Italian Catholic museum opens exhibit on 'fake news' Jewish blood libel

In 1475, a two-year-old boy, Simonino, disappeared in the Italian city of Trento, marking the beginning of one of the most infamous cases of blood libel against Jews in history.

Giuseppe Alberti, Alleged martyrdom of Simonino da Trento, 1677, oil on canvas, Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio. Provincial monuments and collections. (photo credit: MUSEO DIOCESANO TRIDENTINO)
Giuseppe Alberti, Alleged martyrdom of Simonino da Trento, 1677, oil on canvas, Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio. Provincial monuments and collections.
(photo credit: MUSEO DIOCESANO TRIDENTINO)
On March 23, 1475, a two-year-old boy, Simonino, disappeared in the city of Trento, located in the north of modern Italy. His body was found three days later. Local Jews were quickly accused of killing the boy to use his blood for religious rituals, arrested, tortured and killed. Five centuries later, a new exhibition at the local archdiocese museum denounces the propaganda and the antisemitic culture behind the myth of Jewish ritual homicides and the Simonino case, one of the most infamous examples of blood libel against Jews in history.
Titled "The Invention of the Culprit," the exhibition will be inaugurated on Friday at the Museo Diocesano Tridentino, just meters away from the city's fourteenth-century cathedral. The initiative, supported by local Catholic and civil authorities, is devoted to delve into and debunk what the museum called a piece of "egregious fake news from the past" and "one of the darkest pages" in the history of antisemitism.
Already on the day after the boy disappeared, suspicions were focused on the local Jews, who numbered about thirty belonging to three families, according to the Italia Judaica project by the Tel Aviv University. On Easter Day, March 26, 1475, one of them, named Samuele from Nurenberg, reported to the authorities that the body of a young child was found in the stream that flowed by his house. Immediately afterwards, Samuele, his wife Brunetta and all Jewish men in the city were arrested, while rumors about miracles surrounding the body of Simonino, which was displayed in a church, started to spread.
Samuele and the other Jews confessed under torture.
While in the beginning Pope Sixtus IV remained skeptical about the trial and the cult devoted to Simonino that quickly developed, he eventually gave in to the local Catholic leaders, declaring the trial "regular."
Simonino was later beatified by his successor Sixtus V. For centuries, he was worshiped and considered a patron saint of the city.
Only in 1965 did the Catholic Church officially abolished the cult of Simonino, after years of studies to uncover the lies surrounding the case by Italian Jewish intellectual Gemma Volli and Church historian Iginio Rogger.
The first section of the exhibition is devoted to the "prejudices and visual stereotypes that the Christian western world used to depict the Jewish people." The display will also cover other prominent cases of blood libel against Jews and their fatal consequences.
Several objects connected to the cult devoted to Simonino, including the alleged torture instruments employed for his supposed "martyrdom" and a number relics, are on display.
The exhibition also emphasizes the efficient propaganda machine orchestrated by the fifteenth-century local archbishop Johannes Hinderbach, who took advantage of the recently-invented printing press to spread the lies about Simonino and the Jews.
Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicarum, Nürnberg, Anton Koberger, 1493, Trento, Municipal Library (Museo Diocesano Tridentino)Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicarum, Nürnberg, Anton Koberger, 1493, Trento, Municipal Library (Museo Diocesano Tridentino)
"The application of an impartial critical conscience to the ample documentation on which the accusation against the Jews was based led us to grasp the real configuration of the facts, making the historical truth emerge," museum's director and co-curator of the exhibition Domenica Primerano wrote in an essay, as quoted by Italian Jewish paper Pagine Ebraiche.
She added that what has been uncovered "imposes on all of us a serious reflection about the terrible consequences that prejudices, stereotypes, exclusion mechanisms of the 'different' have."
"History, as well as this specific story, sends us a severe warning that we cannot ignore," she added.