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The Papal Inquisition in Modena, 1598–1638

This book explores two areas of interest: the Papal Inquisition in Modena and the status of Jews in an early modern Italian duchy. Its purpose is to deepen existing insights into the role of the former and thus lead to a better understanding of how an Inquisitorial court assumed jurisdiction over a practising Jewish community in the seventeenth century. The book highlights one specific aspect of the history of the Jews in Italy: the trials of professing Jews before the Papal Inquisition at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Inquisitorial processi against professing Jews provide the earliest known evidence of a branch of the Papal Inquisition taking judicial actions against Jews on an unprecedented scale and attempting systematically to discipline a Jewish community, pursuing this aim for several centuries. The book focuses on Inquisitorial activity during the first 40 years of the history of the tribunal in Modena, from 1598 to 1638, the year of the Jews' enclosure in the ghetto, the period which historians have argued was the most active in the Inquisition's history. It argues that trials of the two groups are different because the ecclesiastical tribunals viewed conversos as heretics but Jews as infidels. The book emphasizes the fundamental disparity in Inquisitorial procedure regarding Jews, as well as the evidence examined, especially in Modena. This was where the Duke uses the detailed testimony to be found in Inquisitorial trial transcripts to analyse Jewish interaction with Christian society in an early modern community.

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Katherine Aron-Beller

This chapter studies the procedure adapted by Modenese Inquisitors in their trial proceedings against Jews, and the Jews' reactions to the expanding jurisdiction of this court. It begins with a comparison of the tribunal's treatment of Jews with that of other Inquisitorial courts in Italy in the early modern period, and then examines the judicial procedure to reveal what was distinctive about the Holy Office's prosecution of Jews in contrast to Christians. Inquisitorial trial proceedings can be divided into two parts. The first was a preliminary investigation followed by the interrogation of any witnesses named by the delator. The second part of the trial, the full processo, involved the interrogation, and sometimes the imprisonment, sentencing or absolution of the suspect. A study of Inquisitorial policy regarding the expurgation and removal of prohibited books in the possession of Jews provides a deeper insight into its control over the Modenese Jewish community.

in Jews on trial
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A tale of a young Jewess’s flirtation with Christianity
Katherine Aron-Beller

This chapter begins with a survey of the eighteen proceedings, followed by a micro-historical analysis of the trial against Viviano Sanguinetti, who was accused of dissuading his oldest daughter Miriana from being baptized in 1602. Of the eighteen cases, eight involved the purported dissuasion of potential male converts, nine potential female converts, and one a neophyte who had actually been baptized already for two years by the time the Jews were indicted for having tried to dissuade him. In one processo, that of Mariana Mantuano of 1633, Mariana came to denounce herself, testifying that she had wanted to convert but had then changed her mind, clearly believing that this was the best way of defending herself and preventing further exposure to judicial proceedings. According to Faustina, Miriana had openly discussed Christianity with her, criticized Jewish ritual, and carried a ring engraved with the Madonna of Reggio.

in Jews on trial
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Jewish masters and Christian servants
Katherine Aron-Beller

There are more Inquisitorial processi against Jews for hiring Christian servants than for any other breach of ecclesiastical regulations. This chapter deals with a history of the Church's prohibition of Jews hiring Christian wetnurses and servants. It presents a discussion of the licences issued by ecclesiastical and secular authorities in Modena to moderate Christian service in Jewish households. Inquisitors were ordered to send to Rome a detailed list of all those who held licences, which were from then on only to be authorized by the Congregation of the Holy Office. The chapter also deals with the wetnurse's position in the Jewish household, using the processi as evidence of wider implications, the extent of contact and the form of contract between master and servant. It concentrates on the role of other Christian servants in Jewish households, the type of position assumed and levels of social interaction between Jew and Christian.

in Jews on trial
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Katherine Aron-Beller

On 23 March 1625, five years before the Great Plague would come with fury to Modena and carry off almost half its population, the Jewish festival of Purim coincided with Palm Sunday. Using a micro-historical approach again to validate an exhaustive investigation, and further exploring the subject of Jewish/Christian tensions during festivals, this chapter examines an intriguing case, using it as a meaningful indicator of broader themes and aiming to put it into its wider historical context. There were also cases where Jews appeared before the tribunal in order to prevent accusations of proselytizing, and denounced the neophytes who they claimed were bothering them. In most of the cases Jews were accused of proselytizing neophytes rather than 'old' Christians but were rarely sentenced because these neophytes refused to indict them.

in Jews on trial
Open Access (free)
Katherine Aron-Beller

This introduction provides an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book explores two areas of interest: the Papal Inquisition in Modena and the status of Jews in an early modern Italian duchy. It argues that trials of the two groups are different because the ecclesiastical tribunals viewed conversos as heretics but Jews as infidels. The study of these trials is based on three facets of the complex and multilayered text of Inquisitorial trials: the judicial aspect, the biographical aspect, and inter-community interaction. The book also focuses on the types of offences for which Jews were tried more often than others in the duchy, that of hiring Christian servants and blasphemy. It emphasizes the fundamental disparity in Inquisitorial procedure regarding Jews. The book provides a better understanding of how an Inquisitorial court assumed jurisdiction over a practising Jewish community in the seventeenth century.

in Jews on trial
Katherine Aron-Beller

In 1598, the year that Duke Cesare d'Este lost Ferrara to Papal forces and moved the capital of his duchy to Modena, the Papal Inquisition in Modena was elevated from vicariate to full Inquisitorial status. This chapter studies the political situation in Modena, the socio-religious predicament of Modenese Jews, how the Roman Inquisition in Modena was established despite ducal restrictions and finally the steps taken by the Holy Office to gain jurisdiction over professing Jews. The presence of Jews in the duchy of Modena can be traced back to 1025. Three centuries later, in 1336, when the city came under the rule of the Estense dukes based in Ferrara, Duke Borso I d'Este granted the Modenese Jews privileges which entitled them to maintain religious institutions and to lend money at moderate interest. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Modena proved to be a safe haven for Jewish difference.

in Jews on trial
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Verbal offences on the streets of Modena
Katherine Aron-Beller

There were twenty-two processi in which Jews were prosecuted for blasphemy, heretical blasphemy and insults. These processi are considered as legal narratives in the same genre and show the efforts of the Inquisition to control Jewish speech. Three of these processi are described in this chapter. They suggest the degree to which poor Jews in Modena, as opposed to the wealthier classes, adopted the language of their Christian neighbours and provide a commentary on the social conflict produced by their public behaviour. They represent three types of cases which recur at intervals throughout our forty-year period, that is, simple blasphemy, heretical blasphemy, and abuse of neophytes or Jews on the margins of society. Inquisitorial processi for verbal offences have important implications for the issues of morality, discipline and communal conflict that were prevalent within the Jewish community.

in Jews on trial
Open Access (free)
Katherine Aron-Beller

This book highlights one specific aspect of the history of the Jews in Italy: the trials of professing Jews before the Papal Inquisition at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Inquisitorial processi against professing Jews provide the earliest known evidence of a branch of the Papal Inquisition taking judicial actions against Jews on an unprecedented scale and attempting systematically to discipline a Jewish community, pursuing this aim for several centuries. Although the belief that the Inquisition could prosecute Jews had already been set out by theologians from medieval times, the papacy officially brought them under Inquisitorial jurisdiction in 1581. Sixteen or 9" of processi were initiated by Jewish delators who seemingly believed that the Holy Office was a suitable location for delations of fellow religionists and neophytes.

in Jews on trial
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A locus for fantasy
Katherine Aron-Beller

Like many micro-histories, this chapter, which studies the tension between Jews and Christians during the frequent clash of Passover and Easter, is based on one processo in 1604, which uncovers the boisterous and intrusive actions of a group of Jews in the home of Davide de Norsa, a Jewish banker in the small town of Soliera. The chapter provides a description of the various testimonies in the processo, provided in response to leading questions of the Inquisitor, and in addition an interpretation of the Jews' noise, defiance and commedia dell'arte during the clash of Easter and Passover in 1604. Christians were also likely to take offence at any noise made by Jews at a time when they were supposed to be silent. This explains why there was no clear understanding by the Christian witnesses whether what they heard was the recitation of the Haggadah or the swinging on the pingolo.

in Jews on trial