Renaissance and Reformation Simon of Trent
by
Stephen Bowd
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0433

Introduction

In 1475 the death of the Christian child Simon (b. 1472–d. 1475) in the prince-bishopric of Trent led to the interrogation of members of the small local Jewish community and their subsequent conversion, expulsion, or execution as they confessed under torture to abducting the child and attacking his body with pincers before strangling him and dumping the corpse in a ditch. These confessions conformed to Christian narratives about the supposed ritual Jewish use of Christian blood and the supposed propensity of Jews to re-enact the sacrifice of Christ by means of the murder of Christian children or by attacking the Host. This particular incident of “blood libel” received considerable attention, which was both reflected in and driven by the activities of the nascent printing presses in Italian and German lands (see the Oxford Bibliographies article “Printing and the Book”). The composition of lurid Christian tales from Trent was encouraged by the local prince-bishop Johannes Hinderbach, who sought to promote the cult of Simon as a Christian martyr (see the Oxford Bibliographies article “Saints and Mystics: Before Trent). The body of Simon, displayed in the church of St. Peter, was imbued with miraculous power and attracted many pilgrims, who left donations for the reconstruction and embellishment of the church. Many images and objects associated with Simon proliferated and circulated despite warnings from the neighboring republic of Venice about the social and religious tensions provoked by such representations, and by hostile Franciscan preaching on the subject. At first, the papacy was suspicious of the cult of Simon and investigated accusations of judicial misconduct made against Hinderbach, as well as the claims of miraculous power associated with the body. Hinderbach was eventually cleared of wrongdoing and during the remainder of the century both the cult and accusations of ritual murder spread in northern Italy. The cult received papal support in 1588 and again in 1758 before being removed from the list of martyrs in 1965 at the time of the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) of the Second Vatican Council. The incident is significant as an example of the “blood libel” of Jewish ritual use of Christian blood (although it was far from the first of its kind in European history), and as a notoriously harmful episode in Jewish history. It is also notable as an early expression of the power of the printing press, as an example of the role of humanists in anti-Jewish writing and the construction of a saint (see the Oxford Bibliographies article “Humanism”), and for the abundance of objects and images it stimulated.

General Overviews

Until the beginning of the 20th century, discussions of Simon were marked by confessional priorities. For example, Bonelli 1747 (cited under Primary Sources) contains some useful primary sources, but is the polemical production of a Franciscan friar intended to prove the guilt of the Jews in the murder of Simon and to confirm Simon’s place in the Roman martyrology. Menestrina 1903 provides one of the earliest overviews of the case free of such intentions. For the uninitiated the best place to start reading is the broadly accessible introduction in English offered by Hsia 1992, which is largely based on a copy of the trial record in New York. In other languages, Curzel 2018, a capsule biography of Simon, is a good place to start, while at the other end of the scale is Treue 1996, an exhaustive treatment based on an enormous range of archival sources and contemporary printed material, as well as a mass of secondary sources. Treue 2015 focuses on one important aspect of the case: the battle between the prince-bishop and Rome for recognition of the cult of Simon and for validation of the trial proceedings. Gentilini 2007 is aimed at a popular readership but does draw on some of the trial records.

  • Curzel, Emanuele. “Simone (Simonino) da Trento.” In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Vol. 92. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2018.

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    Provides a good summary of key aspects of the case and its effects, with some remarks on the historiography and a brief list of key works in Italian up to 2015.

  • Eckert, Willehad Paul. “Beatus Simoninus: Aus den Akten des Trienter Judenprozesses.” In JudenhassSchuld der Christen?! Versuch eines Gesprächs. Edited by Willehad Paul Eckert and E. L. Ehrlich, 329–357. Essen, Germany: Driewer, 1964.

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    Provides a good overview of the case, with valuable illustrations of objects related to the cult of Simon, including the mummified body itself (removed from the church of St. Peter for burial after the suppression of the cult in 1965) and its glass-sided casket-reliquary. There is an Italian translation of this essay by P. Piechele: “Il beato Simonino negli ‘atti’ del processo di Trento contro gli Ebrei,” Studi Trentini 44 (1965): 193–221.

  • Gentilini, Gianni. Pasqua 1475: Antigiudaismo e lotta alle eresie: Il caso di Simonino. Milan: Medusa, 2007

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    A popular narrative account largely based on secondary sources, but also drawing on the trial records.

  • Hsia, R. Po-chia. Trent 1475: Stories of a Ritual Murder Trial. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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    Provides an engaging, clear and concise narrative of events in Trent in 1475, largely based on the evidence of the trial record held by in the Yeshiva University Museum in New York, with ten further trial manuscripts listed and briefly discussed in an appendix (pp. 137–140).

  • Menestrina, G. “Gli Ebrei a Trento.” Tridentum: Rivista di studi scientifici 6 (October 1903): 304–411.

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    An early discussion of the case that does not succumb to the confessional bias marking other contemporary treatments.

  • Treue, Wolfgang. Der Trienter Judenprozess: Voraussetzungen, Abläufe, Auswirkungen, (1475–1588). Hannover, Germany: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1996.

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    A detailed and thorough account of the case and its literary and artistic impact until 1588, based on extensive archival and bibliographic investigations.

  • Treue, Wolfgang. “Diplomaten, Rechtsgelehrte, Intriganten: Der Trienter Judenprozess vor der römischen Kurie 1475–1478.” In Dominkaner und Juden: Personen, Konflikte und Perspektiven vom 13. bis zum 20 Jahrhundert/Dominicans and Jews: Personalities, Conflicts, and Perspectives from the 13th to the 20th Century. Edited by Elias H. Füllenbach OP and Gianfranco Miletto, 331–347. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015.

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    An account of the papal investigation of the cult of Simon and the trials conducted in Trent, which concluded with a papal bull clearing prince-bishop Hinderbach of misconduct in 1478.

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