The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

David I. Kertzer

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03 October 2019
368 pages

Now filmed by Steven Spielberg, starring Mark Rylance as the Pope.

The extraordinary story of how the Vatican’s imprisonment of a six-year-old Jewish boy helped to bring about the collapse of the popes’ worldly power in Italy.

Bologna: nightfall, June 1858. A knock sounds at the door of the Jewish merchant Momolo Mortara. Two officers of the Inquisition burst inside and seize Mortara’s six-year-old son, Edgardo. As the boy is wrenched from his father’s arms, his mother collapses. The reason for his abduction: the boy had been secretly ‘baptized’ by a family servant. According to papal law, the child is therefore a Catholic who can be taken from his family and delivered to a special monastery where his conversion will be completed.

With this terrifying scene, prize-winning historian David I. Kertzer begins the true story of how one boy’s kidnapping became a pivotal event in the collapse of the Vatican as a secular power. The book evokes the anguish of a modest merchant’s family, the rhythms of daily life in a Jewish ghetto, and also explores, through the revolutionary campaigns of Mazzini and Garibaldi and outside leaders like Napoleon III, the emergence of Italy as a modern national state. Moving and informative, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara reads as both a thriller and an authoritative account of a moment that changed Europe forever.

A gripping, vivid and well-documented rendering. A highly readable work that is dramatic, moving and informative, as interesting to general readers as it will no doubt prove to historians.

San Francisco Chronicle

Thrilling . . . Kertzer's careful scholarship and fine narrative skill make a great drama.

Boston Globe

A spellbinding and intelligent book. The story itself is utterly compelling, but is entirely Kertzer's skill as a historian and a writer that allows him to maintain the suspense.

Toronto Globe and Mail