BERNARDINUS OF FELTRE:
Franciscan friar; born at Feltre, Italy, in 1439; died Sept. 28, 1494. He was one of the bitterest enemies the Jews ever had, and openly advocated their utter extermination. He traveled throughout Italy preaching a crusade against them, the burden of his sermons being: "Let Christian parents keep a watchful eye on their children, lest the Jews steal, ill-treat, or crucify them." As a worthy disciple of Capistrano, whom he held up as the type and model of a true Christian, he knew that his eloquence would be of no avail among the aristocracy, the members of which, guided by their interests, protected the Jews. He therefore endeavored to inflame the lower classes and to arouse the ill-will of the populace against the Jews.
Because certain Jewish capitalists had been successful, he depicted all Jews as vampires and extortioners. In his sermons he was wont to say: "I, who live on alms and eat the bread of the poor, shall I be a dumb dog and not howl when I see the Jews wringing their wealth from Christian poverty? Yea! shall I not cry aloud for Christ's sake?"
These sermons bore fruit. At Ravenna Bernardinus incited the populace to such a degree that he was enabled to expel the Jews with violence and to send deputies to Venice to solicit a legal sanction for the expulsion. The authorities of Florence were constrained to order Bernardinus to quit the country, so that a rising which was imminent might be prevented (1487). At Campo San Pietro Bernardinus expelled a Jewish pawnbroker and established a gratuitous pawnbroking institution.
All Jewish occupations and enterprises were equally the objects of Bernardinus' reprobation. The inhabitants of Sienna engaged a Jewish physician. Bernardinus delivered a series of sermons in which he reproduced all the idle tales spread among the people respecting the hatred that the Jews nourished toward Christians. He related that a Jewish physician of Avignon on his death-bed recalled with delight the fact of having killed thousands of Christians through his drugs. The consequence of these sermons was that the lower classes and the women abstained from having recourse to the Jewish physician.
These partial successes notwithstanding, the efforts of Bernardinus mostly failed of effect. The Italian people were actuated by good common sense, and the authorities sorely hindered Bernardinus in his Jew-baiting. It was in the Tyrol that he succeeded in bringing about a bloody persecution.
While Bernardinus preached in the city of Trent, some Christians called him to account for his hatred of Jews, remarking that the Jews of Trent were worthy people. "Ye know not," replied the monk, "what misfortune these folks will bring upon you. Before Easter Sunday is past they will give you a proof of their extraordinary goodness." Chance favored him with a good opportunity.Simon of Trent.
During Holy Week of the year 1475 a Christian child named Simon, who was three years old, was drowned in the Adige, and his body was caught in a grating near the house of a Jew. The Jew gave notice of this occurrence to Bishop Hinderbach. The body was removed to the church and exhibited, and Bernardinus and other hostile priests raised an outcry against the Jews, saying that they had put the child to torture and then slain him and flung him into the water. The bishop ordered the imprisonment of all the Jews, who, with one exception, when subjected to torture confessed. Thereupon all the Jews of Trent were burned, and it was determined that thereafter no Jew should settle in the city (see Simon of Trent).
Bernardinus endeavored to make use of this occurrence to bring about the ruin of the Jews. At his instigation the corpse was embalmed, and commended to the people as a sacred relic. Pilgrimages to the remains were made by thousands of persons, and before many days several of them claimed they had seen a halo about the body. This new miracle was announced from every chancel, and fomented the excitement of the rabble against the Jews to such a degree that even in Italy they dared not go outside the towns, in spite of all that the doge and the Senate of Venice as well as Pope Sixtus did to stem the tide of hatred. Gregory XIII. canonized both—Bernardinus as a prophet, and Simon as a martyr.
- Acta Sanctorum, vii. 28 Sept.;
- Revue Orientale, ii. 40, 41;
- Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, viii. 255 et seq.