among
the books consigned to the flames. Blessed be God who enabled me to witness the
revenge of God’s Law against that same nobleman (Ludovico the Moor), who has
been captured and taken into France, where he died [...] Menachem Oldendorf, the
German. 5274 (=1514)".
One of the most important defendants in the Milan trial of 1488 was -- and
this is not surprising -- Jacob, son of Manno of Pavia, who had died in the
meantime (59). Before the inquisitors, Jacob was requested,
among others, to deny the rumor that the Jews were accustomed to "making images
in the form of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, and then throwing them in the
fire, trampling them under foot or covering them with excrement"
(60). The accusation was not a new one. During Passover in
1493, Joav (Dattilo) and the other Jews, living at Savigliano in Piedmonte, were
condemned to the payment of a fine of five hundred gold ducats for a serious act
"[These Jews] kneaded the unleavened bread or mazzot, according to
their rite and in outrage to the glorious crucifix [...] and prepared four
images of dough in the form of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in mockery of God and the
Catholic faith, then burnt these dough dolls in the oven"
At a distance of only a few years from the Trent trials, it is not surprising
that the judges should turn to one of the inquisitors, Lazzaro da San Colombano
to ask: whether or not the Jews were actually accustomed to abduct Christians
for the purpose of committing reprehensible acts against them in contempt for
the Christian faith (62).
NOTES TO CHAPTER FIVE
1. On the personality of Alfonso de Espina and his virulently hostile
attitude towards Jews and Marranos on the eve of the institution of the court of
the Inquisition in Castille, see, in particular, Y. Baer, A History of the
Jews in Christian Spain, Philadelphia (Pa.), 1966, vol. II, pp. 283-299).
2. Alphonsus de Spina, Fortalitum fidei, Nuremberg, Anton Koberger,
10 October 1485, cc. 188-192.
3. “Magister Symon [...] Medicus non modicum corde gavisus cepit Infantem
(Christianum aetatis quattor annorum) et cum eo rediit in Civitatem Papiae, ubi
domicilium suum habebat. Et cum ingrederetur domum suam, videns horam qua posset
desiderium suae feritatis explere, capto Infante super mensam extendit, et
evaginato gladio caput Infantis Christiani crudeliter abscidit".
4. "Cum etiam essem in Civitate quadam subjecta Januae, quae dicitur Savona,
ut viderem sacrificari quemdam Infantem Christianum, Pater meus deduxit me ad
domum cujusdam Judaei, ubi fuerant septem vel octo Judeai congregati
secretissime et clausus januis diligenissime juramentum fortissimum omnes
fecerunt de celando id, quod facere volebant [...] quo peracto, ecce deducitur
in medium Infantulus quidam Christianus aetatis fere duorum annorum, et deducto
vase illo, in quo consuerverunt recipere sanguinem Infantium circumcisorum,
posuerunt predictum Infantem nudum supra praedictum vas, et quatuor Judaei
illorum intendebant occisioni sub tali forma et ordine".
5. Savona, like other centers belonging to the territory of the Republic of
Genoa, was the home of small nuclei of Jews in the Fifteenth Century, made up of
merchants and money lenders from Germany, the Duchy of Milan and the Republic of
Venice. Among these, we stumble upon (even at Savona, the names Manno da Pavia,
who, as we have seen, was the most illustrious of the Jewish communities of the
Duchy of Milan, and was also active at Venice (cfr. R. Urbani and G.N. Zazzu,
The Jews in Genoa, Leyden, 1999, vol. I, pp. 34-37, 43, 47, nos. 71,
73-74, 99, 109).
6. There is an ample bibliography on the ritual murders and trials of
Endingen in 1470. We refer, in particular, to H. Schreiber, Urkundbuch
der Stadt Freiburg im Breisgau , Freiburg, 1829, vol. II, pp.
520-525; K. von Amira, Das Endinger Judenspiel, Halle, 1883; I.
Kracauer, L'affaire des Juifs d'Endingen de 1470. Pretendu meurtre de
Chrétiens par des Juifs , in "La Revue des Etudes Juives", XVII (1888), pp.
236- 245, and more recently R. Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder. Jews
and Magic in Reformation Germany, New Haven (Conn.) - London, 1988, pp.
7. For the text of the confession of the three brothers, see Amira, Das
Endinger Judenspiel, cit., pp. 94-97; Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual
Murder, cit., pp. 18-22.
8. Cfr. Kracauer, L'affaire des Juifs d'Endingen de 1470, cit., pp.
237-238; Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 18-22.
9. Cfr. Kracauer, L'affaire des Juifs d'Endingen de 1470, cit., pp.
236-245; Po -Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 34.
10. The accusation was that "Judei (urbis Endingen) transmiserunt sanguinem
ad civitates et loca ubi divites morantur Judei" [“the Jews (of the city of
Endingen] distributed the blood as gifts to Jews in the cities and locations
where . In this regard and on the confession of Leo di Pforzheim, see, in
particular, Kracauer, L'affaire des Juifs d'Endingen de 1470, cit., pp.
11. "Pauci anni sunt, quod puer quidam Christianus fuit interfectus a Judaeis
in Helsas (= Alsace), de quo homicidio fuerunt combusti aliqui Judaei et aliqui
eorum aufugerunt, prout dici audivit" [“It was only a few years ago, that a
Christian boy was killed by the Jews of Alsace, a few Jews being burnt for the
murder and others escaped, as I heard say”] (cfr. [Bonelli], Dissertazione
apologetica sul martirio del beato Simone da Trento nell'anno MCCCCLXXV
dagli ebrei ucciso , Trent, Gianbattista Parone, 1747, p. 143).
12. "Dum ipse Lazarus staret cum ejus Patre in Seravalle, quidam Hebreus
advena [...] dixit quod puer Christianus fuerat interfectus in Civitate seu
terra Fortiae [= Pforzheim], quae est terra Alemaniae, et quod Judaei, qui illum
puerum interfecerant, fuerunt capti, et propter hoc fuerat ordinatum inter
Judaeos, quod deberent jejunare, ut Deus liberaret eos" (cfr. ibidem). In this
regard, see moreover G. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento ,
Trent, 1902, vol. II, p. 38.
13. "(Israel Wolfgangus) modo possunt esse quinque vel sex anni, dici
audivit, quod quidam puer Christianus interfectus a Judaeis causa habendi
sanguinem, et quod sic fit interfectus in quodam loco nominato Hendinga [ =
Endingen] Alemaniae, qui Judaie fuerant combusti. Et dicit, quod hoc dici
audivit primo a quodam Moyse Judaeo de Ulma, qui Mosès pro liberatione dictorum
Judaeorum equitavit ad Serenissium Imperatorum pro dictis Judaeis liberandis"
(cfr. [Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 140).
14. "Ac novissime infra paucos annos in oppido Endingen et Pforzheim sub
Marchione Carolo Badan quam plures Judae utriusque sexus, pro simile necatione
duorum conjugam christianorum ac duorum filiorum, ultimo supplicio puniti
fuerunt". The text of the letter from Hinderbach to fra Michele is found in
[Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., pp. 65-66.
15. The following persons have made excellent, even if not entirely
convincing, contributions in this regard: Po-Chia Hsia, who, referring to the
testimonies of the Trent defendants on the facts of Endingen and Pforzheim,
considers it all a clumsy inquisitorial manipulation intended to confer
plausibility on slanderous reports, invented out of whole cloth, using unnatural
juxtapositions of evens, known and real. "And so, the real and the imaginary
fused into a seamless whole, the lies [...] told under duress only confirmed the
veracity of the historical Endingen trial which became, in turn, the fulcrum of
the fictive universe of Jewish violence" (R. Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475,
A Ritual Murder Trial, New Haven, Conn., 1992, p. 90). Elsewhere, the
same author, referring to the detailed deposition of Maestro Tobias on
Frederick's visit to Venice in 1469, and on the presence in the city of the
"merchant of Candia" (who, as we have seen, should be identified as David
Mavrogonato), speaks of a fable with an exotic flavor, imagined by the Jewish
physician to placate his tormenters and to put an end to the tortures to which
he was being subjected (ibidem, pp. 46-47). But, as may easily be demonstrated,
Tobias' testimony was precise in all its particulars and responded to that which
he had actually seen and that which had really happened on that occasion. Miri
Rubin, who has examined the German trials for desecration of the Host, although
he considers them a slander, cannot help but note that the testimonies often
contained elements the acceptability of which was beyond doubt ("the testimony
contains true and imagined aspects of Jewish communal life"). Cfr. M. Rubin,
Gentile Tales. The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews, New Haven
(Conn.), 1999, p. 123.
16. "Quod modo possunt esse .xv anni vel circa, quod Sachetus de Alemania,
pater ipsius testis, tempore eius vite dixit testi quod tunc poterant esse circa
quadraginti anni, quod dictus Sachetus existens in civitate Lanchut de Alemania
Bassa, et ibi cum familia sua habitaret, aliqui Judei existentes in dicta
civitate, circum festa Pasce eorum, interfecerunt quendam puerum (Christianum)
masculum, causa habendi sanguinem et utendi illo; et quod fuit manifestum domino
illius civitatis qui dominus fecit detinere omnes Judeos qui ibi aderant;
exceptis aliquibus qui affugerunt, inter quos fuit pater ipsius testis, qui
aufugit et qui vix potuit evadere. Et pro morte cuius pueri sic interfecti
dicebat idem pater ipsius testis quadragintaquique Judeos fuisse combustos"
(cfr. A. Esposito and D. Quaglioni, Processi contro gli ebrei di Trento;
1475-1478 ; I: I processi del 1475, Padua, 1990, pp.
124-125). For a careful examination of the deposition of Giovanni da Feltre, see
Quaglioni (ibidem, pp. 35-36).
17. In this regard, see Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., pp. 31-32,
18.Cfr. M. Toch, The Formation of a Diaspora. The Settlement of
Jews in the Medieval German Reich, in "Aschkenasas", VII (1997), no. 1, pp.
19. "Dum ipse Wolfgangus staret in Civitate de Ratibona, cum Samuele Hebraeo,
quidam Jossele Hebraeus emit quendam Puerum Christianum a quodam paupere
mendicante Christiano, quem sic emit per decem ducatis et quem Puerum idem
Jossele emit per dies octo ante Pascha Judaeorum, et illus tenuit in ejus Domo
usque ad diem Paschae ipsorum Judaeorum, in qua die Paschae de sero, circa duas
vel tres horas noctis, idem Jossele portavit dictum Puerum in quandam Synagogam
parvam, in qua erat ipse Wolfgang una cum 25, vel 26 Judaeis, quo Puero sic
portato, quidam Mohar Hebraeus accept dictum Puerum et eum spoliavit, deinde
illum posuit super quendam capsam" ([Bonelli), Dissertazione
apologetica, cit., p. 140). See also Divina, Storia del beato Simone da
Trent, cit., vol. II, pp. 38-39, 41-42.
20. "Et dum Puer sic staret, quatuor vel six ex Judaeis ibi astantibus
pupugerunt cum acubus Puerum et ipse Wolfgangus fuit unus ex illis qui popugit
[...] dum sanguis exiret, Heberle Judaeis cum quadam scutela stagni vel argenti,
colligebat sanguinem" ([Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica ,
cit., p. 141). See also Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento,
cit., pp. 39-40.
21. “Mane sequenti venerunt plures alii Judaei ad videndum dictum corpus et
in quo die sequenti de sero idem corpus fuit sublatum de capsa et portatum in
Synagogam praedictam, in quam tunc venerunt circa triginta Judaei” (cfr.
[Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 141). See also Divina, Storia
del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, pp. 30-40.
22. "Jossele et Sayer praedicti mandaverunt Jacob et Isac, quod debere
auferre corpus de dicta Synagoga et illud portare ad sepeliendum in quandam
curiam contiguam dictae Synagogae, quae curia est versus Orientum, et quod illud
corpus deberent sepelire in dicta Curia in quodam angulo a meridie, quae curia
est circumdata muro et in eam intratur per quoddam ostium, quod tenetur clausum"
([Bonelli], Dissertazione Apologetica , cit., p. 141). See also Divina,
Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 40.
23. Cfr. Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 66-72;
Rubin, Gentile Tales, cit., pp. 123-128.
24. Cfr. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II,
pp. 38-39; Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 72; Id.,
Trent 1475 , cit., pp. 97-98.
25. In the vast bibliography on the Regensburg trials of the years 1476-1480,
see R. Strauss, Urkunden und Aktenstücke zur Geschichte der Juden
in Regensburg, 1453-1738 , Munich, 1960, pp. 68-168; Id., Regensburg
und Augsburg, Philadelphia (Pa.), 1939; Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth
of Ritual Murder , cit., pp. 72-85; W. Treue, Ritualmord und
Hostienschändung, Untersuchungen zur Judenfeindschaft in Deutschland im
Mittelalter und in der fruhen Neuzeit , Berlin, 1989, pp. 52-58. See also
the notes in this regard by W.P. Eckert, Motivi superstiziosi nel
processi agli ebrei di Trent , in I.Rogger and M. Bellabarba,
Il principe vescovo Johannes Hinderbach (1465-1486) fra tardo Medioevo e
Umanesimo , Atti del Convegno promosso della Biblioteca Comunale
di Trento (2-6 October 1989), Bologna, 1992, pp. 383-394.
26. Cfr. Strauss Urkunden und Aktenstücke zur Geschichte der Juden in
Regensburg, cit., pp. 73-80.
27. Cfr. ibidem, pp 82-83, 144-148.
28. Yoseph Colon, Sheelot w-teshuot, Responsa, Venice, Daniel
Bomberg, 1519, resp. no. 5; Id., Responsa and Decisions, by E. Pines,
Jerusalem, 1970, p. 282, response no. 104 (in Hebrew).
29. In Hebrew, Ha-ghedolah ha'awonotenu ha-rabbim ekh she-bene', KK.
Re'genshpurkh (= Regensburg) hem tefusim . The letter bears the
date 8 Iyyar 5238 (=1478), but this is a transcription error for 5236 (= 1476).
The Hebrew document is transcribed with many errors from an lost original and
inserted in the records of the trial of the priest Paolo da Novara, in an
authenticated copy by the notary Giovanni da Fondo, in the dossier of the Trent
trial records, signed and sealed by the podestà Alessandro da Bassano, dated 11
March 1478 (ibidem).
30. The letters in Yiddish are also preserved in the Trent trial records (AST
Archivio Principesco Vescovile, s.l., 69, 68). These will be soon be published
in full, with an introduction by myself from the Yiddish language point of view,
in one of the coming editions of "Zakhor". The letters, which are the most
ancient remaining documents in Yiddish, have been partially indicated and with
many inxactitudes (cfr. W. Treue, Trienter Judeprozess.
Voraussetzungen-Ablaufe-Auswirkungen, 1475-1588 , Hannover Forschungen zur
Geschichte der Juden, 1977; pp. 114 ss.; Ch. Turniansky and E. Trimm,
Yiddish in Italia. Manuscripts and Printed Books from the 15th to the 17th
Century, Milan, 2003, p. 158). The missives, dated the first of May 1476,
are drawn up partly in rhymed prose. The recipients are Ellan (Ellin, Ella), and
her husband, the banker Crassino (Ghershom) of Novara, while the senders are
his/her daughter Geilin, Geilin's husband, Mordekhai Gumprecht, and his brother
31. "Il prete [gallech] mi ha visto quando ho ricevuto le lettere
che gli ho portato [“the priest [gallech] saw me when I received the letter
which I brought him”] (letter in Yiddish dated 5 May 5236 [= 1476].
32. Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 77-82,
Eckert, Motivi superstiziosi, cit., pp. 388-389.
33. The name Rikhard (Reichard), which also appears in the form Reisshart
(Rizzardo), is found solely among the Jews of Regensburg in the second half of
the Fifteenth Century (cfr. M. Stern, Regensburg in Mittelalter.
The israelitische Bevölkerung der deutschen Städte , Berlin, 1934,
pp. 48, 55; A. Beider, A Dictionary of Aschkanezic Given Names,
Bergenfield, N.J., 2001, p. 406).
34. Like Rizzardo da Regensburg, who lived at Brescia but had a bank in the
district, at Gavardo, where he lived with his two brothers, Enselino and Jacob,
another Jewish money lender, Leone di Maestro Seligman, had a dwelling at
Brescia, carrying on the money lending activity in the district, at Iseo (cfr.
F. Glissenti, Gli ebrei nel Bresciano al tempo delle Dominazione Veneta.
Nuove ricerche e studi, Brescia, 1891, pp. 8-14; F. Chiappa, Una
colonia ebraica in Palazzolo a metà a del 1400, Brescia, 1964, p. 37).
35. "Modo possunt essi anni sex vel circa in loco Seravalli, cum Arone eius
Patre staret, idem Aron dixit sibi Lazaro, quod fuerat interfectus quidam puer
in dicta Civitate Ratisbonae et quod Rizardus frater Aron dixerat sibi Aron,
quod habuerat de sanguine illius pueri interfeci Ratisbonae" [“Perhaps about six
years ago or thereabouts, in a place called Serravalle, when Aaron was there
with his father, Aaron told Lazzarus that a boy had been killed in that city of
Regensburg and that Rizzardo’s brother Aaron told him that he had some blood
from the boy killed at Regensburg”] [Bonelli], Dissertazione
apologetica, cit., p. 143.). See also Divina, Storia del beato Simone
da Trento, cit., vol. II, pp. 15, 24-25, 37-38; Po-Chia Hsia, Trent
1475, cit., pp. 91-92.
36. "Primo anno quo ipse Angelus habitavit in castro Gavardi territorii
Brixiae cum Enselino, Rizardus Hebreus, qui habitavit Brixiae, scripsit unas
litteras Enselino, in quibus significabat quod ipse Ricardus emeret de sanguine
et quod inserviret sibi de eo" [“The first year that Angelo lived in the city of
Gavrdo in the territories of Brescia with Enselino, Rizzardo the Jew, who lived
at Brescia, wrote Enselino a few letters, in which he said that Ricardo sold
blood and that he had used some of it”] (cfr. Esposito and Quaglioni,
Processi, cit., vol. I, pp. 294- 295.
37. "Isac dici audivit ab Angelo quod Rizzardus de Brixia habuerit de
sanguine cuiusdam puerii alias interfecit in Civitate Ratisbonae" [“I heard
Isaac tell Angelo that Rizzardo had some blood from the other boys killed at
Regensburg”] ([Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 144). See
also Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, pp.
38. Cfr. Po-Chia Hsia, Trent 1475, cit., pp. 97-98.
39. “Rizzardus Hebraeus habuerat de sanguine cujusdam Pueri Christiani
interfecti Ratisbonae, jam ab alisquibus annis et quod illum habuerat a Jossele,
vitrico ipsius Rizardo; quem sanguinem sibi detulerat Salomon filius cuiusdam
soriris Rizardi et quod ipse Wolfgangus dixit eidem Rizardo, quod ipse
Wolfgangus interfuerat, quando ille puer fuit interfectus Ratisbonae" [“Rizzardo
the Jew had already possesed blood from that Christian boy killed at Regensburg
for several years, and that he had received it from Jossele, Rizzardo’s
step-father, and that this Wolfgang told Rizzardo, that he, Wolfgang, had been
present at Regensburg when the boy was killed”] ([Bonelli], Dissertazione
apologetica , cit., p. 141). See also Divina, Storia del beato
Simone da Trent, cit., vol. II, 43-45.
40. "Et tunc Rizardus esset in Civitate Paduae, adjuverat ad interficiendum
quendam Puerum Christianum, quem Puerum interfecerat ipse Rizardus, una cum
certis aliis Judaeis habitantibus Paduae et in loca circumvicinia [...] et illum
interfecerant in eorum scholis, sive Synagogae") [“And when Rizzardo was in the
city of Padua, he helped killed the Christian boy, and that the person who
killed the boy was this same Rizzardo, with certain other Jews living at Padua
or other adjacent localities [...] and that they killed the boy in their school,
or synagogue”] [Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 141). It
should be noted that at Padua in 1472, a "hostaria da judeai" [Jewish inn]
located at Sant'Urbano, was kept by a certain Rizzardo di Michele, who must not,
however, be confused with Rizzardo di Brescia. In fact, the latter was the son
of Lazzaro, and practiced medicine and money lending, not tavern-keeping (ASP,
Estimo 1418, vol. 92, c. 43, ss: “Rizardus hebreus qm Michele sta a Santo Urban,
non a altro nisi la persona e soa mogliere e tri fioli. Et dice far hosteria da
zudei in la ditta contra: et paga de fitto da le hostaria a missier Archoan
Buzacharin ducati XI" [“Rizzardo the Jew, son of the late Michele, at Santo
Urbano has only himself and his wife and three children. And he said that he
kept a Jew inn in the same district; and that he rented the inn from a certain
Messer Archoan Buzachazin for eleven ducats”]; in this regard, see also C. De
Benedetti, author, Hativiwa:il cammino della speranza. Gli ebrei a
Padova , 1998, vol. I, p. 16). In 1472, Rizzardo received a certain sum due
to him from the bank owned by Salomon da Piove, represented by the son Marcuccio
(ASP, Notarile, vol. 249, c. 59v. 11 March 1472). A son of Rizzardo, Abramo,
lived at Padua in 1485 in the Volto dei Negri district (ASP, Notarile, Agostino
delle Conchelle, vol. 2056c, c. 23r 4 August 1485).
41. Cfr. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit. vol. II,
42. "Interrogatus quod dicat veritatem et non mentiatur, (Wolfgangus)
audicissime loquendo dixit quod quae supradictum Rixardum dixisse, ipse
Wolfgangus narrabit coram quocumque Domino et Principe; dicens etiam, quod per
Deum, quando ipse Wolfgangus ducetur ad justitiam, ut decapitetur, vel aliter
interficiatur, affirmavit hoc quod supradixit" [quoted in text], ([Bonelli],
Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 141).
43. Cfr. Straus, Urkunden und Aktestücke zur Geschichte der Juden in
Regensburg, cit., pp. 64-66.
44. Cfr. ([Bonelli], Disssertazione apologetica, cit., p. 141;
Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 42.
45. Cfr. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II,
46. This Abramo, a banker at Piacenza, seems to have been
active from 1455 until the end of Feburary 1476. Cfr. Sh. Simonsohn, The
Jews in the Duchy of Milan , Jerusalem, 1982, vol. I, pp. 183,
653, nn. 391, 1585).
47. On 7 August 1479, Falcone, "hostero de li hebrei
in la città de Pavia" [“inkeeper for the Jews in the city of Pavia”], asked the
Duke of Milan for authorization "de tenere zoghi [...] in la casa de la sua
habitatione, et che cadauno hebreo gli possa zugare tam de nocte quam de die a
suo piacere, libere et impune" [“to run gambling games [...] in his dwelling,
and that each Jew may gamble there by night or day, at his pleasure, without
punishment”]. The Duke consented, on the condition that gambling with Christians
in the tavern would be prohibited (cfr. C. Invernizzi, Gli ebrei a
Pavia, in Bollettino della Societa Pavese di Storia Patria", V (1905), p.
211; Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. II, pp. 773,
789-799, nn. 1870, 1917).
48. Cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I,
pp. 506-507, no. 1200; vol. II, pp. 798-799, no. 1917.
49. Colon, Sheelot w-teshuvot, cit., resp. no. 160. In support of
Colon's authoritative opinion came two other well-known rabbis, Yehuda Minz da
Padova and Jacob Mestre di Cremona. On the matter as a whole, see J.R. Marcus,
The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book (315-1791), New
York, 1974, pp. 389-393.
50. Cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. II,
p. 702, no. 1701. Our Falcone is not identical with the Jew of the same name who
had taken part in the conspiracy hatched in 1476 by the banker Manno da Pavia
and other influential Jews from the Duchy of Milan to poison the bishop of Trent
in revenge, as the priest Divina seems to believe (Storia del beato Simone
da Trento, cit. vol. II, p. 30, no. 1). The personage in question is in
fact, explicitly called Falcone da Monza and had a house in that city (ibidem,
pp. 161-165). In the spring of 1470, Falcone da Monza was arrested, on the
denunciation of a converted Jew, with the accusation, later revealed to be
unfounded, of disfiguring an image of the Virgin Mary and throwing it in the
flames (cfr. L. Fumi, L'Inquisizione Roman e lo Stato di Milano, in
"Archivio Storico Lombardo", XXX (1903), p. 307; Simonsohn, The Jews in the
Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I, pp. 518-519, 526, nn 1266, 1244). A native of
Udine, Falcone was active in the money trade at Monza from 1472, while his money
lending permit was renewed in 1479.
In 1473, he was appointed tax collector for the Jews in the Duchy and on 4
December 1480 he appears among the representatives of the Milanese state, who
paid into the ducal strongboxes the huge fine of thirty two thousand ducats, to
which he had been sentenced for having kept Hebrew books containing injurious
expressions with regards to Jesus and Christianity (cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews
of the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I, pp. 599, 619, nn. 1440, 1494; vol. II,
pp. 781, 849, nn. 1881, 2035).
51. Cfr. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, cit., vol. II, p. 29.
Manno, who, in 1441, had a stable residence at Padua, where he managed the main
bank owned by him, from 1462 also had a house at Mestre, probably in
concomitance with the opening of the Venice branch of the Paduan bank (cfr. R.
Segre, The Jews in Piedmont, Jerusalem, 1986; vol. I, p. 289, no. 630;
Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy, cit., vol. I, p. 342, no. 768).
52. Cfr. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento,
cit., vol. II, pp. 27-29.
53. Cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I, p.
515, no. 1217.
54. In this regard, see A. Antoniazzi Villa, Fonti notarili per la storia
degli ebrei nei domini sforzechi, in "Libri e documenti", VII (1981), no.
3, p. 1-11; Ead., Appunti sulla polemica antiebraica nel Ducato
Sforzesco, in "Studi di Storia Medioevale e Diplomatica", VII (1983), pp.
119-128; Ead., Gli ebrei nel milanese dal Medioevo all'espulsione, in
F. Della Peruta, Storia illustrata di Milano, Milan, 1989, pp. 941-959.
55. Cfr. Simonsohn, The Jews in the Duchy of Milan, cit., vol. I,
pp. 436-437, no. 1019.
56. Fra Antonio da Cremona claimed that he put an end to the "toleratam
habitationem perfide et scellerate progenei ebrayce, que ultra id quod semper
pertinax fuit et est in opbrobrium christiane, legis, semper etiam in suis
officiis et orationibus in hoc perfide est obiecta christiane legi, quam ipsam
cum operibus eius quotidie et incessantur blasfemat" (cfr. Segre, The Jews
in Piedmont, cit., vol. I, p. 330-331).
57. The trial testimonies have been studied and published by A. Antoniazzi
Villa, Un processo contro gli ebrei nella Milano del 1488, Milan, 1986.
58. Fragments of Mendele Oldendorf of Regensburg’s autobiography have been
published by E. Kupfer, in "Di goldene keyt. Periodical for Literature and
Social Problems", 58 (1967) pp. 212-223 (in Yiddish). He has stressed its
importance as a source for the history of the Jews at Venice and in the
Ashkanazi communities of northern Italy in the last part of the Fifteenth
century, D. Nissim, Un "minian" de ebrei ashkenaziti a Venezia
negli anni 1465-1480 , in "Italia", XVI, 2004, p. 45.
59. In the trial documents, Jacob is referred to as "Jacob ebreus de Papia,
filius quondam Manni, habitator in civitate Papie". (Cfr. Antoniazzi Villa,
Un processo contro gli ebrei nella Milan del 1488, cit., pp. 90-92.
60. "Si faciunt aliquam ymaginem ad symilitudinem Iesus Christi et Virginis
Marie et ipsam ymaginam proyciunt in igne vel in aliquo, vel ponunt sub pedibus,
vel alidquid faceunt in contemptum" (cfr. Ibidem, p. 86; "[...] et ipsam
ymaginem proyciunt in igne, vel stercore vel sub pedibus" [“Whether they make
images in the likeness of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary and those these
images in the fire or elsewhere, or stamp them underfoot, or otherwise hold them
in contempt”] (cfr. Ibidem, p. 88).
61. "(Judaei} panes azymos seu mazoctos secundum ritum eorum legis confecisse
ad instar tamen gloriossimi cruxifficii et eius vilipendium [...] quia fecerunt
quatuor imagines de pasta ad imaginem domini nostri Jehesus Christi in
obproprium Christi et fidei catholice, comburendo ipsas imagines infra quendam
furnam" (cfr. Segre, The Jews in Piedmont, cit., vol. I, pp. 146-147, nos.
326-327). For documentation on other cases in which, in the Middle Ages, the
Jews were accused of making, on the eve of the Passover, leavened bread with the
image of the crucicifed Christ, and then causing them to be consumed in the heat
of the furnace, see D. Nirenberg, Communities of Violence. Persecution
of Minorities in the Middle Ages , Princeton (N.J.), 1996, p. 220.
62. "Si (hebrei) capiunt aliquem christianum et aliquid de ipso in comtemptum
fidei christiane faciunt" (cfr. Antoniazzi Villa, Un processo
contro gli ebrei nella Milano del 1488 , cit.. p. 86).
MAGICAL AND THERAPEUTIC USES OF BLOOD
Reading the depositions of defendants accused of ritual child murder
with relation to the utilization of blood, one is left with the clear
impression that, rather than explain the need for the blood of a
Christian child, the defendants were attempting to provide a
description of the wonderful therapeutic and magical properties of
blood generally, and of blood extracted from children and young
persons in particular. The principle emphasis was placed upon
scorched, dried blood which been reduced to powder; such blood is said
to have been used as an haemostatic [coagulant] of extraordinary
effectiveness when applied to the wound caused by circumcision. Angelo
da Verona had no doubt in this regard and explained to the judges at
Trent that, once the blood had been reduced to powder, Jews normally
save it for later re-use when their sons were circumcised, to heal the
wound in the foreskin. If available, they were said to have used
other haemostatic powders as an alternative, such as bolo di Armenia and the so-called "dragon's blood", a sort of dark red colored resin, known in pharamceutics as Calamus Draco or Pterocarpus Draco (1).
The physician Giuseppe di Riva del Garda, known as the "hunchbacked
Jew", who had circumcised Angelo’s sons, normally used it during the
course of the holy operation (2).
Obviously, Maestro Tobias, who rightly considered himself a medical
expert, also knew how to prepare the magic haemostatic: "You take the
blood, allowing it to coagulate; then you dry it and make a powder out
of it, which can be used in so many different ways" (3).
Giovanni Hinderbach seemed scandalized by these revelations and
censured the wickedness of the Jews in healing the circumcision wounds
of their sons with the blood of Christian children in his opening
address at the Trent trial. "As with other things Tobias confessed",
explained the prince bishop, "they medicate their circumcisions with
the powder of that coagulated blood and then, in the
second or third day after the operation, recovering their health" (4).
Elias and Mercklin (Mordekhai), as well, two of the brothers accused
of the terrible multiple homicide of Endingen in Alsace, during their
trial in 1470, attempted uselessly to beat around the bush before the
inquisitors’ demands relating to the use of the blood of Christian
children by Jews. This blood was then utilized for the marvelous
balsamic qualities which it possessed, beneficial in curing epilepsy
and eliminating the disgusting body odour of Jews [il disgustoso
fetore giudaico]. But in the end, they both admitted to making use of
the magical healing liquid to cure the circumcision wounds of their sons
(5). Leo of Pforzheim, the most illustrious among the
defendants accused of acquiring blood from the children killed at
Endingen, confessed that he had procured it because it was required
for the circumcision procedure. Leo had known that the powdered blood
of children was used as a coagulant of proven efficacy on those
occasions for more than twenty years, ever since the first time he had
been present a circumcision ceremony with his father, twenty years
before (6). The Jews accused of ritual child murder
at Tyrnau in Hungary in 1494 also declared, among other things, that
they had used powdered blood as a circumcision haemostatic (7)
. The widespread use of blood as a powerful haemostatic among the
Jews is probably the reason for the widespread notion that Jewish
males – all directly or indirectly guilty of Deicide – suffered painful
and abundant monthly menstruation periods [presumably anally].
Perhaps first advanced by Cecco d'Ascoli in his commentary De Sphaera by
Sacrobosco in 1324, this eccentric opinion is said to have received
enthusiastic support from the Dominican friar Rodolfo de Selestat in
Alsace (8). The Jews, the killers of Christ, and their
progeny, were said to been inflicted with an abnormal escape of blood,
menstruations, bleeding hemorrhoids, hematuriae [blood in the urine]
and exhausting fits of dysentery, which they were alleged to attempt
to cure through the application of Christian blood as a haemostatic.
"I heard of the Jews [...] that all the Jews, descendants of those
guilty of Deicide, have escapes of blood every month and often suffer
from dysentery, from which they frequently perish .But they recover
their health by virtue of Christian blood, baptized in the name of
Circumcision hemorrhages, epistaxis [nosebleed], overly abundant
menstruation, open hemorrhoids, abnormal abdominal flow. The most
effective cure to control and heal them always seemed to be
recourse to the powerful and magical powdered blood of children. But
in this, the Jews were acting no differently from the Christians of
the surrounding society, despite Hindenbach’s feigned and artificial
stupefaction. In popular medicine, blood, whether human or animal, was
alleged to be an indispensable component in the preparation of
electuaries [powder-based medications mixed with honey or syrup to
form a paste] and astringent powders of extraordinary effectiveness (10).
As Pier Camporesi wrote, "a sacred and alchemistic haemostatic, blood
(and not incorrectly, in epochs in which hemorrhages represented a
terrible tragedy, was considered a powerful healant" (11). According to the prescriptions of the Theatrum Chemicum,
marvelous unguents and powders were derived from human blood, capable
of arresting even the most resistant flow of blood and of expelling
dangerous infirmities (12). The most expert specialists
knew that human blood possessed great therapeutic powers and was
therefore to be prepared and treated with the greatest care. They
therefore recommended that "it being ascertained that it is perfectly
dry, it should be immediately placed in a bronze mortar, which must be
quite hot, and should be ground with a pestle and made to pass
through the finest sieve, and after all of it has passed, it shall be
sealed in a small glass pot and must be renewed every year in the
Be that as it may, the Jews, when they described the operation of
circumcision addressing the Christian public, preferred to omit the use
of children's blood among the "restrictive powders" and limited
themselves to listing others, such as the classical Dragon's Blood and
coral powder. Leon of Modena, the noted rabbi of Venice, in his
classic Historia de' Riti Hebraici described the ceremony of circumcision (berith milah ) briefly as follows:
"The mohel comes with a plate, upon which are the
instruments and things necessary, such as razor, astringent powders,
pieces of bandage with rose oil, and some similarly use a bowl of sand
in which to place the foreskin, which is cut [...]. The mohel continues,
and, with the mouth, sucks the blood flowing from the wound two or
three times and spits it into a glass of wine, after which he places
Dragon's blood, coral powder, or things which staunch, and piece of
bandage soaked in of rose oil on the cut, and binds and bandages it
tightly. He then takes a glass of wine [...] and bathes the infant's
mouth with the wine in which he spat out the sucked blood" (14).
The omission of powdered blood from among the haemostatic powders
could not be accidental. Confirmation of this point could easily be
obtained from "Jews turned Christians". They would naturally never
have concealed such a scandalous practice,
assuming that they actually considered it scandalous. Shemuel
Nahmias, a Venetian and disciple of Leon da Modena, later baptized
under the name of Giulio Morosini, discussing the topic of
circumcision, did not conceal his severe censure of the custom of
placing blood mixed with wine on the child’s mouth. This practice
seemed to him in implacable conflict with the Biblical prohibition
against the consumption of blood ("Tell me, moreover, is it not against
the Divine Law, expressed in several places, that the blood is not to
be eaten or drunk? And then in the rite of circumcision, you place the
circumcised boy's own blood, issuing from the foreskin, mixed in
wine, in his own mouth, adding, to your greater transgression, and
repeating that in that blood he will live, almost is if he were to be
nourished by that blood").
But to the utilization of the blood of the Christian child as a
haemostatic onto the wound of the circumcision, the convert Morosini
made no mention at all, almost if the practice were unknown to him or
did not merit considerable attention.
"At this point the mohel arrives, and, behind him, another
person, with a basin or cup in his hand, containing all the
instruments necessary to the ceremony are placed, some silver tongs,
which are placed as a sign of how much foreskin is to be cut, a powder
full of Dragons Blood and other astringent powders to clot the blood,
and two cups or small soup plates, one containing an absorbent
material cut up for the purpose, greased with oil of Balsam or rose
oil to medicate the cut, and one filled with earth or sand in which to
place the foreskin, burying the portion of the foreskin which had been
cut off [...] having completed the above, the mohel squeezes
the little member of the circumcised boy, and sucking in the blood
several times, spits it into a glass of wine, prepared for this
purpose, and finishes by treating the cut with the above mentioned oil
and powder (15).
Another converted Jew, Raffael Aquilino, baptized in 1545, and later
appointed by the Holy Office with responsibility for confiscating the
Talmud and burning it in the territories in the Duchy of Urbino and
the Marca, never dwelt in the slightest upon the presumed Jewish
custom of using powdered Christian blood to heal the circumcision
wound, instead, concerning himself with the analogies between the Holy
Trinity and the three recurrent elements in the ceremony, applied to
the burying the foreskin in the earth of the cemetery, the egg and
wine, which, after washing the wound, is given to the infant to drink.
"Similarly, they take three things for the said circumcision, i.e.,
the earth from their sepulchers, and they put it in a basin in which
they place the flesh
which they cut off the foreskin, the wine with which they render
thanks to God [...] and three eggs, while in the basin, into which
they pour the wine used to wash the foreskin [...] and they wash the
circumcision wound with the wine three times" (16).
The famous Tuscan convert Paolo Medici describes the ceremony of
circumcision in detail, with obvious hostility, but seems unaware of
the use of coagulated blood as a haemostatic powder. In fact, he
restricted himself to observing, without further detail, that "the mohel [...]
places astringent powders, rose oil and similar things on the cut, in
certain piece of bandage, ties it up, bandages it and delivers it to
the Godmother" (17) .
One could at this point conclude that the use of the powdered blood
of children, and especially Christian blood, as a haemostatic during
circumcision, in view of the disinterest in its regard shown even by
converted Jews, on other points inclined to defame Judaism, is a
chimera and a tendentious invention, either of the inquisitors,
obsessed with blood, or of Jews themselves, terrorized by torture and
slavishly eager to placate their tormenters. But this would be
erroneous and misleading.
The texts of the practical Cabbalah, the handbooks of stupendous medications (segullot),
compendia of portentous electuaries, recipe books of secret cures,
mostly composed in the German-speaking territories, even very recently,
stress the haemostatic and astringent powders of young blood, above
all, on the circumcision wound. These are ancient prescriptions,
handed down for generations, put together, with variants of little
importance, by cabbalistic herb alchemists of various origins, and
repeatedly reprinted right down to the present day, in testimony to
the extraordinary empirical effectiveness of these remedies.
Elia ben Mosè Loan, rabbi of Worms, known as the Baal Shem (literally: the patron of the name), in his Sefer Telodot Adam ("Book
of the Story of Man"), in Hebrew and Yiddish, prescribed that "to
arrest the flow of blood from the circumcision and that which flows from
the nose, one must take the blood, boil it over the fire until it is
desiccated, and reduced to powder, place it successively on the cut of
the circumcision or of the nostrils, so that the blood coagulates" (18). We find a similar recipe in the Derekh ha-chaim ha-nikra Segullot Israel ("Way of the Life, also called the Book of Portentous Remedies of Israel")
by Chaim Lipschütz, which adds another magical medication, this time
intended to arrest the menstrual flow. "Take the menstrual blood and a
chicken feather, which thou shalt immerse it in the menstrual blood
patient; when the blood with the feather has been well shaken, cause
it to be dried before the fire, making a powder of it, which thou
shalt administer it to the woman in wine" (19).
Sacharja Plongiany Simoner, in his classic Sefer Zechirah ("Book
of Medical Briefs"), was also rather precise as regards the Biblical
references to the extraordinary curative and restrictive powers of
"To stop the flow of blood from circumcision or nasal hemorrhage
using the coagulated blood of the child or the patient: the blood is
placed before the fire until it hardens, and then it is crushed with a
pestle, making a fine powder to be placed on the wound. And that is
what we find written in the book of Jeremiah (30:17): ‘For I shall
restore health unto thee, and I shall heal thee of thy wounds’. It is
to be understood in fact that it shall be precisely from your wound,
i.e., from your blood, that your health shall be restored to you" (20).
It does not, therefore, appear that there can be any doubt as to the
fact that, through an antique tradition, never interrupted, empirical
healers, cabbalists and herb alchemists prescribed powdered blood as a
healant of proven effectiveness during circumcision or hemorrhage.
The fact that this practice was probably anything but generalized
should not lead us to suppose that it was not actually in use,
particularly in the Ashkenazi Jewish communities, where stupendous
"secrets", first transmitted orally, then printed in suitable
compendiums, are said to have enjoyed extraordinary success over time.
On the other hand, empirical knowledge of an analogous kind, even if
obviously applied to contingencies other than circumcision, were a
heritage of surrounding Christian society, proving themselves
profoundly rooted, particularly on the popular level (21).
Two other Jewish customs relating to circumcision, which do not
appear to have been uniformly widespread from the geographical and
chronological point of view, are also of particular interest. Here as
well, popular beliefs, based on magical and superstitious elements,
seem to possess a vigor and a vitality capable of circumventing the
precise norms of ritualistic Judaism (halakhah), or of seriously distorting them.
The ritual responses of the Gheonim, the heads of the
rabbinical academies of Babylon, active between the VII and XI
centuries, refer to the local custom of boiling perfumes and spices in
water, thus rendering them fragrant and odorous, and of circumcising
children, making their blood gush into that liquid until the
colors were mixed. "It is at this point", the rabbinical response
continues, "that all the young males wash Themselves in that water, in
memory of the blood of the pact, which has united God to our
patriarch Abraham" (22). In this rite, of a
propitiatory nature, the blood from the circumcision wound, united
with the sweet-smelling potion, is said to have possessed the ability
to transform itself into a potent aphrodisiac, used in curative
electuaries, beneficial in lending vigor to amorous desires and to the
procreative abilities of initiated males.
One form of magical cannibalism, related to circumcision, may be
found in a custom highly widespread among both the Ashkenazi Jewish
communities and [Jewish?] communities of the Mediterranean region. The
women present at the circumcision ceremony but not yet blessed with
progeny of the male sex, anxiously awaited the cutting of the foreskin
of the child. At this point, throwing inhibition to the winds, as if
at a pre-established signal, the women hurled themselves upon that
piece of bloody flesh. The luckiest woman is alleged to have snatched
it up and gulped it down immediately, before she could be mobbed by
the competing females, who must have been no less hardened and highly
motivated. The triumphant winner was in no doubt whatever that the proud
tit-bit would be infallibly useful in causing the much-coveted virile
member to germinate inside the impregnated abdomen through
sympathetic medicine. The struggle for the foreskin among women
without male progeny appears in some ways similar to today's
competition among spinsters and nubile for the conquest of the bride’s
bouquet after the wedding ceremony.
Giulio Morosini, alias Shemuel Nahmias, remembered with much
annoyance this repellent custom, which he had seen rather in vogue
among the young Jewish women of Venice.
"The superstition of the women is remarkable in this regard. If
sterile women wishing to become pregnant happened, as they frequently
did, to be present [at the circumcision ceremony], not a single one of
them would hesitate to fight off the others and steal the foreskin;
and the first one to grab it never hesitates to fling it in her mouth
and swallow it as a sympathetic remedy of extremely great
effectiveness in causing her to be fruitful" (23).
Rabbi Shabbatai Lipshütz confirmed this extraordinary custom "of the
struggle amongst the women to swallow the foreskin after the cutting
of the foreskin, as a wonderful secret (segullah) in the
production of male children". He added there were rabbis who permitted
it, such as the famous North African cabbalist Chaim Yosef David
known as the Chidah (the Enigma), and the rabbi from
Salonica, Chaim Abraham Miranda, while others energetically prohibited
it, considering it a scandalous and impermissible practice (24).
But the cabbalistic herb alchemist (Rafael Ohana), expert in the
secrets of procreation, although he possessed little skill in
gynecological sciences, referred with satisfaction to the results
obtained from women having swallowed the foreskin of a circumcised
boy, even in recent times. In his guide, intended for women wishing to
have children and entitled Mar'eh ha-yaladim ("He Who Shows
the Children"), the expert North African rabbi advised that, to make
it more appetizing, the unusual dish be covered with honey, like a
home-made sweet (25). The magical and empirical
tradition linked to the foreskin of circumcision as a fecundating
element was not lost over the course of the centuries, but was
protected by the secrets of the practical Cabbalah despite the
disdainful opposition of rationalistic rabbis.
It was a common belief that the Jews used blood in powders, dried or
diluted in wine or water, applying it to the eyes of the new-born, to
facilitate their opening, and to bathe the bodies of the dying, to
facilitate their entry into the Garden of Eden (26).
Samuel Fleischaker, Israel Wolfgang's friend, indicted for the ritual
murder at Regensburg in 1467, attributed infallible magical properties
to young blood, which, spread on the eyes, was said to have served to
protect from the evil eye ('ayn ha-ra') (27).
All the cases examined above, and in a great number of those present in the compendiums of the segullot,
remedies and secret medications, drawn up and disseminated by the
masters of the practical Cabballah, constitute the exterior use, so to
speak, of blood, whether human or animal, dried or diluted, for
therapeutic and exorcistic purposes. But the accusation leveled Jews of
ingesting blood, or of using it for ritual or curative purposes, in
transfusions taken orally, appears at first glance destitute of any
basis, being in clear violation of Biblical norms and later ritual
practices, which permitted no derogation whatever from the
It is not, therefore, surprising that the Jews of the Duchy of Milan,
in their petition to Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza in May dated 1479,
intended to defend themselves from the ritual murder accusations
spreading like oil on water after the Trent murder, by recalling the
Biblical prohibition in stressing that these accusations had no basis
"That they are not guilty is easily proven by very effective proofs
and arguments, both legal and natural, from very trustworthy
authorities, first for the Jewish Law Moysaycha which prohibits murder, and in several places, the eating of blood, not only human but of any animal whatever" (28).
Also the most authoritative among the accused in the Trent trial,
Mosè da Würzburg, kown as "the Old Man", in the initial phases of his
interrogation, did not hesitate to mention the rigid Biblical
prohibition against consuming any type of blood to demonstrate the
absurdity of the accusation. "Ten Commandments given by God to Moses",
the learned Hebrew leveled at this accusers, "commands us to refrain
from killing and eating blood; it is for this reason that Jews cut the
throat of the beasts which they intend to eat and, what is more, later
salt the meat to eliminate any trace of blood" (29). Mosè "the Old Man" was very obviously perfectly well aware of the norms of slaughter (shechitah) and of the salting of meat (melikhah), prescribed by Jewish rituals (halakhah)
and which apply the Mosaic prohibition against eating blood with the
maximum severity. But his arguments, as we shall see, although
apparently convincing, were to some degree misleading.
In fact, if we turn once again to the compendia of segullot in
use among Jews of German origin, we will find a broad range of
recipes providing for the oral ingestion of blood, both human and
animal. These recipes are stupendous electuaries, sometimes complex in
preparation, intended to cure ailments and bring about cures, as well
as to protect and to cure. For Shabbatai Lipschütz, to arrest the
excessive flow of menstrual blood, it was advisable to dry before the
fire and reduce into power a chicken feather soaked with the menstrual
blood. The morning afterwards, a spoonful of that powder, diluted in
wine and served up to the woman, on an empty stomach, was said to have
infallibly produced the desired effect. Another secret medication,
collected by Lipschütz and considered of extraordinary effectiveness
on the basis of long tradition, was prescribed for women who wished to
get pregnant. The recipe provided that a pinch of dried rabbit’s
blood be dissolved in wine and administered to the patient. As an
alternative, a composite of worms and menstrual blood could be of
great utility (30) .
Also Elia Loans, the Baal Shem of Worms, celebrated the extraordinary properties of rabbit’s blood in impregnating sterile
women. The expert Caballist moreover prescribed, for the cure of
epilepsy, the dilution in wine of dried blood from a virgin having her
first menstrual period (31). In this regard, it
should be noted that Mercklin (Mordekhai), one of those condemned for
the plural ritual murder at Endingen in 1470, stressed the
effectiveness of using young human blood in curing epilepsy (32).
The compendia of segullot furthermore stressed the
prodigious properties of human blood, naturally, always dried and
prepared in the form of curdles or powder, as the main ingredient of
aphrodisiacal elixirs inciting to love and copulation, in addition to
their ability to bring about the fulfillment of the most audacious and
consuming of erotic dreams. It is not surprising that blood was
sometimes featured in relation to matrimony -- another fundamental
rite of passage -- in addition to its uses in circumcision and in the
preparation for death.
In the popular tradition, included, for example, by the Jews of
Damascus, "a man who wishes to win the love of a woman should extract a
bit of his own blood, and after drying it before the fire, cause it
to be drunk, dissolved in wine, by the woman who is the object of his
passion" (33) . This electuary is said to have been of proven effectiveness in such cases . Other compendia of segullot state
that the recipe was to be considered valid for both men and women and
that, to be of greater effectiveness, the blood should be taken from
the little finger of the right hand of the person suffering from an
unrequited passion (34). The defendants accused of the
ritual child murder at Tyrnau in 1494 and at Posing, both in Hungary,
in 1592, also mention the use of blood as an aphrodisiac and in
inciting love, including, and most particularly, in the celebration of
matrimony (35). In the famous case of the supposed
profanation of the Host stolen from the Knoblauch church in
Brandenburg in 1510, the rich Jew Mayer of Ostenburg was accused of
having purchased the Host at a high price to extract its essence, and
then of using it on the occasion of his son Isaac’s wedding to prepare
an aphrodisiac elixir intended for the bride and groom (36).
In the Trent trial, the women, particularly those linked to the
authoritative Samuele da Norimberg, the acknowledged head of the
Jewish community, made no secret of their great faith in the
effectiveness of the blood of children as an ingredient in sublime
potions, both curative and protective, of which the popular medicine
and the practical Caballah were extraordinarily rich, based on long
tradition. Bella, Mosè da Würzburg’s daughter-in-law, stated without
hesitation, in her statement in February 1476, that "that
the blood of a child was beneficial in a manner wonderful to women,
incapable of birth at term". The women recalled that, when young Anna
of Montagana, daughter-in-law of Samuele da Nuremberg, was pregnant
and suffering from the threat of miscarriage, her mother-in-law,
Brunetta, as a woman and an expert in these things, as she was,
visited her in her bedroom, making her take a spoonful of a medicament
consisting of dried and powdered blood dissolved in wine (37).
On another occasion, Bella had seen Anna, pregnant and suffering,
sustain herself with a bit of blood mixed with the yoke of a lightly
boiled egg (38).
For their part, Bona and Dolcetta, respectively the sister and wife
of Angelo da Verona, recalled with nostalgic stupefaction their
meeting with an herb alchemist of great fame and experience, a few
years previously. According to them, this Cabballistic quack, known as
Maestro Jacob, possessed a book full of "secrets" of exorbitant and
extraordinary effectiveness, including that of causing pelting rain
To do this, it was necessary to mix young blood with the clear water
of a fountain while pronouncing formulae and exorcisms,
incomprehensible to the uninitiated (39). As we have
already stressed several times, it is not difficult to arrive at the
conclusion that, when the Jews were accused of ritual murder, rather
than justify the necessity of the -- so to speak – religious uses of
blood, they preferred to expatiate at length upon the magical and
therapeutic functions of blood generally, both human and animal, known
and widespread among the people and, in particular, among
German-speaking persons, both Jewish and Christian.
This does not yet explain how the Jews, and the Ashkenazi Jews in
particular, could reconcile the Biblical prohibition against the oral
consumption of blood – which was rigid and without exceptions -- with
the custom, apparently well-rooted, of using it, nonetheless, in
medications and elixirs of various kinds, proven and tested over time.
Since these elixirs are often true and proper medications, even if
not contemplated by official medicine, the Jewish ritual law (halakhah)
only permitted them when the patient was considered in danger of his
life, in which case the complete and temporary abolition of all the
norms of the Torah -- Jewish law -- was permitted in order to save the
patient. But, as we have noted, in popular practice, blood, both
human or animal, appeared even in preparations to be administered to
patients suffering from minor complaints, or complaints of only
relative seriousness, or even as a curative in the toils of love.
Confronted by these obvious contradictions, even
the defendants in the Trent trial found it necessary to take a
position, and to explain and justify such things. And this was not an
easy task at all, partly because many of them lacked the necessary
culture to do so.
Lazzaro da Serravalle, servant in Angelo da Verona’s house, attempted
to do so instinctively, without entering into any over-complicated
reasoning. In his view, the dictates of the Torah referred to animal
blood only -- which was always prohibited -- while it was permitted to
ingest the blood of a human being, particularly if it was the blood
of a Christian, the declared enemy of the Jews and Judaism (40).
As usual Israel Wolfgang, who must have possessed rather more culture
than Lazzaro, although not strictly rabbinical, attempted to supply a
more elaborate response, ingenious and less crude. To the young
artist from Brandenburg, it was clear that the Torah and later
rabbinical regulations presupposed two different moral codes, one
applying to the Jewish world, and the other applicable to the
surrounding Christian world, which was different and often hostile and
menacing. Therefore, that which was prohibited between Jews was not
necessarily prohibited in relations between Jews and Christians. For
example, the Biblical norm which prohibited usury between two brothers
(Deut. 23:21), "unto a stranger thou may’st lend upon usury; but unto
thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury"), was interpreted as
concerning exclusively relations between Jews, while usurious lending to
Christians was automatically permitted -- so much so as to be
universally practiced (41). With a bold analogy,
which we decline to believe was extorted by judges exceptionally
erudite in Jewish matters by means of ingenious verbal and
psychological trickery, Israel Wolfgang maintained that even the
Biblical prohibition against human blood was absolute for Jews, and
rigid when it involved blood extracted from the veins of Jews, but was
permitted and even recommended when originating from the body of
Christians, or Christian children in particular (42).
In this regard, it is worth recalling that, in that which Camporesi
calls as "the dark tunnel of necromantic medicine", specialty shops
offered alchemists and herb alchemists oils and balsams extracted from
fetid mummies, miraculous electuaries containing the powder of
craniums, often from persons condemned to death, fat from human flesh,
distilled from the bodies of persons killed and suicides (43).
It is not surprising that popular medicine should also have permitted
them as legitimate medications, prescribing them not only in the cure
of serious and dangerous complaints. The sole recommendation in these
cases remains the explanation that oils, fats and bones in powder,
mummies and human flesh
in poultices -- as Israel Wolfgang explained to the judges of Trent
with reference to human blood -- were not to be extracted from the
corpses of Jews. The rabbinical responses were rather clear in this
regard, when they hastened to stress that "there is no prohibition
against usefully benefiting from the dead bodies of Gentiles" (44).
Perhaps the solution to the Biblical and rabbinical contradiction
between the consumption of blood and the custom -- established among
the Ashkenazi Jews -- of consuming it on the most varied occasions,
may be identified in a late response of Jacob Reischer of Prague
(1670-1734), head of the yeshivah of Ansbach in Bavaria and later active at Worms and Metz (45).
The ritualistic text contains testimonies to a practice widespread
over time immemorial among the Jews of the German community, and
considered de facto permissible, notwithstanding the fact that it
obviously contradicted the dictates of the Talmud. Being a custom now
generalized among the Jews (minhagh Israel), it came, over
time, to assume the same strictness as a ritual standard. The inquiry
and the response of the Reischer referred to the consumption of the
blood of the stambecco (Bocksblut), for medicinal use, even in cases in which the patient was not in danger of his life.
"INQUIRY: What is the basis for the fact that most Jews traditionally
permit the consumption and drinking of the coagulated and dried blood
of the ibex [a long-horned Alpine mountain goat], known as Bocksblut and
dried in the sun, even in the event that it may be consumed by
patients whose lives are not in peril, such as people suffering from
epilepsy, when it is one of the internal organs of the body which
RESPONSE: The legality of this custom must be upheld because it is
long-established. This medication is obviously permissible, because
clearly, when a custom becomes widespread among the Jews (minhagh Israel),
it must be considered to be on the level of the Torah itself. The
ritual motive of the permission is based, in my view, on the fact that
(the blood) is dried to the point that it is transformed into a piece
of wood and contains no moisture .It is not, therefore, prohibited in
The authoritative German rabbi sought to uphold the ritual lawfulness
of dried blood totally without any liquid component, stating that, in
this manner, the blood must be considered to have lost any alimentary
connotations. But obviously, the central justification of his
argument remained the notion that a custom established over time in
the community of Israel, even if in contrast with the norms, was to be
considered perfectly authorized and permissible.
It has been accurately observed in this regard (but the reasoning may
be opportunely repeated in other cases as well, as we shall see),
that "the Ashkenazi Jewish community, in the eyes of its rabbis,
represented the community of health, zealous in the application of the
Law of the Lord; to those rabbis, it was impossible to conceive of
the fact that thousands of Jews, devote, fearing God and solicitous in
sanctifying the name of the Lord, may His name be blessed, might be
violating the names of his Law day after day. If therefore the
community of Israel practiced a certain custom, even in conflict with
the norms of the Torah, that meant that this was permitted. The
consequence of this bold assumption did not alarm that generation
[....] The German rabbis revised in the actions of their people a sort
of translation into reality of the Law of God, thus as it was
transmitted for generations from father to son" (46).
If this reasoning was to be considered valid with reference to the standards of ritualistic law (halakhah),
it was even more valid if applied to widespread and profoundly rooted
customs, on the ritual lawfulness of which the Ashkenazi Jews,
despite appearances, appeared to have no doubt (47).
Their rabbis did not therefore hesitate to approve and approve
practices and customs, such as that of the consumption of blood, even
when they appeared in obvious violation of the prohibitions of Jewish
The persistence of the custom of ingesting dried blood in medicinal
electuaries, widespread among the Ashkenazi Jews until modern times, is
testified to in the response of Hayym Ozer Grodzinski (1863-1940), a
respected rabbi of Vilna (Vilnius). Responding to a question (dated
1930!), relating to the lawfulness of medications based on dried
animal blood to be administered to sick people who were not in peril
of their lives, the Lithuanian rabbi recalled the tradition, rooted
for generations among Ashkenazi Jews. "As to the problem of the
lawfulness of administering animal blood to a patient who is not in
danger, since the blood has lost part of its elements and has been
dried, this is my response". Therefore, Grodzinski went on to explain:
"If the blood is completely dried, it must certainly be permitted
[...] and, even in the case of true and proper blood, as long as it
was watered down, permission may be granted, in an emergency. And yet,
since it is easy to use dried blood, which is considered by all to be
perfectly lawful, it is impossible to imagine a state of emergency
which would permit the oral ingestion of blood dissolved in water" (48).
In conclusion, the Jewish custom in the Germanic territories,
throughout history, of consuming potions and medications based on
animal blood, without regard to ritual prohibition of the Torah,
appears to be incontrovertibly confirmed by authoritative and
significant Hebraic texts. As we have seen, the compendiums of segullot in
many cases expanded the lawfulness of using human blood, to be
administered dried and dissolved in another liquid, which was to be
recommended, not only for therapeutic purposes, but in conjurations and
exorcisms of all kinds (49). The Trent defendants
were perfectly well aware of this, and listed a long case history of
it based on personal experience, even if, during the first moments of
the trial, they may have considered it expedient to mention the
Biblical prohibition against the ingestion of blood, which is well
known to everyone, as if it were applied by them scrupulously in
everyday reality. The records of the Trent trial were also to reveal,
not only the generalized use of blood by German Jews for curative and
magic purposes, but the necessity which the accused, according to their
inquisitors, are alleged to have felt to supply themselves with
Christian blood (and that of a baptized child, in particular), above
all, in the celebration of the rites of Pesach, the Jewish
Passover. In this case, all they had to do was turn to specialized,
acknowledged retailers of blood, or itinerant alchemists and herb
alchemists, to obtain the required goods; but it was necessary to
ascertain that the object of purchase was actually that precious and
much sought-after commodity, young Christian blood, despite the facility
of falsification and adulteration. And this was not an easy thing to
do, or something to be taken for granted.
During the trial for ritual child murder brought against the Jews of
Waldkirch, a village a short distance from Freiburg, in 1504, the
victim's father, Philip Bader, was later found to be the murderer of
the victim, little Matthew, and therefore executed publicly, thus
illustrating the perpetrator’s relations with Jews. In his deposition
rendered to the Judge, Bader admitted obtaining a certain amount of
blood from the child's neck, without intending to kill him, to sell
the blood to the Jews, who, according to him, paid high prices for
that type of merchandise. In this case, the Jews are said to have
refused to buy it, saying that Bader intended to swindle them,
offering them animal blood instead of the blood of a Christian child.
For their part, the Jews of Waldkirch advanced the theory that the
unnatural father had killed the child, probably during a clumsy
attempt to take blood from the carotid artery and profit
from the sale (50). In any case, it seems certain
that, in the reality of the German territories, blood was frequently
purchased and sold, at high prices, for the most diverse purposes, and
that young human blood was certainly preferable to animal blood. It
was, therefore, foreseeable that the ambiguous and equivocal sector of
selling and purchasing human blood was rife with fraud and
counterfeiting for the purpose of increasing one’s profits with the
minimum of effort.
According to Trent defendants, their more alert clients had demanded
that the resellers provide certificates of ritual suitability, signed
by serious and acknowledged rabbinical authorities, as was customarily
done for food products prepared according to the religious rules of
the kashrut . No matter how paradoxical and improbable this
fact may appear to our eyes -- so much so as make one believe that it
was invented out of whole cloth by the judicial authorities of Trent
-- we believe that this matter deserves a certain amount of attention
and precise verification, where possible, of the underlying facts and
particulars upon which it appears to be built.
Both Maestro Tobias and Samuele da Nuremberg, Angelo da Verona, Mosè
"the Old Man" of Würzburg, and his son Mohar (Meir), all recalled
having come into contact with these retailers of blood, often,
according to them, equipped with written rabbinical authorizations.
Sometimes they even recalled their names and origins; in some cases,
they described their physical appearance with numerous details.
Abramao (Maestro Tobias’s supplier), Isacco of Neuss, from the
bishopric of Cologne, Orso of Saxony, Jacob Chierlitz, also of Saxony,
are not names which mean a lot to us. These are the names attributed
to these itinerant merchants, originating in Germany and traveling,
with their leather purses with waxed and tin-plated bottoms, to the
Ashkenazim communities of Lombardy and the Triveneto region (51).
“Old Man” Mosè da Würzburg assured the judges that, in his long
career, he had always acquired the blood of Christian boys from
trustworthy persons and retailers bearing the required written
rabbinical guarantees, which he called "testimonial letters (52).
So as not to be too vague about it, Isacco da Gridel, cook in Angelo
da Verona’s house, recalled the manner in which the wealthier Jews of
Cleburg, a city under the domination of Filippo de Rossa, acquired the
blood of Christian children from a rabbi named Simone, who lived in
Frankfurt, then a free city (53). This “Simone of Frankfurt” is certainly identical with Shimon Katz,
rabbi of the Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main from 1462 to 1478,
the year of his death: Shimon Katz was also the chairman of the local
rabbinical tribunal. Rabbi Shimon Katz maintained close relations
with the spiritual leaders of the Ashkenazim communities of Northern
Italy and maintained close relations and friendship with Yoseph Colon,
almost undisputed religious head of the Italian Jews of German origin
(54). To consider him as a common trafficker in
Christian blood, as Isacco the cook claimed, frankly impresses me as
an oversimplification and not very believable, in the absence of other
information in support of such a singular thesis.
Undoubtedly more serious and worthy of consideration, even if
extorted by means of cruel coercive methods, was the related testimony
of Samuele da Nuremberg, undisputed head of the Jews of Trent.
Samuele confessed to his inquisitors that the itinerant peddler Orso
(Dov) from Saxony, from whom he had obtained the blood, presumably
that of a Christian child, bore credential letters signed by "Mosès of
Hol of Saxony, Iudeorum principalis magister". There appears to be no
doubt that this “Mosè of Hol” was identical with Rabbi Mosès, head of
the yeshiva at Halle, who, together with his family, enjoyed
privileges granted by the archbishop of Magdeburg in 1442 and later by
Emperor Friedrich III in 1446, including that of adorning himself with
the title of Jodenmeister, i.e., the principalis magister Judeorum,
as Mosè is described in Samuele da Nuremberg’s deposition. We know
that Mosè abandoned Halle (a particular apparently ignored by Samuele)
as early as 1458 and had moved to Poznán in Poland, to pursue his
rabbinical activity in that community (55).
The text of the certificate of guarantee signed by Mosè of Halle,
which accompanied the purse of dried blood sold by Orso (Dov) of
Saxony, was quite similar to the text of an attestation commonly
issued in relation to permissible food: "Be it known by all, that all
that which is carried by Dov is kasher" (56).
It is understandable that the script intentionally omitted any mention
of the type of merchandise dealt in by Orso. Samuele, once he had
bought the blood, wrote his name on the white leather of the purse,
which featured a list of the German merchant’s clients and a signature
in Hebrew: Rabbi Schemuel mi-Trient (57).
NOTES TO CHAPTER SIX
1. "Accipiunt dictum sanguinem dictorum puerorum Christianorum et
illu redigunt in pulverem, quem pulverem ipsi Iudei servant et postea,
quando circumciserunt eorum filios, ponunt de sanguine pueri
Christiani super preputiis circuncisourm [...] et si non possunt
habere de sanguine pueri Christiani quando circumcisorum, ponunt de
bolo Armeno et de sanguine draconis, et dicit quod dictus pulvis
mirabiliter consolidat vulnera et restringit sanguinem" [“They take
the blood of Christian boys and reduce it to powder, which powder these
Jews use themselves, and later, when they circumcise their sons, they
place the blood of Christian boys on the foreskin of the circumcised
child […] and if they cannot obtain the blood of Christian boys they
circumcise, they use Bolo of Armenia and Dragon’s Blood, and say that
the said power miraculously heals the wound and clots the flow of
blood”] T. Deposition of Angelo da Verona to the Trent judges on 8
April 1475. Cfr. A. Eposito and D. Quaglioni, Processi contro gli ebrei di Trento, 1475-1478; I: I processi del 1475,
Padua, 1990, p. 288. On the Jewish custom of applying astringent
powders such as dragon's blood on the circumcision wound, see J.
Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, Philadelphia (Pa.), 1961, pp. 150-151.
2. "Magister Ioseph, qui habitat Ripe et qui circumcidit filios
ipsius Angeli, tenet de sanguine predicto, quod postea utitur quando
circumcidit" [“Master Joseph, a resident of Riva, who circumcised
Angelo’s sons, obtained blood, and then used it when he circumcised”]
(cfr. Esposito and Quaglioni, Processi, vol. I, cit, p. 288).
"Magister Iosephus phisicuc", known as the "zudio gobo" [hunchbacked
Jew], the circumcisor of the sons of the Angelo da Verona, appears to
have been active at Riva del Garda, together with his son Salomone, at
least until the end of 1496 (cfr. M.L. Crosina, La communità ebraica di Riva del Garda, sec. XV-XVIII, Riva del Garda, 1991, pp. 29, 33, 42-43).
3. 'Thobias [...] dicit quod (judei) accipunt sanguinem pueri
Christiani et illum faciunt coagulare et deinde illum essiccant et de
eo faciunt pulverem" [“Tobias [...] said that (the Jews) take the
blood of a Christian boy and cause it to coagulate and then they dry
it and make a powder of it”] (cfr. Esposito and Quaglioni, Processi, vol. I, cit. p. 318).
4. "Pro ut Thobias inter alias confessus est, (pueros suos
circumcisos) cum pulveribus dicti sanguinis coagulati medentur et
statim altero vel tertio die santitatem recipiunt" ([Benedetto
Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica sul martirio del beato Simone da Trento nell'anno MCCCCLVXXV dagli ebrei ucciso , Trent, Gianbattista Parone, 1747, p. 113).
5. Cfr. K. von Amira, Das Endinger Judenspiel, Halle, 1883, pp. 95-97; R. Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder. Jews and Magic in Reformation Germany , New Haven (Conn.)-London, 1988, pp. 20-21
6. Cfr. Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., p. 29.
7. Anton Bonfin, in Rerum Hungaricuarum Decades, by K.A. Bel, dec. V.I. 4, 1771, p. 728.
8. On this matter, see recently P. Billar, View of Jews from Paris around 1300. Christian or Scientific?, in D. Wood, Christianiy and Judaism, Oxford, p. 199; I.M. Resnick, On Roots of the Myth of Jewish Male Menses in Jacques de Vitry's History of Jerusalem, in "International Rennert Guest Lecture Series", III (1996), pp. 1-27. See moreover Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, cit., pp. 50, 148.
9. "Audivi a Judeis [...] quod omnes Judei, qui de eorum
processerunt, singulis mensibus sanguine fluunt et dissenterium sepius
patiantur et ea ut frequentius moriuntur. Sanatur autem per sanguinem
hominis Christiani, qui nomine Christi baptizatus est" (Historiae Memorabiles, by E. Kleinschmidt, Cologne, 1974, p. 65).
10. On the multiple uses of the blood, fresh or dried, human or
animal, in the popular Christian pharmacopaeia of the Middle Ages
until the early modern era, see the classic study by H.L. Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice. Human Blood and Jewish Ritual, London, 1909, pp. 43-88.
11. Cfr. P. Camporesi, Il sugo della vita. Simbolismo e magia del sangue, Milan, 1988, p. 14. See also the recent study of this problem by B. Bildhauer, Medieval Blood, Plymouth, 2006.
12. "Ex sanguine humano fieri potest oleum et sal, post haec lapis
rubeus mirabilis efficaciae et virtutis; cohibet flux sanguinis,
multasque infirmitates expellit" (Theatrum chemicum, Strasburg, heirs L. Zetzner, 1613, vol. I, p. 693).
13. The quote is dealt with by Francesco Sirena, L'arte dello spetiale, Pavia, G. Ghidini, 1679, p. 86. See also Camporesi, Il sugo della vita, cit., pp. 20-21.
14. Leon da Modena, Historia de' riti hebraici, Venice, Gio. Calleoni, 1638, pp. 95-96.
15. Giulio Morosini, Derekh Emunah. Via della fede mostrata agli ebrei, Rome, Propaganda Fide, 1683, pp. 114-118.
16. Raffaele Aquilino, Trattato pio, Pesaro, Geronimo
Concordia, 1571, pp. 35v-36r. On the appearance and personality of
Aquilino, whose previous Jewish name is unknown, but who was probably a
rabbi, see F. Parente, Il confronto ideologico tra l'ebraismo e la Chiesa in Italia, in "Italia Judaica", I (1983), pp. 316-319.
17. Paolo Medici, Riti et costumi degli ebrei, Madrid, Luc'Antonio de Bedmar, 1737, p. 11.
18. Eliyahu Baal Shem, Sefer Toledot Adam, Wilhemsdorf, Zvi
Hirsch von Fürth, 1734, c. 16r. The handbook was printed earlier, at
Zolkiew in 1720, while there must have been many republications before
that at Lemberg in 1875.
19. Chaim Lipschütz, Derekh ha-chaim, Sulzbach, Aharon Lippman, 1703. Under the title Sefer ha-chaim ha-nira Segullot Israel and
the attribution to Shabbatai Lipschütz, a similar work was printed in
1905 (the recipes in question are at cc. 19v and 20r) and at
Jerusalem in 1991. The use of powdered blood on the circumcision wound
is also recommended in the modern editions of the Ozara ha-segullot ("Treasure of Secret Remedies"), by A. Benjacov (Jerusalem, 1991, and in the Refuah chaim we-shalom ("Medicine, Life and Peace"), by S. Binyamini (Jerusalem, 1998). See also the manuscript code of segullot,
reproduced by Y. Ytzhaky (Amulet and Charm, Tel Aviv, 1976 [in
Hebrew], in which the prescription of powdered blood on the
circumcision wound appears at p. 101.
20. Scaharja Plongiany Simoner, Sefer Zechirah, Hamburg, Thomas Rose, 1709, M. Steinschneider (Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in Biblioteca Bodleiana , Berlin, 1852-1860, column 2249), translates the title: Memoraie et specifica (medicamenta superstitiosa). The same quotation from Jeremiah 30:17 as a textual basis for the use of dried blood as a haemostatic is reported in the Sefer-ha-chaim by
Lipschütz, who, after illustrating the treatment of the circumcision
wound, recommends, in the event of nose bleed, "di fiutare il sangue
in polvere come fosse tabacco" [to insert it in the nose as if it were
21. Strack (The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., pp. 139-144)
records similar, sometimes identical, customs, present in the popular
culture of the surrounding Christian society, but minimizes any
consideration of the significance assumed by blood among the Jews,
considering any such significance to be the product of tardy external
influences of little importance.
22. Anon., Sha're' Zedq ("The Doors of Justice"), by Nissim
Modai, Salonicco, Nahman, 1792, c. 22v. The Gaonic response on the
perfumed waters of circumcision is reproduced and commented upon by
Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., pp. 136-137.
23. Morosini, Derekh Emunah. Via della fede mostrata agli ebrei, cit., pp. 114-115.
24. Lipschütz, Sefer ha-chaim ha-nikra Segullot Israel, cit., Chaim Yoself David Azulay, Machzik herakhah, Leghorn, Castello and Sadun, 1785 (Yoreh de'ah, par. 79). Chaim Abraha Miranda, Yad neeman, Salonicco, Nahman, 1804.
25. R. Ohana, Sefer mar'eh ha-yeladim, Jerusalem, 1990.
26. On this matter, see G.A. Zaviziano, Un raggio di luce. La persecuzione degli ebrei nella storia. Riflessioni, Corfu, 1891, pp. 4-5; Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, cit., pp. 150-155.
27. Cfr. R. Straus, Urkunden und Aktenstücke zur Geschichte der Juden in Regensberg, 1453-1738, Munich, 1960, p. 78-79; Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder
, cit., p. 75. The use of (animal) blood as a safeguard against the
Evil Eye is also present among the traditions of the Jews of Kurdistan
(cfr. M. Yona, Ha-ovedim be-erez: Ashur: yehude' Kurdistan ["Dispersed in the Land of Assyria: The Jews in Kurdistan"], Jerusalem, 1988, p. 59).
28. Cfr. C. Guidetti, Pro Judaeis. Riflessioni e documenti, Torino, 1884, pp. 290-291; Zaviziano, Un raggio di luce, cit., p. 175.
29. "Cum in X praeciptis Moisi a Deo ipsis Iudeis sit mandatum quod
quempiam non interficiant nec sanguinem comedant; et propter hoc ipse
Iudei secant gulas animalibus que intendunt velle comedere, ut magis
exeat a corporibus animalium, et quod postea etiam salant carnes ut
sanguis magis exicetur" (cfr. Esposito and Quaglioni, Processi, vol. I, cit., p. 351).
30. Lipschütz, Sefer ha-chaim ha-nikra Segullot Israel, cit. The recipe of rabbit's blood to cure sterility in women is repeated by Ohana, Sefer mar'eh ha-yeladim
, cit. A variant sometimes consists of the prescription that either
it should be the man, and not the woman, who should ingest the potion
before having sexual relations. In this regard, see E. Bashan, Yahdut Marocco 'avarah we-tarbutah ("The Hebrewism of Morocco, Its Past and its Culture"),
Tel Aviv, 2000, p. 216. On arresting excessive menstrual flow, a
compound of fallow-deer’s blood and powdered frog, diluted in almond
oil was sometimes recommended (Binyamini, Refuah chaim we-shalom, cit.).
31. Elyahu Baal-Shem, Sefer Toledot Adam, cit., par. 6, 18,
43, 80. The prescription of the menstrual blood of a virgin as a cure
for sterile women is repeated with several variants by Banjacov, Ozar ha-segullot, cit.
32. Cfr. Amira, Das Endinger Judenspiel, cit., p. 97; Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., p. 21.
33. Cfr. Ytzhaky, Amulet and Charm, cit., p. 169.
34. Cfr. Benjacov, Ozar ha-segullot, cit.
35. Cfr. Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., pp. 201-205.
36. In this regard, see M. Rubin, Gentile Tales. The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews, New Haven (Conn.), pp. 190-195.
37. "Dicit quod dictus sanguis valet mulieribus non valentibus
portare partum ad tempus debitum, quia si tales mulieres bibunt de
dicto sanguine, postea portant foetum ad tempus debitum [...] Et dicit
quod dum ipsa Bella esset in camera in qua erat Anna, illuc venit
Bruneta, quae in manibus habebat quoddam cochlear argenti et
praedictum illum ciatum argenti, quem Samuel in die Paschae de sero
habebat in coena, et de quo ciato argenti dicta Bruneta cum cochleari
accepit modicum de vino et illud posuit super cochleari et miscuit illud
modicum sanguinis cum vino et porrexit ad os Annae, quae Anna illud
bibit" ([Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., pp. 122).
38. "Quod vidit Annam quadam alia vice comeder modicum de sanguine,
quem sic comedit, ponendo illud in quodam ovo coctus" (ibidem).
39. "Dixit quod quidam Magister Jacob Judaeus, modo sunt duo anni,
dixit sibi Bonae et Dulcette, quod si quid acciperet de dicto sanguine
et iverit ad aliquem fontem clarum et de illo projecerit in fonte, ex
postea cum facie se fecerit supra fontem [...] et dixerit certa
verba, sine dubio inducet grandines et pluvias magnas [...] et
praedictus M. Jacob habebat quendam, super quo erant descripta omnia,
ad quae sanguis pueri Christiani valet" (ibidem, p. 43).
40. Deposition of Lazzaro da Serravalle dated 16 December 1475. "Quod
Christianis, inimicis fidei Judaice, possunt Judeai facere omne malum
et quod lex (Dei) [...] loquitur de sanguine bestiarum" [“That the
Jews may do any evil unto Christians, who are the enemies of the
Jewish faith, and that the law (of God) […] speaks of the blood of
beasts”] (ibidem, p. 53-54).
41. On the Jewish attitude towards lending to Christians at interest, see H. Soloveitchik, Pawnbroking. A Study in the Inter-Relationship between Halakhah, Economic Activity and Commercial Self-Image , Jerusalem, 1985 (in Hebrew); The Jewish Attitude in the High and Late Middle Ages , in D. Quaglioni, G. Todeschini and G.M. Varannini, Credito e usura fra teologia, diritto e amministrazione. Linguaggi a confronto (sec. XII-XVI) , Rome, 2005, pp. 115-127; J. Katz, Hirhurim 'al ha-yachas ben dat le-kalkalah ("Considerations on the Relationship Between Religion and the Economy") , in M. Ben-Sasson (author); Religion and Economy. Connection and Interaction, Jerusalem, 1995, pp. 33-46 (in Hebrew); A. Toaff, Testi ebraici italiani all'usura dalla fine del XV agli esordi del XVII secolo, in Quaglioni, Todeschini and Varannini, Credito e usura, cit., pp.103-113.
42. Desposition of Israel Wolfgang dated 3 November 1475. "Existimant
Judaei non esset peccatum comedere aut bibere sanguinem pueri
chistiani et dicunt quod lex Dei, data Moysi, non prohibitat eis
aliquid facere aut dicere quod sit contra christianos aut Jesus Deum
Christianorum, dicens quod ex dicta lege eis prohibitum est foenerari,
et tamen tenent Judaei quod nullum sit peccatum foenerari christiano
et christianum decipere quovis modo" [“The Jews do not consider it a
sin to eat or drink the blood of Christian boys and that the law of
God, the so-called Laws of Moses, do not prohibit doing or saying
anything at all against Christians or against Jesus the God of the
Christians, saying that the said law prohibits them from lending at
interest, and yet the Jews do not consider it any kind of sin at all
to lend money at interest to Christians and to deceive Christians in
any manner whatever”] ([Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica, cit., p. 53).
43. Cfr. Camporesi, Il sugo della vita, cit., p. 14.
44. Hebrew: Mete' goim enam asurim ha'anaah; en asur ba-anaah ella mete Israel; met goy mutar ha'anaah afilu le-choleh she-en-bo sakkanah ("One
may also use the corpse of a non-Jew in curing a sick person who is
not in danger of losing his life"). See David b. Zimra, Sheelot w-teschuvot . Responsa, vol. III, Fürth, 1781, no. 548 [= 979]; Abraham Levi, Ghinnat veradim. Responsa ("The Garden of the Rose"), Constantinople, Jonah b. Ja'akov, 1715, Yoreh' de'ah, vol. I, response no. 4; Jacob Reischer, Shevut Ya'akov.
Responsa ("The Captivity of Jacob"), vol. III, Offenbach, Bonaventura
de Lannoy, 1719, no. 94 (see also the following note). The responses
on this topic are based on the opinion expressed in regards to the
Tossaphists, the classical Franco-German commentators on the Talmud.
In this regard, see also H.J. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians and Doctors, London, 1952, pp. 125-128, 243-244.
45. Reischer, Shevut Ya'akov, cit., vol. II, Yoreh de'ah, no. 70. For a detailed examination of this response, see D. Sperber, Minhage' Israel, ("The Customs of the Jewish people"), Jerusalem, 1991, pp. 59-65.
46. In this manner, Haim Soloveitchik, intelligently and without
reticence, as always, discusses the relationship between the customs
of the Ashkenazi Jews and the norms of Jewish law, often in
contradiction and mutually incompatible (cfr. Pawnbroking, cit., p. 111).
47. See the illuminating comments in this regard by Daniel Sperber,
who discusses and broadens the arguments presented by Soloveitchik
(cfr. Sperber, Minhage' Israel, cit., pp. 63-65).
48. H.O. Grodzinksi, Sheelot w-teshuvot Achiezer. Responsa, New York, 1946, vol. III, pp. 66-68 (par. 31).
49. On the magical and necromantic practices of Medieval Ashkenazi
Judaism, with particular reference to the creation of the Golem, the
artificial anthropoid, see M Idel, Golem. Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid, New York, 1990.
50. On the ritual murder at Waldkirch (1504), see F. Pfaff, Die Kindermorde zu Benzhausen und Waldkirch im Breisgau. Ein Gedicht aus dem Anfang des 16. Jahrhunderts , in "Alemannia", XXVII (1899), pp. 247-292; Po-Chia Hsia, The Myth of Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 86-110.
51. Cfr. Esposito and Quaglioni, Processi, vol. I, cit.
52. "Predictia quibus (dictus Moises antiquus) emit sanguinem pueri
Christiani habebant litteras testimonials factas a suis superioribus,
per quas fiebat fides quod portantes illas litteras erant persone fide
et quod illud quod portabant erat sanguis pueri Christiani".[“….
(Moses the Old Man said) that those who sell the blood of Christian
boys have testimonial letters prepared by their superiors, attesting
that those who bear these letters are persons to be trusted and that
that which they carried was the blood of Christian boys”]. Mosè da
Würzburg added that, when he had been living at Monza fifty years
before, he had used Christian blood from an authorized merchant named
Süsskind of Cologne (cfr. ibidem, pp. 358-359).
53. For this testimony by Isacco, Angelo da Verona's cook, see G. Divina, Storia del beato Simone da Trento, Trent, 1902, vol. I, p. 109; vol. II, pp. 21-23.
54. On the life and death of Rabbi Shimon Katz, head of the yeshivah of Frankfurt, see R. Yoseph b. Moshè, Leqet yosher, by J. Freimann, Berlin, 1904, p. L1 (par. 132); Germania Judaica, III: 1350-1519, Tübingen, 1987, pp. 365-366 (s.v.R. R. Simon Katz v. Frankfurt am Main). See also I.J. Yuval, Scholars in Their Time. The Religious Leadership of German Jewry in the Late Middle Ages, Jerusalem, 1984, pp. 135- 148 (in Hebrew).
55. On Rabbi Moshè of Halle and his rabbinical activity, see Leqet yosher, cit., vo. XVI (par. 101); Germania Judaica. III: 1350-1519, cit., p. 501 (s.v.R. R. Mosès von Halle). See also Yuval, Scholars in Their Time, cit., pp. 197-207.
56. On certificates of guarantee for permissible food, and in particular for those used at Pesach, in the Ashkenazi communities, see I. Halpern, Constitutiones Congressus Generalis Judaeorum Maraviensium (1650-1748),
Jerusalem, 1953, p. 91, no. 278 (in Hebrew and Yiddish): "(anno
1650). The obligation to inspect foodstuffs of any kind, both food and
drink, originating from other communities, existed in every Hebrew
community. Anyone taking foodstuffs outside a given community had to
equip himself with a certificate of guarantee, written and signed (by
the rabbinical authority), attesting that everything had been prepared
according to the rules [she-na'asah be-heksher w-betiqqun] [...], such as, for example, foodstuffs used at Passover".
57. "[...] litterae, quas Ursus habebat seu portatur, continebant
inter alia ista verba in lingua hebraica: 'Notum sit omnibus illud
quod portat Ursus est iustum'; et deinde in subscriptione legalitas
dictarum litterarum, inter alia verba erant ista: ‘Moises de Hol de
Saxonia, Iudeorum principalis magister" [...] et dicit quod dictus vas
erat coopertum de quodam coramine albo, super quo coramine erant
scripta in hebraico hec verba: 'Moyses Iudeorum principalis magister',
super quo coramine albo ipse Samuel etiam se subscripsit manu sua in
litera hebraica, scribendo hec verba: 'Samuel de Tridento'" [“… the
letters that Oros carried with him contained, among other things,
these words in Hebrew: ‘May it be known to all that which Oro carries
is kosher’; and then, the inscription of the said letters, said as
follows, among other things: ‘Moses of Halle of Saxony, main head of
the Jews’, upon which Samuel then signed his name in Hebrew letters on
the white leather, writing these words: ‘Samuel of Trent’”] (cfr.
Esposito and Quaglioni, Processi, vol. I, cit., pp. 255-256).
CRUCIFIXION AND RITUAL CANNIBALISM: FROM NORWICH TO FULDA
On the eve of Passover, 1144, the mutilated body of William, a child of
twelve years, was found in Thorpe’s Wood, on the edge of Norwich, England. No
witness came forward to cast light on the savage crime. The child's uncle, a
cleric by the name of Godwin Sturt, publicly accused the Jews of the crime in a
diocesan synod held a few weeks after the discovery of the body. The body of the
victim of Thorpe Wood, where it had been initially buried, was taken to the
cemetery of the monks shortly afterwards, near the cathedral, and became the
source of miracles.
A few years later, between 1150 and 1155, Thomas of Monmouth, prior of the
cathedral of Norwich, reconstituted, with plentiful details and testimonies, the
various phases of the crime, [allegedly] perpetrated by local Jews, and prepared
a detailed and broad hagiographic report of the event (1).
These were the origins of what is considered by many to have been first
documented case of ritual murder in the Middle Ages, while, for others, it is
the source of the myth of the “blood libel” accusation. The latter consider
Thomas to have been the inventor and propagator of the stereotype of ritual
crucifixion, soon to be rapidly disseminated, not only in England, but in France
and the German territories as well, fed by in the information relating to the
now famous tale of the martyrdom of William of Norwich by the Jews in the days
of Passover (2).
William was an apprentice tanner in Norwich and came from an adjacent
village. Among the shop's clients were a few local Jews, who are thought to have
chosen him as the victim of a ritual sacrifice to be performed during the days
of the Christian Easter. On the Monday following Palm Sunday, 1144, during the
reign of King Stephen, a man claiming to be the cook for the arch deacon of
Norwich presented himself in the village of
William, asking his mother Elviva for permission to take William with him to
work as an apprentice. The woman’s suspicions and hesitation were soon won over
thanks to a considerable sum of money. The following day, little William was
already traveling the streets of Norwich in the company of the self-proclaimed
cook, directly to the dwelling of his aunt Leviva, Godwin Sturt’s wife, who
became informed of the apprenticeship undertaken by the child and his new
patron. But the latter individual awakened numerous suspicions in the aunt,
Leviva, who asked a young girl to follow them and determine their destination.
The shadowing, as discreet as it was effective, took the child to the threshold
of the dwelling of Eleazar, one of the heads of the community of Norwich, where
the cook had little William enter the house with the necessary prudence and
At this point, Thomas of Monmouth allowed another key witness to speak, one
who had been strategically placed inside the Jew's house.
This was Eleazar's Christian servant, who, the following morning, had by
chance, witnessed, with horror -- through the crack of a door left inadvertently
open -- the cruel ceremony of the child’s crucifixion and atrocious martyrdom,
with the participation, carried out with religious zeal, of local Jews, "in
contempt of the passion of our Lord”. Thomas kept the date of the crucial event
clearly in mind. It was Palm Sunday, Wednesday 22 March of the year 1144.
To throw off suspicion, the Jews decided to transport the body from the
opposite side of the city to Thorpe's Wood, which extended to within a short
distance from the last house. During the trip on horseback with the cumbersome
sack, however, despite their efforts at caution, they crossed the path of a
respected and wealthy merchant of the locality on his way to church, accompanied
by a servant; the merchant had no difficulty realizing the significance of what
was taking place before his eyes. He is said to have remembered, years later, on
his death bed, and to have confessed to a priest, who then became one of the
diligent and indefatigable Thomas’s valued sources of information. Young
William’s body was finally hidden by the Jews among the bushes of Thorpe.
The scene now became the inevitable scene of miraculous happenings. Beams of
celestial light illuminated the boys’ resting place late at night, causing
townspeople to discover the body, which was then buried where it was discovered.
A few days afterwards, the cleric, Godwin Sturt, who, informed of the murder,
requested, and was granted, permission to have the body exhumed. He then
recognized his nephew William as the tragic victim. A short time afterwards,
a diocesan synod, Godwin got up to accuse the Jews of the crime. Thomas of
Monmouth agreed with him and accused them of the horrible ritual of crucifixion
of a Christian boy as the principal event of a Passover ceremony intended to
mock the passion of Jesus Christ, a sort of crude and bloody Passover
The conclusion of the matter turned out to be anything but a foregone
conclusion, particularly in comparison with the numerous similar cases occurring
over the following years, in which the Jews, considered responsible for the
horrible wickedness, met a cruel fate. In this case, the Jews of Norwich,
invited to present themselves before the archbishop to respond to the
accusations, requested and obtained the protection of the King and his agents.
Protected by the walls of the sheriff's castle, in which they found refuge, they
waited for the storm to pass, as in fact it did. In the meantime, little
William’s body was taken from the ditch in Thorpe's Wood to a magnificent tomb
usually reserved for monks, in a sheltered spot behind the Cathedral, and began,
as anticipated, to work miracles, as only a martyr worthy of being proclaimed a
saint possibly could (3).
The most disturbing of the testimonies gathered by Thomas of Monmouth for his
file on the murder of little William was that of a converted Jew, Theobald of
Cambridge, who had become a monk hearing the story of the miracles reported at
the tomb of the victim of Norwich. The convert revealed that the Jews believed
that, to bring redemption closer, and with it, their return to the Promised
Land, they sacrificed a Christian child every year "in contempt of Christ". To
carry out this providential plan, the representatives of the Jewish communities,
headed by their local rabbis, were said to meet every year in council in
Narbonne, in the south of France, to draw lots as to the name of locality where
the ritual crucifixion was to occur from time to time. In 1144, the choice fell
by lot to the city of Norwich, and the entire Jewish community was said to have
adhered to that choice (4).
Theobald’s confession has been considered by some to constitute the origin of
the ritual murder accusation of Norwich, which was then collated, accompanied by
suitable documentation, by Thomas of Monmouth (5). The
ex-Jewish monk was probably alluding to the carnival of Purim, also
known as the "carnival of the lots", which, in the Jewish calendar precedes
Pesach, Passover, by one month, since the macabre lottery was said to
have taken place every year on Purim (6).
The reason for drawing lots to select the Jewish community to be entrusted
with the duty of carrying out the annual sacrifice of a Christian child appeared
later, in the confessions of the defendants of a ritual murder committed at
Valréas in 1247, and, with reference to another case at Pforzheim in Baden in
1261, gathered and disseminated by the friar Thomas of Cantimpré in his
Bonum universale de apibus (Douay, 1627) (7). On that
occasion, the Jews of the small village of the Vaucluse were accused of killing
a two-year old girl, Meilla, "in a sort of sacrifice" for the purpose of
collecting her blood, and then dumping the body in a ditch (8).
The testimonies, extorted by the inquisitors under torture, were said to have
shown that "it is a custom of the Jews, above all, wherever they live in large
numbers, to carry out this practice every year, particularly in the regions of
Spain, because there are a lot of Jews in these places" (9). It
should be noted that Narbonne, mentioned by the converted Jew, Theobald of
Cambridge, as the meeting place of the representatives of the Jewish communities
for the annual Passover lottery held to select the location of the next ritual
homicide, was in France, but belonged to the Mark of Spain.
But was the case of William of Norwich truly the first ritual murder of a
Christian reported during the Middle Ages? Was Thomas of Monmouth really the
creator of the stereotype which became widespread, first in England and later in
France and the German territories in the years after 1150, when Thomas is
supposed to have composed his hagiographic account? (10). It is
permissible to wonder. It appears in fact to have been demonstrated that the
story of William and his sacrifice by the Jews had already become widespread in
Germany in the years prior to the composition of Thomas of Monmouth’s
hagiographic account. The first documents relation to William’s veneration as a
saint are to have originated, not in England, but in Bavaria, dating back to
Latin chroniclers report that, in the same year, a Christian was reportedly
killed by the Jews at Würzburg, where the martyr’s body is said to have worked
miracles (12). Twenty one local Jews accused of committing the
crime during the feast of Purim and Passover were said to have been put
Rabbi Efraim of Bonn confirmed this report, stating that "On 22 August (1147)
wicked men revolted against the Jewish community of Würzburg [...] making it the
object of insinuations and calumnies, for the purpose of attacking them [the
Jews]. Their accusation claims:
‘We found the body of a Christian in the river, and it was you who killed him
and then dumped him there. Now he is a saint and is working miracles’. Under
this pretext, those wicked men, and people of the poorer classes, without any
real motive, assail (the Jews...) killing twenty one of them”
It is rather probable that the Hebrew and Latin reports were alluding to a
crime with ritual connotations, considering the time of year in which these
crimes were said to have been committed, the collective guilt attributed to
Jews, the consequent massacre of many of them, and finally, the miracles which
were said to have flowed forth from the victim’s body. It is therefore possible
that the stereotype of homicide for ritual purposes was disseminated in Germany
before it gained an inch of ground in England (14).
Thomas of Monmouth’s hagiographic report would appear to vindicate those who
have maintained that the first ritual homicides in England, France and Germany
for almost a century, starting with the Norwich murder in 1144, conformed to the
stereotype of the crucifixion of Christians, without providing for the
utilization of the victims’ blood for ritual purposes. In other words, ritual
crucifixion is said to have proceeded the so-called "ritual cannibalism"
accusation in the origin, development and final fixation of the type of ritual
child sacrifice [allegedly] perpetrated by Jews (15). As early
as the during the reign of Paul IV, the jurist Marquardo Susanni in his treatise
De Judaeis and aliis infidelibus (Venice 1558), referred to
William’s murder and the second presumed ritual homicide at Norwich in 1235,
alluding to ritual crucifixion, without any mention of the ritual use of the
victim’s blood (16). But, if we examine the matter more
closely, a careful reading of Thomas of Monmouth’s text might point to other
The Jew Eleazar of Norwich’s Christian servant, the only eyewitness of the
presumed ritual homicide of little William, claimed, in her deposition, that,
while the Jews proceeded with the cruel crucifixion, they asked her to bring a
pot full of boiling water "to staunch the flow of the victim’s blood"
(17). It seems obvious to us that, contrary to the maid
servant’s interpretation, the boiling water must, on the contrary, have been
used for the opposite purpose, i.e., to increase the flow of blood. It therefore
remains to be proven that blood was a secondary element in the so-called
"sacrifice of the child at Norwich". The fact that the written traditions which
have come down to us do not inform us
of the manner in which they intended to utilize the blood of the crucified
child in this case constitutes no proof in either direction.
Be that as it may, the accusation of ritual murder or the crucifixion of
Christian boys spread from Norwich throughout England: from Gloucester in 1169,
to Bury St. Edmunds in 1183, to Winchester in 1192, from Norwich – again -- in
1235, to London in 1244, and, finally, to Lincoln in 1255, where the martyr was
sainted (18). As we shall see, there are reports of an
anomalous case of plural ritual murder again at Bristol at the end of the 13th
The Gloucester case occurred almost a quarter of a century after the child
murder of little William at Norwich. Yet, in this case as well, the sources are
not sufficiently clear as to the date of the murder of little Harold. John
Brompton’s Chronicle speaks generally of an anonymous boy crucified by Jews near
Gloucester in 1160, while the Peterborough Chronicle, although confirming the
crucifixion, places the crime during the days of Passover of the following year
(19). The author of the history of Saint Peter’s monastery at
Gloucester, seems more precise and better-informed, reporting the killing of a
child, named Harold, referring to him as a "glorious martyr in Christ", and
stating that the crime was committed in 1168 by Jews, who were said to have
thrown the body into the Severn river (20).
The body of an eight-year old child, Hugh, in the bottom of a well owned by
Copino, a local Jew, at Lincoln in the summer of 1255. The judge, John of
Lexington, hastened to establish precise analogies with the Norwich murder a
century before. The victim had been abducted by Jews, tortured and crucified,
exactly as in little William’s case. In those days, the great affluence of
foreign Jews into the city of Norwich, of modest size, seemed to confirm that
something big was in the works, and that the link with Hugh’s disappearance and
killing was something more than a mere working hypothesis. The marriage of Rabbi
Benedict (Berechyah)’s daughter, held there at the time, did not appear to
deserve serious consideration by anyone wishing to demonstrate any other theory.
But it was necessary to give the role to the principal defendant, Copino, who,
rather than respond to the accusations, was to confirm them.
The Jew, under torture, “sang” quickly, according to the pre-established
script, confessing that the Jews of the Kingdom were accustomed to crucify
cruelly a Christian child in contempt of the passion of Christ every year.
This year, it was the city of Lincoln’s turn to be
selected as the theatre of the sacred and macabre ceremony, and the child
Hugh was simply the victim of bad luck in becoming the innocent martyr of Jewish
depravity. Popular devotion thus acquired another saint (21).
Of the more than one hundred persons involved in the religious crime, about
twenty were executed after summary trial. All the others were imprisoned in the
Tower of London. All had their property confiscated, which in some cases
amounted to huge fortunes, forfeit to the treasury of King Henry III. At the end
of the 14th century, Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales, was able to draw
inspiration from the crime at Lincoln, describing the re-emergence, from a well,
of another child, who, like Hugh the Saint, had been sacrificed by the infamous
followers of the Jewish sect (22).
The case of Adam, considered the victim of a ritual homicide occurring at
Bristol at the end of the 13th century, provides us with a true and proper
serial killer, the Jew Samuel, who, "in the days of King Henry, father of the
other King Henry", is said to have killed three Christian children in one year.
Thereafter, with the collaboration of his wife and son, he is said to have gone
on to kidnap another child, named Adam, who, tortured, mutilated (perhaps
subjected to circumcision) and crucified, is said finally to have been skewered
on a spit like a lamb and roasted over a flame. Samuel’s wife and son are said
to have repented, expressing the intention to bathe in the baptismal waters, but
at this point the perfidious and criminal Jew is said to have killed them both
as well (23). As we see, sometimes the popular psychosis of
ritual murder caused persons caught up in irrational fears to mistake one thing
for another. And this regardless of the fact that perhaps these fears could have
a some correspondence to actual crimes committed by individuals deranged by
phobias and psychoses of a religious nature, transferred to the plane of action.
A few years after the crimes at Norwich and Gloucester, ritual murders made
their appearance in grand style in France as well. These crimes, at least in the
cases we know about, involved so-called "child crucifixions", which, once
discovered and made public, led to the massacre of entire Jewish communities. It
thus happened during the reign of Louis VII, it is said that the Jews of
Joinville and Pentoise crucified a child named Richard in 1179, who then became
the object of popular devotion and was buried in Paris (24).
When Philippe II, future King of France, was a child, around 1170, he is said to
have listened in terror to contemporary tales told within the palace describing
the Jews of Paris intent upon sacrificing a Christian child every year, in
contempt of the Christian religion, butchering him in the slums of the city
The most famous, and most frequently studied, ritual homicide of which Jews
in French territory were accused during this period is certainly that reported
in 1171 in Blois, a central location on the main rout from Tours to Orleans, on
the banks of the Loire. Here, the Jews of that community, suspected of killing a
Christian child and then dumping the body in the waters of the Loire, were
condemned to death, and thirty two of them met death at the stake after a
summary trial (26). In his memoirs, the rabbi Efraim of Bonn
reconstituted that which, according to him, had been the tragic mix-up leading
to the accusation of ritual murder brought against the Jews of
"Towards evening a Jew (who was hurrying along the street),
bearing a bundle of hides to the tanner, without noticing that one of the hides
had become separated from the others and could be seen protruding from the
bundle. The groom’s horse (which was being led to drink from the river), seeing
the whitened skins in the darkness, began to paw the ground and then reared up,
refusing to be led to the water. The terrified Christian servant immediately
returned to his lord’s palace and reported: ‘Know ye that I stumbled upon a Jew,
as he was about to dump the body of a little Christian into the waters of the
It seems obvious that waterways and tanners are recurrent elements in many
supposed ritual child murder stories, and probably for good reason; this may be
seen in many of the episodes we have already dealt with, from Norwich and Blois
to Trent. The waters of rivers furrowing the regions of England and France and
the German territories were considered silent accomplices, suggestive of cruel
infanticides for religious purposes. In 1199, the upper waterways of the Rhine,
near Cologne, were the scene of a presumed ritual murder, which was immediately
punished with the usual massacre of all those considered responsible. Some
Christians, traveling on a boat going upstream, discovered the lifeless body of
a girl lying on the bank in the mists of Buppard. The perpetrators of the crime
were soon identified. A short time later, as it happened, a group of Jews were
observed on board a barge moving slowly in the same direction, while their other
companions controlled its movements by means of ropes fixed to the bank. Their
fate was sealed. Captured without hesitation, they were hurled into the turbid
waters of the Rhine, where they drowned miserably (28).
On a previous occasion, in 1187, the Jews of Magonza were accused of a ritual
homicide and forced to swear that "they were not accustomed to sacrifice a
Christian on the eve of Pesach", the Jewish Passover
A few years later, in 1195, it was the turn of the Jews of Spira to be
accused of killing a young Christian girl. Justice was soon done. The Jewish
district was sacked by an infuriated mob, while the rabbi of the community,
Isaac ben Asher, was lynched, together with eight other Jews, and their houses
and the synagogue burnt down. As if according to script, once again, the tragedy
concluded on the river banks. The Torah rolls and other Hebraic books, removed
from the place of worship, were thrown in the Rhine and disappeared beneath the
Two years afterward, as Jewish chronicles report, "God’s rage struck His
people when a Jewish madman killed a Christian girl in the city of Neuss,
cutting her throat in front of everyone" (31). Popular
vengeance was immediate, and did not limit itself to targeting the supposed
madman. Another five Jews were in fact accused of complicity in the murder,
which was obviously not dismissed as the mere result of the insanity of an
"Particular importance has been attributed to the ritual murder of which the
Jews of Fulda were accused in Franconia at Christmas 1235.
Based on the report contained in the Annals of Erfurt:
"In this year, on 28 December, 34 Jews of both sexes were killed by the
Crusaders because two of them, on the Holy Day of Christmas, had cruelly killed
the five sons of a miller who lived outside the city walls. (The Jews) gathered
the blood of the victims in waxed bags, and left the area after setting fire to
the house. When the truth came to light, and after the Jews themselves had
confessed to their guilt, they received the punishment they deserved"
The Annals of Marbach, referring to the same events, explained that the Jews
had committed the horrendous crime "to use the blood to cure themselves"
Based on this unusual annotation, some people have identified the crime at
Fulda as involving the birth of a new motive, intended to explain and
characterize these religious child murders: so-called "ritual cannibalism". If,
previous to this time, the Jews had been accused of crucifying Christians, at
least during the Passover period, "in contempt of the passion of Christ",
without the blood of the victims being attributed any particular significance,
starting in Fulda in 1235, the blood
presumably consumed by the Jews for ritual, magical or curative purposes, are
said to have assumed a decisive and almost exclusive significance. The myth of
the crucifixion of the Christian children is said to have arisen from the
fertile imagination of Thomas of Monmouth, as a result of the murder of little
William of Norwich in 1144. The myth of ritual cannibalism on the other hand, is
said to have originated in the Fulda murder in 1235, tendentiously interpreted
in this direction by clerical bodies headed by Conrad of Marburg, abbey of the
imperial monastery of Fulda (34). In support of this
interpretation, broadly accepted today, people stress that hardly one year
afterwards, Kaiser Friedrich II created a commission of inquiry to verify
whether or not the Jews had really nourished themselves on the blood of
Christian children (35).
To this theory a few objections may be raised, which appear of little
importance. Precisely in the motivation adopted upon the creation of the Annals
of Marbach, it is stated that its members were called upon to investigate
"whether the Jews considered the consumption of blood to be necessary during
the Passover period". We now know that the presumed ritual murder at Fulda
was committed during the Christmas period and not at Easter, a sign that the
German Emperor, although unaware of these recent facts, was thinking of the
supposed ritual murders committed in the localities of Germany around on
Passover eve, when the ritual use of the blood was presumed, even if unverified.
Secondarily, the allegation that the Jews of Fulda collected their victim’s
blood "to cure themselves" (ad suum remedium) does not necessarily
indicate oral ingestion, and, therefore, a form of ritual cannibalism. We have
in fact seen that, according to the prosecutors, and sometimes even according to
the defendants themselves, the Jews used blood, reduced to powder, to heal
wounds, such as the circumcision wound, to staunch hemorrhages of various kinds, and to spread upon the body
and face for purposes of exorcism. If these considerations are of any value,
then the specific relevance of Fulda as the birthplace of supposed ritual
cannibalism should certainly be revised, without prejudice to the fact that the
ingestion of blood in the Passover celebrations was thereafter to become an
increasingly recurrent and explicit motif in the accusations and trials.
It was Thomas de Cantimpré (1201-1272), who supplied his theological
interpretation of the significance of attributing the value placed upon
Christian blood by the Jews as the result of some prodigious and infallible
medication. According to the friar of the monastery of Cantimpré, in the
outskirts of Cambray, the Jews were the heirs of the curse falling upon their
ancestors, guilty of crucifying the Redeemer. Jewish blood was irremediably
polluted and an inextinguishable source of physical and moral suffering. The
only infallible therapy for such horrors and painful infirmities lay in
Christian blood, which was transfused into their bodies in order to cleanse them
(36). The confirmation of this unexceptionable truth, Thomas
found, as might have been foreseen, in the zealous confessions of a learned Jew,
recently purified by the sacred waters of baptism. This Jews is identified by
some as the famous convert Nicholas Donin, responsible for the great bonfire of
the Talmud in Paris in 1242, and perhaps linked to the anti-Jewish polemics
following the ritual homicide at Fulda (37). Donin is supposed
to have informed Thomas that a Jewish wise man, esteemed by all for his
prophetical gifts, was said to have bared his soul on his deathbed to confirm
that the torments suffered by the Jews in body and soul could find certain
remedy only through to the beneficial ingestion of Christian blood
(38). Whether in liquid form or powder, dried or in curdles,
fresh or boiled -- blood, this magical fluid with the ambiguous and mysterious
fascination, made its arrogant presence known through stories of child
sacrifice, in the folds of which it lay concealed, perhaps less successfully
than often supposed, until then.
Ritual murder accusations became more widespread: from Pforzheim in Baden in
1261, to Bacharach in 1283 and Magonza in the same year, to Troyes in France in
1288. These crimes generally involved child murders, in which the method
was not emphasized; at times, they still involved crucifixions, as in the
Northampton cases of 1279 (apud Northamptonam die Crucis adorate puer quidam
a Judaeis crucifixus est ) and Prague in 1305, and perhaps that of
Chinon, in Thüringen, in 1317. The sellers of Christian children to Jews to
enable them to carry out their horrendous sacrifices were generally beggars,
both men and women, who had few scruples when it came to earning a few coins; or
unscrupulous nannies and wet nurses or unnatural parents. When the market supply
was insufficient, the Jews were constrained to take direct action to abduct
children for crucifixion, running not inconsiderable risks in such cases.
Inquiries and trials generally concluded with the confession and the pitiless
condemnation of the defendants, who were at all times considered a priori
to be guilty. Justice was often administered
in a summary manner, in which case massacres and burnings at the stake were
inflicted upon the entire Jewish community, such as Monaco in 1285, where two
hundred Jews were burnt alive in the synagogue, accused by a stinking old woman
of bribing her to abduct a boy for them. Another supposed ritual murder was
recorded in that same Bavarian city in 1345 (39).
The use of blood by Jews for ritual purposes was explicitly mentioned in many
cases, but not always in connection with Passover. The Klosterchronik of Zwettl
refers, in the year 1293, to a ritual murder accusation brought against the
Jewish communities of southern Austria, on the banks of the Danube, and mentions
blood as the motive for the crime. “The Jews of Krems had obtained a Christian
(boy) from those of Brünn; they therefore killed him in the cruelest manner to
obtain his blood" (40). Thus, in the analogous case reported at
Ueberlingen in Baden in 1332, the chronicler John of Winterthur revealed that
the victim’s parents had observed "signs of incisions in the internal organs and
veins" of the body (41).
In the Passover period of 1442, a blood accusation struck the small Jewish
community of Lienz in the val Pusteria, a city located on the confines between
Kärnten and the Tyrol. The martyred body of a three-year-old girl named Orsa, a
baker’s daughter, was found in a canal.
Wounds and punctures observed on the body led people to believe that they had
been inflicted to drain the victim’s blood. It was therefore foreseeable that
popular rumor would immediately conclude that the crime was one of ritual child
murder, committed by the enemies of Christ. The Jews, arrested without delay and
interrogated with the usual coercive methods, admitted the crime, which is said
to have taken place among the wine kegs in the cellar of Samuele’s house on Good
Friday. The child had been purchased by the Jews from a beggar, a certain
Margarita Praitsschedlin, who was arrested and taken to jail; she quickly
confessed. The trial was summary. Samuele, the principal defendant accused of
ritual murder, was suspended from the wheel and burnt; Giuseppe "the Old Man",
the probable spiritual head of the small Jewish community, was hanged; finally,
the beggar woman, guilty of the abduction of little Orsa, was burnt on the wheel
together with two former Jewesses, obviously considered accomplices in the
crime. These tragic events had however a happy and comforting conclusion;
consisting of the baptism of five Jewish girls, four women and one male, to be
The only problem, although of secondary importance, regarding the so-called
"Martyrdom of Orsola Poch" is the fact that the report lacks any contemporary
documentation. The first document relating to crime at Linz in Easter of 1442
consists of a posthumous report, drawn up in 1475 at the request of Giovanni
Hinderbach, bishop of Trent (43). We shall therefore have to
wait until the beginning of the 18th century to encounter the first hagiographic
reports relating to Orsola and her tragic death. Moreover, the attentive reader
will not fail to notice the analogies -- perhaps not accidental – relating to
the involvement of Hinderbach, famous because of the Trent case. The name of the
principal defendant in both cases is Samuele; Mosé "the Old Man" of Trent
corresponds to Giuseppe "the Old Man" of Lienz; women appear to play a major
role in both cases. Finally, Hebraic ritual cannibalism during the Passover
period – in this case, committed on the person of an innocent girl – is poorly
suited to the stereotype, which insists that the child martyr must be a boy,
upon whom circumcision may be practiced during the cruel and homicidal ceremony.
A few years afterwards, in 1458, a murder accusation, probably for ritual
purposes, was brought against the Jews of Chambéry in Savoy. On 3 April of that
year, during the first night of Pesach, two Christian brothers, Leta,
12 years old, and Michel, aged five, were mysteriously killed, after having been
seen traversing the Jewish quarter at nightfall. The examination of the bodies
indicated that the two children had been savagely beaten and then strangled.
Suspicion once again fell on the Jews, who were arrested en masse and tried
without any further delay the following May. Nevertheless, precise proofs not
having been presented against them during the hearings, the accused were
acquitted and released (44). In any case, it was clear that any
child murder, especially if committed during the spring months, most
particularly when the body was found near the Jewish quarter, would be
automatically attributed to the Jews and linked to their secret Passover rites,
drenched with blood.
Several Christian boys, sanctified in the popular devotion and who later
became objects of veneration supposed victims of the Jews over that same period
require a separate discussion. We are referring to "Good Werner" of Oberwesel in
the Rhineland, Rudolf of Bern, Conrad of Weissensee and Ludwig of Ravensburg
(45). Apart from the last, with regards to whom we know only
that in 1429, at the age of 14, he is said to have fallen victim to the
horrendous rites of the Jews on the banks of Lake Constance, in all the other
cases the blood motif returns in an obsessive manner.
At Oberwesel on the Rhine, a boy named Werner, also fourteen, like Ludwig of
Ravensburg, is said to have tortured to death by the Jews for three days and
then thrown in the waters of the river. His body is said to have floated
miraculously upriver, against the current, and to have washed ashore at
Bacharach, where it began to work miracles, curing the sick and suffering. The
tradition, gathered by later hagiographers, reports that "Good Werner" had been
hung by the feet, by Jews, and intentionally made to vomit the Host which he had
previously swallowed in church; his veins are then said to have been cruelly
opened, so that his blood might flow and be collected. In short, the whole tale
was an extraordinary, perhaps rather redundant, concentration of accusations,
intended to exalt poor Werner’s halo of martyrdom, from crucifixion and ritual
cannibalism to profanation of the Host (46). And yet, over the
16th century, "good Werner" became transformed, from a victim of the Jews into
the rubicund patron saint of the wine growers of the region extending from the
Rhineland to the Jura and Auvergne (47) . The close kinship
between blood and wine, constant over the centuries, permitted the holy martyr
effectively to protect the Cabernets and Merlots of industrious and zealous
French and German growers.
Another saint, Rudolf of Bern, killed in 1294, is said to have been tortured
and decapitated in the basement of a palace owned by a rich Jew in the Swiss
city of Jöli during the Passover period of that year (48). The
hagiographic reports of the early Eighteenth century state that this Christian
victim was crucified and his blood drained off by Jews "intending to practice
their damned superstitions" (49). More specifically, the
violent death of Conrad, a schoolboy from Weissensee in Thüringen, not far from
Erfurth, occurred in 1303 and was attributed to the Jews, according to
chroniclers, in relation to the celebration of the Jewish Passover. In
observation of the Passover norms prescribed by the cult, the murder of young
Conrad, who is said to have become a popular saint in the regions of central
Germany, is alleged to have had his veins opened to collect the precious blood
NOTES TO CHAPTER SEVEN
1. See the text in The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich by
Thomas of Monmouth, Now First Edited from the Unique Manuscript, by A.
Jessopp and R.M. James, Cambridge, 1896.
2. It would be possible to compile an extremely long and extensive
bibliography on this topic. See, in particular, the extremely curious monograph
by M.D. Anderson, A Saint at Stake. The Strange Death of William of Norwich,
1144, London, 1964, and the important works by Langmuir and McCullogh, to
which we will return later: G.L. Langmuir, Thomas of Monmouth, Detector of
Ritual Murder, in "Speculum", LIX (1984), p. 820-846; Id., Toward a
Definition of Anti-Semitism, Berkely-Los Angeles (Calif.) - Oxford, 1990,
pp. 209-236; Id., Historiographic Crucifixion , in G. Dehan, Les
Juifs en regard de l'histoire. Mélanges en honneur de Bernard
Blumenkranz , Paris, 1985, pp. 109-127; J.M. McCullogh, Jewish Ritual
Murder, William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth and the Early Dissemination of
the Myth, in "Speculum", LXXII (1997), pp. 109-127. "We note that it was in
England, the German regions and in those Alpine regions in which the devotion of
the "child martyrs" was most widespread, always presented as victims of the
Jews", (A Vauchez, La santità nel Medioevo, Bologna, 1989, p. 104).
3. "In England [...] various images remain of the child martyr William of
Norwich (d. 1144), who was never canonized" (Vauchez, La santità
nel Medioevo , cit., p. 454).
4. Theobald’s deposition, accompanied by other fragments from the written
hagiography of Thomas of Monmouth, is recorded by J.R. Marcus, The Jew in
the Medieval World. A Source Book (315-1791), New York, 1974, pp. 121-126.
5. Cfr. J. Jacobs, St. William of Norwich, in "The Jewish Quarterly
Review", IX (1897), 748-755.
6. In this regard, see G. Mentgen, The Origins of the Blood Libel,
in "Zion", LIX (1994), pp. 341-349 (in Hebrew).
7. Thomas de Cantimpré, Bonum universale de apibus, Douay, Baltarzar
Belleri, 1627, pp. 303-306. For Thomas's statements relating to the drawing lots
among the Jewish community [of] candidates for the annual ritual sacrifice of
the child who was destined to renew the supply of Christian blood, see H.L.
Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice. Human Blood and Jewish Ritual,
1909, pp. 174-175.
8. Cfr. A. Molinier, Enquête sur un meurtre imputé aux Juifs de Valréas
(1247), in "Le Cabinet Historique", n.s., II (1883), pp. 121-133; Strack,
The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., pp. 179-182, 277-279; Langmuir,
Towards a Definition of Antisemitism, cit., pp. 290-296.
9. "Consuetudo est inter Judaeos et ubicunque maxima sit multitudo Judaeorum
facere factum simile annuatorum et maxime in partibus Yspaniae, quia ibi est
maxima multitudo Judaeorum".
10. This is the argument set forth by Langmuir, who is often accepted and
shared uncritically. "Ever since the of ritual murder accusation was first made
against the Jews in the Middle Ages, that is, from 1150 at Norwich, to 1235, for
almost a century, the Jews of England and northern France were accused of
crucifying Christian children, but not of ritual cannibalism (i.e., the
consumption of their blood for ritual purposes). Absolutely no accusation of
ritual cannibalism was ever made in Germany until the Fulda case in 1235, and
this accusation came to light it was a novelty. It is true that, between 1146
and 1235, the Jews of Germany were accused of killing children of different ages
and as a consequence they were assaulted, but there is no evidence of the ritual
cannibalism accusation before 1235 at Fulda" (cfr. Toward a
Definition of Antisemitism , cit., pp. 266-267). On the recent
arguments set forth by N. Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, New
York-Lond, 2003, pp. 119-121, 566-570.
11. Cfr. McCullogh, Jewish Ritual Murder, cit., p. 728.
12. Annales Herbipolenses, in "Monumenta Germaniae Historica.
Scriptores", XVI Hannover, 1859, p. 3.
13. Cfr. A.M. Haberman, Sefer ghezerot Ashkenaz we-Zarft ("Book of
Persucutions in Germany and France"), Jerusalem, 1971, p. 119; Id, Sefer
zechirah. Selichot we-qinot le-Rabbi Efraim b. Ya'akov ("Book of Memory.
Prayers and Elegies of the Rabbi Efraim di Bonn"), Jerusalem, 1970, pp. 22-23.
14. This is the argument advanced by I.J. Yuval, "Two Nations in Your
Womb", Perceptions of Jews and Christians, Tel Aviv, 2000, pp. 182- 184 (in
Hebrew), partially accepted by John McCullogh.
15. "We read nothing about Jewish blood ritual [...] till right into the
thirteenth century. It is mentioned for the first time in 1236 on the occasion
of the Fulda case, but then already being generally believed in Germany" (cfr.
Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., p. 277).
As we have seen, Strack's arguments are accepted and taken up by Langmuir
(Toward a Definition of Anti-Semitism, cit., pp. 266-267) and more
recently by R.C. Stacey, From Ritual Crucifixion to Host Desecration. Jews
and the Body of Christ, in "Jewish History", XII (1998), pp. 11-28.
16. Marquardo Susanni, Tractatus de Judaeis et aliis infidelibus,
Venice, Comin da Trino, 1558, c. 25rv: "de illo Vuilelme puero in Anglia, qui
fuit crucifixus a Judaeis in die Parasceves in Urbe Vormicho [...] quod Judaei
degentes Nordovici quendam Christianum puerum furtim captum totum integrum annum
enutriverunt, ut adventante Paschate cruci affigerent, qui tanti criminis
convicti meritas dederunt poenas".
17. Cfr. McCullogh, Jewish Ritual Murder, cit., pp. 702-703.
18. Cfr. Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., p. 177; J.
Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews, Philadelphia (Pa.), 1961, pp.
123-130, 143-144; Langmuir, Historiographic Crucifixion, cit., pp.
113-114; André Vauchez mentions the popular devotion for Herbert of Huntington,
presumed victim of the Jews at about 1180 (cfr. Vauchez, La santità nel
Medioevo, cit., p. 99). On ritual murders in England in general, see C.
Holmes, The Ritual Murder Accusation in Britain, in "Ethnic and Ritual
Studies", IV (1981), pp. 265-288.
19. Johannes Brompton, Chronicon, in Historiae Anglicanae
Scriptores, London, Jacob Flescher, 1652, vol. X, p. 1050; "anno 1160 [...]
regisque Henrici Secundi quidam puer a Judaeis apud Gloverniam crucifixus est".
Chronicon Petroburgense, by Th. Stapleton, London, 1894, p. 3: "anno 1161 [...]
in hoc Pascha quidam puer crucifixus est apud Gloucestriam".
20. Historia Monasterii S. Petri Gloucestriae, by W.H. Hart, London,
1863, in Rerum Medii Aevi Scriptores, vol. LIII, t. I, p. 20: "anno
1168 [...] Haraldum puerum [...] gloriosum Christo martirem sine crimine necatum
[...] in amnem Sabrinem [Judaei] proiecerant".
21. Cfr. G.L. Langmuir, The Knight's Tale of Young Hugh of Lincoln,
in "Speculum", XLVII (1972), pp. 459-482; Vauchez, La santità nel
Medioevo , cit., p. 99.
22. Cfr. A.B. Friedmann, The Prioresss's Tale and Chaucer's
Anti-Semitism, in "Chaucer Review", XIX (1974), pp. 46-54.
23. Cfr. Stacey, From Ritual Crucifixion to Host Desecration, cit.,
pp. 11-28; C. Cluse, "Fabula ineptissima", Die Ritualmordlegende um
Adam von Bristol , in "Ashkenas", 5 (1995), pp. 293-330.
24. "Sanctus Richarus a Judaeis crocifixus fuit". Cfr. Vauchez, La
santità nel Medioevo, cit., p. 99.
25. The term used for the killing of the Christian boy by the Jews of Paris
is jugulabant. Cfr. H.F. Delaborde, Oeuvres de Rigord et
Guillaume le Breton , Paris, 1882, vol. V, p. 15.
26. For an extensive bibliography on the ritual murder of Blois, see, among
others, Sh. Spiegel, "In monte Dominus videbitur". The Martyrs of
Blois and the Early Accusation of Ritual Murder , in Mordecai K. Kaplan
Jubilee Volume, by M. Davis, New York, 1953, pp. 267-287 (in Hebrew];
Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World, cit., pp. 127-130; R. Chazan,
The Blois Incident of 1171. A Study in Jewish Intercommunal
Organization , in "Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish
Research", XXXVI (1968), in "Jewish History", XII (1998), pp. 29-46; and,
lastly, Sh. Shwarzfuchs, A History of the Jews in Medieval France, Tel
Aviv, 2001, pp. 117-123 (in Hebrew).
27. Cfr. Haberman, Sefer ghezerot Ashkenaz we-Zarfat, cit., pp.
28. Cfr. ibidem, p. 126. On the massacre at Boppard, see Yuval, "Two
Nations in Your Womb", cit., p. 192; Roth, Medieval Jewish
Civilization , cit., p. 568.
29. Cfr. Haberman, Sefer ghezerot Ashkenaz we-Zarfat, cit., p. 161.
See also Yuval, "Two Nations in Your Womb", cit., p. 185.
30. Cfr. Haberman, Sefer Zechirah, cit., pp. 42-43; Id. (same
author), Sefer ghezerot Ashkenaz we-Zarfat, cit., pp. 231-232. On the
facts of Spira, see also Yuval, "Two Nations in Your Womb", cit., pp.
185, 192, and in particular, Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, cit.,
pp. 568- 569.
31. Cfr. Haberman, Sefer Zechirah, cit., p. 40.
32. Annales Erpherfurtenses, in "Monumenta Germaniae Historica.
Scriptores", XVI, Hannover, 1859, p. 31.
33. Annales Marbacenses, ibidem, p. 178 ("ut ex eis sanguinem ad
suum remedium elicerent ".
34. Hermann L. Strack was the first author to note that the first to notice
that the belief in the ritual use of blood by the Jews, although widespread in
Germany even beforehand, was mentioned explicitly for the first time in 1255, on
the occasion of the Fulda case (cfr. Strack, The Jew and Human
Sacrifice , cit., pp. 178, 277). Based on this consideration, Langmuir
(Toward a Definition of AntiSemitism, cit., pp. 263- 281) maintains
that the origin of the motive of that which is called "ritual cannibalism" in
connection with the facts of Fulda. Before that time, in all the cases reported,
the crimes were said to have involved "ritual crucifixion", without any mention
of the blood motif. This thesis seems today generally accepted (see, among
others, Mentgen, The Origins of the Blood Libel, cit., pp. 341-349;
Roth, Jewish Medieval Civilization, cit., pp. 119-120).
35. "Utrum, sicut fama communis habet, Judaei christianum sanguinem in
parasceve necessarium habeant". In this regard, see Strack, The Jew
and Human Sacrifice , cit., pp. 178, 277, and, recently, Sh Simonsohn,
The Apostolic See and the Jews. History, Documents: 1464-1521, Toronto,
1990, pp. 48-52.
36. "Quod ex maledictione parentum currat adhuc in filios venam facinoris per
maculam sanguinis, importune fluidam proles impia inexpiabiliter crucietur,
quosque se ream sanguinis Christi recognoscat poenitens et sanetur" (Tommaso da
Cantimpré, Bonum universale de apibus , cit., pp. 304-305).
See also Roth's arguments, Jewish Medieval Culture, cit., pp. 120-121.
37. For the identification of Donin with the converted Jew mentioned in
Thomas de Cantimpré, see Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., p.
175. For a convincing examination of the Hebrew texts placing the French
apostate in relation with the anti-Jewish accusations made after the Fulda case,
see, in particular, S. Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the XIIIth
century, Philadelphia (Pa.), 1933, pp. 339-340, and more recently, J.
Schatzmiller, Did Nicholas Donin Promulgate the Blood Libel? in Studies
on the History of the People and the Land of Israel Presented in Azriel
Shochet, 1987, vol., pp. 175-182 (in Hebrew).
38. "Certissime vos scitote nullo modo sanari vos posse ab illo, quo punimini
verecundissimo cruciatu nisi solo sanguine Christiano" (Thomas da Cantimpré,
Bonum unverisale de apibus, cit., p. 306).
39. Cfr. Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, cit., pp. 169-191;
Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, cit., pp. 568-569.
40. "Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores", IX, Hannover, 1848, p. 658.
41. Johannes Vitodurani Chronicon, by G. von Wyss, Zurich, 1856, pp.
42. "Circiter anno quadregesimo secundo, vel tertio proxime elapso, hic in
dicto oppido Leontio aliqui Hebraei, in duabus aedibus habitationem habuerint
[...] cum illi Judaei dictae puellae (Ursulae) ut ex sequenti eorum inquisitione
patet compotes facti, eandem dicto anno, die Parasceves martyrio affecerunt et
occiderunt, et postea hic in aqua proiecerunt, ut tam enormem caedem et facinus
occultarent [...] quod sanguis eius ex eodem corpusculo elicitus ac effusa
fuerit [...] et ita Judaeos omnes sanguis eius ex eodem corpusculo elicitus ac
effusus fuerit [...] et ita Judaeos omnes unanimiter fuisse confessos et
effatos, quomodo dictam infantem die Parsceves anno praefato enecassent et
martyrio affecissent (in cella vinaria)".
43. See note above. On this document and the 18th century reports of ritual
murder of Lienz, see [Benedetto Bonelli], Dissertazione apologetica
sul martirio del beato Simone da Trento nell'anno MCCCCLXXV dagli ebrei
ucciso , Trent, Gianbattista Parone, 1747, pp. 242- 246; F. Rohrbacher,
Usula von Lienz: Ein von Juden gemartertes Christenkind, Brixen, 1905.
44. Cfr. R. Segre, The Jews in Piedmont, Jerusalem, 1986, vol. I, p.
45. Cfr. Vauchez, La santità nel Medioevo, cit., pp. 99-100. In this
regard, see, most recently, K.R.Stow's stimulating study, Jewish Dogs. An
Image and Its Interpreters , Stanford (Calif.), 2006.
46. Cfr. F.S. Hattler, Katholischer Kindergarten oder Legende fur
Kinder, Freiburg, 1806. See also Strack's argument, The Jew and Human
Sacrifice , cit., pp. 184-185; F. Pauly, Zur Vita des Werner
von Oberwesel. Legende und Wirklichtkeit, in "Archiv" für Mittelrheinische
Kirchengeschichte", XVI (1964), pp. 94-109; Roth, Medieval Jewish
Civilization, cit., p. 569.
47. Cfr. H. de Grèzes, Saint Vernier (Verny, Werner, Garnier) patron des
vignerons en Auvergne, en Bourgogne et en Franche-Comptè, Clermont-Ferrand,
1889; A. Vauchez, Antisemitism e canonizzazione populare: San Werner o
Vernier (1287), bambino martire e patrono dei vignaioli , in S.
Boesch Gajano and L. Sebastiani, Culto dei santi, istituzioni e classi
sociali in età preindustriale, L'Aquila-Roma, 1984, pp. 489-508.
48. Berner-Chronik, by G. Studer, Bern, 1871, p. 29. For the more older
sources relating to this ritual murder, cfr. Strack, The Jew and
Human Sacrifice, cit., pp. 186-188.
49. Cfr. Johann Rudolf von Waldkirch, Gründliche Einleitung zu der
Eydgenössischen Bunds- und Staats-Historie, Basel, Thurneysen, 1721, vol.
I, p. 135; J. Lauffer, Beschreibung helvetischer Geschichte, Zurich,
Conrad Orell, 1706, vol. III. P. 108.
50. Cfr. "Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores", XXV, Hannover, 1896, p.
717; XLII, Hannover, 1921, p. 29.
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