Catechumens, House of

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CATECHUMENS, HOUSE OF (Casa dei catecumeni ), institution in Rome for intended converts (catechumens) and converts in Christianity (neofiti). A building in Rome to house intended Jewish or Muslim converts to Christianity was allocated by Pope Paul iii in 1543. In 1554, Pope Julius iii imposed a tax of ten gold ducats on each of the 115 synagogues in the Papal States to cover the cost of maintaining the converts. Subsequently the tax was borne by the Jewish community in Rome alone, which had to pay 1,100 scudi yearly. A College of Neophytes was established in 1575 to accommodate converts who wished to enter a religious order. Both institutions were supervised by a cardinal-protector. Houses of catechumens were also established in other Italian cities where there was a ghetto. The potential convert received instruction for 40 days, and if he then refused baptism was allowed to go back to the ghetto. The pressures exerted on him however were so great that this seldom happened. It is estimated that 1,195 Jews were baptized in Rome between 1634 and 1700, and 1,237 between 1700 and 1790, i.e., two per 1,000 and one per 1,000 respectively of the total Jewish population in these periods. The Jewish contributions were abolished in 1810. As late as 1864 a Jewish peddler was savagely punished for passing under the windows of the House of Catechumens in Rome. The House of Catechumens still exists in name.


A. Milano, Ghetto di Roma (1964), 283–306; C. Roth, Venice (1930), 118; A. Balletti, Gli ebrei e gli Estensi (19302), 207–20.

[Attilio Milano]