The Persistence of Superstition. The Iconography of Simon of Trent and Its Influence on the Cult of Other 'Holy Innocents'
Trwałość przesądu - problem ikonografii Szymona z Trydentu i jej wpływ na inne kulty „świętych niewiniątek"
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The iconography of holy persons was aimed at edifying the faithful and developing their morals. Yet, sometimes it was controversial and provoked actions that have marred the history of the Church or the reputation of secular authorities that collaborated with it. Particularly contentious was the brutal and gruesome iconography of the blessed Simon of Trent, an infant from the second half of the fifteenth century who, purportedly, was to have fallen victim to a ritual murder committed by Jews. The iconography of the martyr significantly influenced the negative perception of the Jews in the entire Early Modern period. The belief in the veracity of the ritual murders has persisted throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and sometimes finds its supporters even in the twenty-first century. A history of Simon and similar cases of purported ritual murders for which the Jews were to blame, yielded inconceivable stories that in the eyes of the Catholics (and sometimes also Protestants or even Muslims) misrepresented the image of the Jewish community. The story of Simon of Trent, full of mystifications, and other similarly manipulated accounts created an opportunity, for the lay and clergy alike, to exploit the fears of the faithful to the benefit of their own, often mundane, purposes. Accusations based on ridiculous proofs had terrible consequences: trials, tortures, death, and in the best case, confiscation of goods and exile. The iconography of Simon of Trent, formulated at the turn of the sixteenth century became a 'model' for representing victims of purported ritual murders, as can be seen in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century images of Andrew of Rinn in Tyrol (the 'little martyr who probably never existed) or the currently very controversial eighteenth-century painting from Sandomierz Cathedral which should be considered as a 'true image of the tortures that were allegedly inflicted on Christian infants killed by the representatives of the local Jewish community. A colouring book lor children that appeared in 2002 with the story of St Gabriel of Zabłudów (late seventeenth century), an infant martyr of the Orthodox Church whose relics have been venerated in the Orthodox Cathedral of Białystok, is a curiosity. The mystification that accompanied the iconography of Simon of Trent as well as the depictions of other victims of purported ritual murders, have perpetuated in the consciousness of many generations of Christians a belief in the veracity of the satanic conspiracy of Jews against the believers in Christ. False accusations of ritual murders on Christian children provoked horrifying consequences, of which the Jews were the victims. Detrimental slander as well as other indeed outlandish fabrications, impossible to be accepted from a rational, theological and moral point of view, were favourably received by - sometimes manipulated - faith, ignorance and hearsay which, when skilfully handled, resulted in the development of anti-Semitism. Despite the reactions of the Church aimed at verifying the veracity and sanctity of the victims of the alleged rituals and its efforts intended to make up for the unfair treatment of the Jewish community in the past, the credence given to such ridiculous rituals persists. It appears in the form of a belief that there is a Jewish conspiracy against the world, in controversies surrounding the painting at Sandomierz Cathedral or finally in the seemingly innocent colouring book for children in which, under the guise of naive drawings, dwells a belief in the veracity of ritual murders committed on Christian infants.
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