Simon of Trent
Simon of Trent (German: Simon Unverdorben ("Simon Immaculate"); Italian: Simonino di Trento); also known as Simeon; (1472 – 21 March 1475) was a boy from the city of Trent, Prince-Bishopric of Trent, whose disappearance and murder was blamed on the leaders of the city's Jewish community, based on his dead body being found in the cellar of a Jewish family's house, and the confessions of Jews obtained under judicial torture.
Simon of Trent
|Died||21 March 1475|
Trent, Prince-Bishopric of Trent
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Patronage||Children, kidnap victims, torture victims|
Catholic cult suppressed
|After the Congregation|
The story of Simon of Trent takes place during the reign of Prince-Bishop Johannes IV Hinderbach, an Austrian noble, under the jurisdiction of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. Shortly before Simon went missing, Bernardine of Feltre, an itinerant Franciscan preacher, had delivered a series of sermons in Trent in which he vilified the local Jewish community.
The Jewish community in Trent was composed of the three households of Samuel (who arrived in 1461), Tobias, and Engel. With Samuel as a moneylender and Tobias as a physician, the Jews remained distinctly separate not only due to their profession, but also to their apparent wealth in a community of artisans and sharecroppers in Trent. Prince-Bishop Hinderbach specifically granted the Jewish community permission to reside and practice their professions in Trent. This dependence on the protection of the authorities later forced the Jews, upon discovery of Simon's body, to report the incident.
By 24 March 1475, there was "great outcry among the Christians on account of the missing child". Simon's body was discovered by Seligman, a cook, in the cellar of Samuel on Easter Sunday 1475. The exact place where the boy's body was found seems to be unclear. According to the Catholic historian Cölestin Wolfsgrüber, the body was found in a ditch. According to historian Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, the cellar was used for ritual bathing and was supplied with water from the ditch.
The consequences, however, are well documented. The entire Jewish community (both men and women) were arrested and forced to confess under torture. Not only were they coerced to admit to the crime of murdering the child, but also to blood libel, or the accusation that due to Jewish contempt for Christianity, Jews murder Christian children in order to use their blood for rituals. Ronnie Po-chia Hsia argues that "the narrative imperative, the official story of ritual murder, the trial record of 1475-76, represents nothing less than a Christian ethnography of Jewish rites".
Fifteen of the Jews, including Samuel, the head of the community, were sentenced to death and burnt at the stake. The Jewish women were accused as accomplices, but argued their gender in the domestic sphere did not allow them to participate in the rituals which were masculine matters. Later, they were freed from prison in 1478 due to papal intervention. One Jew, Israel, was allowed to convert to Christianity for a short while, but was arrested again as a result of other Jews confessing he was part of the Passover Seder and after a long period of torture was also sentenced to death on 19 January. The widespread trial at Trent inspired a rise in Christian violence towards Jews within the surrounding areas of Veneto, Lombardy, and Tirol, as well as accusations of ritual murder, culminating with the prohibition of Jewish money lending in Vicenza in 1479 and the expulsion of Jews in 1486.
Pope Sixtus IV commanded Bishop Hinderbach on 3 August to again suspend proceedings, until the arrival of the papal representative, Bishop Giovanni Battista dei Giudici of Ventimiglia, who, jointly with the Bishop of Trent, would conduct the investigation. After making an investigation, the papal agent denied the martyrdom of the child Simon and disputed the occurrence of a miracle at his grave. When the Bishop of Ventimiglia demanded the immediate release of the Jews, he was denounced by Hinderbach and assailed by the mob, and withdrew to Rovereto. Thence, he summoned the bishop and the podestà to answer for their conduct. Instead of appearing, Bishop Hinderbach answered by a circular, directed to all churchmen, describing the martyrdom of Simon, justifying his own share in the proceedings, and denouncing the work of the Bishop of Ventimiglia as pro-Jewish. While the papal commissary was taking Enzelin, the supposed actual murderer, to Rome for trial, the Bishop of Trent and the podestà continued their proceedings against the Jews (several of whom they executed). Pope Sixtus appointed a commission of six cardinals to investigate the proceedings later in 1475. The head of the commission was a close friend of Bernardinus. Two envoys were sent to Rome by Hinderbach in order to update the Prince-Bishop on the papal opinion. Through endless defense of the martyrdom of Simon and obtaining the support of various clergy, on 20 June 1478, the commission concluded that the trial had been conducted in keeping with legal procedures and Sixtus IV released a papal bull stating the innocence of Hinderbach, but also reasserted papal protection of Jews and the unlawfulness of ritual murder trials.
Centuries later, historian Ariel Toaff, in his book Pasque Di Sangue (Passovers of Blood), hypothesized that there may be some historical truth to the accusations in Trent. The book was heavily criticized for giving credence to testimony obtained during torture and was pulled from circulation and redacted by its author.
Meanwhile, Simon became the focus of attention for the local Catholic Church. The local bishop, Hinderbach of Trent, tried to have Simon canonized, producing a large body of documentation of the event and its aftermath. Over one hundred miracles were directly attributed to Saint Simon within a year of his disappearance, and his cult spread across Italy, Austria and Germany. However, there was initial skepticism, and Pope Sixtus IV sent the Bishop of Ventimiglia, a learned member of the Dominican Order, to investigate. The veneration was nevertheless reinvigorated in 1588 by the Franciscan Pope Sixtus V, who officially approved his cultus. Simon was eventually considered a martyr and a patron of kidnap and torture victims. His entry in the old Roman Martyrology for 24 March read: Tridénti pássio sancti Simeónis púeri, a Judǽis sævíssime trucidáti, qui multis póstea miráculis coruscávit. ("At Trent, the martyrdom of the boy St. Simeon, who was barbarously murdered by the Jews, but who was afterwards glorified by many miracles.")
In 1758, Cardinal Ganganelli (later Pope Clement XIV, 1769–1774) prepared a legal memorandum which, to the exclusion of all other allegations of ritual murders of infants which records were thoroughly made available to him, expressly admitted as proven only two: that of Simon of Trent and that of Andreas Oxner. At the same time, he remarkably extols the glories and accomplishments of the Jewish people across history, writing that the murder of Simon of Trent does not suffice to injure the reputation of the entire Jewish people.
Simon's cultus was confirmed by the Popes for local public liturgical observance ("beatification") within the Diocese of Trent. Pope Benedict XIV himself states this in his Apostolic Letter dated 22 February 1755 and addressed to Fr. Benedetto Vetrani, Promoter of Faith.
"It is simply untrue to say that the Church has canonized little Simon of Trent. A decree of beatification was issued by Sixtus V., which took the form simply of a confirmation of cultus and which allowed a Mass to be said locally in honour of the boy martyr. Everyone knows that beatification differs from canonization in this, that in the former case the infallibility of the Holy See is not involved, in the latter it is."
Stone medallion with the purported martyrdom scene of Simonino di Trento. Palazzo Salvadori, Trent
- (Hsia 1992, p. 14-15)
- (Hsia 1992, p. 25)
- (Hsia 1992, p. 26-27)
- Wolfsgrüber, Cölestin (1913). "Trent". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
- (Hsia 1992, p. 94)
- (Hsia 1992, p. 95–104)
- (Hsia 1992, p. 128–129)
- Giovanni Battista Giudici, O.P. / Jean Battista de Judicibus de Finario
- Joseph Jacobs; Aaron Tänzer (1901–1906). "Simon (Simedl, Simoncino) of Trent". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
- (Hsia 1992, p. 127)
- "GIUDICI, Battista dei" - di Diego Quaglioni - Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 56 (2001) (in Italian)
- Hannah Johnson, Blood Libel: The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History, University of Michigan Press, 2012. pp. 132ff. – via Google Books.
- Lisa Palmieri-Billig (7 February 2007). "Historian gives credence to blood libel". The Jerusalem Post.
- Adi Schwartz (24 February 2008). "Bar-Ilan Scholar Recants Controversial Blood Libel Theory". Haaretz.
- Paul Oskar Kristeller, "The Alleged Ritual Murder of Simon of Trent (1475) and Its Literary Repercussions: A Bibliographical Study ", in: Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 59 (1993), pp. 103-135. JSTOR 3622714
- Gotthard Deutsch; Joseph Jacobs (1901–1906). "Popes, The". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
- Kohl, Jeanette (2018). Gail Feigenbaum (ed.). "A Murder, a Mummy, and a Bust: The Newly Discovered Portrait of Simon of Trent at the Getty". Getty Research Journal. Getty Research Institute (10): 37–60. doi:10.1086/697383. ISBN 978-1-60606-571-6 – via Google Books.
- The Roman Martyrology, 24 March, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Joseph Jacobs; Isaac Broydé (1901–1906). "Clement XIV. (Lorenzo Ganganelli)". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
- "Un Mémoire de Laurent Ganganelli sur la Calomnie du Meurtre Rituel". Revue des études juives (in French). XVIII. Ed. Peeters. January–March 1889. pp. 179 et seq – via Google Books.CS1 maint: date format (link)
- Pope Benedict XIV, Apostolic Letter to Fr. Benedetto Veterani, Promoter of Faith, 22 February 1755, pp. 144-162, in Bullarium – via Google Books.
- The Month. CXXIII. Longmans, Green, and Co. January–June 1914. p. 78 – via Google Books.CS1 maint: date format (link)