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Medieval Boy Martyrs


Beginning as early as 415 with an unnamed boy of Immestar, near Antioch, the deaths of many Christian children, especially around the time of the Passover, were attributed to Jews. Prominent Jews were accused of torturing a child in a fashion that mocked the Passion of Christ, then drained the blood for use in making the Paschal matzoth. When investigated, many of the deaths were accidentalregardless of whether a Jew was involved. Grieving relatives sought a reason for the death of a loved one and someone to blame.

Beginning with the death of (St.) william of norwich, there were six such cases in the 12th century, 15 in the 13th century, ten in the 14th century, 16 in the 15th century, 13 in the 16th century, eight in the 17th century, 15 in the 18th century, and 39 as late as the 19th century.

Nor was this phenomenon restricted to Western Europe. On March 21, 1690 (Holy Saturday), six-year-old Gavril Belostoksky was found murdered and drained of blood in Zverki, Belarus (now in Poland). Jews were accused of torturing the child and using his blood for the Passover matzoth. He was canonized in the 20th century by the Belarussian Orthodox Church, which celebrates Saint Gavril's feast on May 1. Although most of the victims were young boys, there are recorded cases such as the death (1623) of a girl in Ragusa, Dalmatia. Her body was found under the bed of a Christian woman, but the murder was attributed to Jews.

The cases of blood libel, which often resulted in pogroms or the death of the accused, became almost epidemic. The problem became so serious among German burghers that Emperor Frederick II undertook a formal inquiry of the charges, including a conference with Christian converts from Judaism. Thereafter he forbade such accusations under penalty of the law.

Most of the cults of these so-called boy martyrs have been suppressed; many were never recognized by the Church even locally. Among those included on various calendars were (in chronological order by death): St. william of norwich (d. 1144, Norwich, England); St. Harold of Gloucester (d. 1168 or 1160 to 1161, Gloucester, England); St. Richard of Pontoise (or of Paris; d. 1179, Pontoise, France; passio included in the Acta Sanctorum on March 25); Herbert of Huntingdon (d. 1180); St. Robert of Bury Saint Edmunds (d. 1181, Edmundsbury, England); St. Dominguito of Saragossa (or Dominic of Val;d. 1250; Saragossa, Aragon, Spain); Little St. hugh of lincoln (d. 1255, Lincoln, England); Blessed Werner of Oberwesel (or Wernher of Wesel; d. 1287, Oberwesel, Germany; feast formerly April 19); Rudolf of Berne (d.1294); Conrad of Weissensee (d. 1303, Weissensee, Thuringia, Germany); Blessed Ludwig (Louis) von Bruck of Ravensburg (d. 1429, Ravensburg, Germany; feast formerly April 30); Blessed Andrew of Rinn (d. 1462, Rinn, near Innsbruck, Austria); St. simon (simeon) of trent (d. 1475, Trent, Italy); Blessed Lorenzino Sossio (d. 1485; Vicenza, near Padua, Italy; feast formerly April 15); and St. Cristoforo of Toledo (d. 1490, near Toledo, Spain).

Bibliography: m. d. anderson, A Saint at Stake (London 1964). d. attwater and c. r. john, Dictionary of Saints (3d ed. New York 1995) 358. e. baumgarten, Die Blutbeschuldigung gegen die Juden (Vienna 1900). benoÎt xiv, Constitutio XLIV: Beatus Andreas, dans Bullarium romanum magnam sue ejusdem Continuatio (Luxembourg 1758) t. xlx, 12036. d. chwolson, Die Blutanklage und sonstige mittelalterliche Beschuldigungen der Juden: Eine historische Untersuchung nach den Quellen (Frankfurt 1901); Die päpstlichen Bullen über die Blutbeschuldigung (Berlin 1893). clement xiv, Die Päpstlichen bullen über die blutbeschuldigung (Munich 1900). commission for religious relations with the jews, Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church. L'Osservatore Romano (July 1, 1985). Consultation du cardinal Ganganelli (pape Clément XIV) sur l'accusation de meurtres rituels portée contre les Juifs, en italien, dans Revue des études juives, t. XVIII, 20102; en Français, dans H.l. strack, Le sang et 1e fausse accusalion du muertre rituel (Paris, s. d.) 37071. j. coulson (ed.), The Saints (New York 1960) 229, 417. v. dal, Investigation of the Murder of Christian Babies by the Jews and the Use of Their Blood (n.s. 1844). d. chwolson, Die Blutanklage und sonstige mittelalterliche Beschuldigungen der Juden (Frankfurt 1901). j. deckert, Vier Tiroler Kinder, Opfer des chassidischen Fanatismus (Vienne 1893). a. dundes, "The Ritual Murder or Blood Libel Legend: A Study of Anti-Semitic Victimization through Projective Inversion," in The Blood Libel Legend: A Casebook in Anti-Semitic Folklore, ed. a. dundes (Madison, Wisconsin 1991). r. erb, ed., Die Legende vom Ritualmord: zur Geschichte der Blutbeschuldigung gegen Juden (Berlin 1993). l. ganganelli (Pope Clement XIV), The Ritual Murder Libel and the Jews, ed. c. roth (London 1935). w. kunzemann, Judenstein: Das Ende einer Legende (Innsbruck 1995). g. langmuir, "Ritual Cannibalism," Towards a Definition of Antisemitism (Berkeley 1990). d. j. miller, The Development of the 'Ritual Murder' Accusation in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries and its Relationship to the Changing Attitudes of Christians towards Jews (Cambridge 1991). r. i. moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society (Oxford 1987). l. sheppard, The Saints Who Never Were (Dayton, Ohio 1969), 11523. m. stern, ed., Die päpstlichen Bullen über die Blutbeschuldigung (Berlin 1893; Munich 1900), which includes papal bulls on the topic. h.-l. strack, Das Blut im Glauen und Aberglauben der Menschenheit (8th ed., Leipzig 1911); Der Blutaberglaube in der Menschheit: Blutmorde und Blutritus (Berlin 1892), tr. into English h. blanchamp, The Jew and Human Sacrifice (Human Blood and Jewish Ritual) (London 1909).

[k. i. rabenstein]

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