Blog by Dr. Shimon Samuels published in The Jerusalem Post
1st April 2020
The horrifying story of Simon of Trent not only resulted in the torture and execution of the local Jewish community, its imagery provoked a widespread surge in antisemitic violence throughout Europe.
Giuseppe Alberti, Alleged martyrdom of Simonino da Trento, 1677, oil on canvas, Trento, Castello
del Buonconsiglio. Provincial monuments and collections (photo Museo Diocesano Tridentino).
In 1989, on vacation in Tuscany, I drove through the beautiful resort of Marina di Massa. By chance, I noticed a poster outside the church of San Domenichino announcing an international poetry contest.
Intrigued, I entered and saw a painting portraying a classical blood libel: Jews stabbing a beatific child to use his blood in baking matzah for Passover.
The friendly priest explained that that year’s annual poetry competition was based on the story portrayed in the painting, and was funded by the Dante Alighieri Society, which had just been formed to promote Italian culture world-wide. He kindly gave me a catalogue with examples of the winning laureates.
A letter to the society and the president of Italy, who served as patron, sufficed to stop state and international support.
Two years later, I returned to the church to find the contest had changed its theme and had become less controversial and more respectable; a situation still current today.
A shocked Catholic member has now requested the Wiesenthal Center's intervention in a similar but more outrageous blood-libel – a painting by Giovanni Gasparro, a contemporary Italian artist, celebrated for his work on Catholic themes.
Gasparro’s new painting, Martirio di San Simonino da Trento per Omicidio Rituale Ebraico (Martyrdom of Saint Simon of Trent for Ritual Jewish Homicide), retells a 1475 blood libel by depicting Jews in antisemitic imagery, once again “celebrating” the blood-letting of a Christian child.
The horrifying story of Simon of Trent not only resulted in the torture and execution of the local Jewish community, its imagery provoked a widespread surge in antisemitic violence throughout Europe. Today's rendering of the blood libel by Gasparro is even more graphic and is bound to be widely spread through social media.
Indeed, the issuing date of the painting was March 24, the traditional Feast day of San Simonino (Simon). This was to be followed by a conference scheduled for April 3 - now postponed due to the pandemic - on "The invention of the guilty and the concealment of the innocent - The case of San Simonino of Trento," The scheduled speaker was to have been Don Francesco Ricossa, who is allegedly dedicated to spreading the blood libel.
The online postponement notice opens with a prayer: "God, restorer of innocence, for whose name the blessed Simon was killed with a very harsh death by the perfidious Jews."
It is, indeed, disturbing that these festivals and conferences annually take place around Passover and Easter, despite the Second Vatican Council’s forbidding the veneration of Simon of Trent, in order to combat antisemitism in the Church - and Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.
These actions began a long-sought healing of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, apparently rejected by the artist Gasparro and his followers.
On January 20 of this year, Wiesenthal Center leaders met in the Holy See with Pope Francis, who made a passionate statement condemning antisemitism.
We have now turned to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin "to advise all Catholic churches - where Gasparro has been welcome - that this painting clearly foments scapegoating in a climate of hate, thereby undermining Vatican policy, and must receive a forthright public condemnation."
Our letter closed with these words: "We would appreciate Your Eminence’s assistance... as the blood libel is still bleeding!"
One positive note: The conference on the Jewish bloodletting of the infant Simon scheduled for April 3 has now been cancelled. The organizers apparently view this as "cancelling history [in the face of] the politically correct.”
The writer is director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.