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The Jewish cemetery in the Sesto di San Romano

Written by  Laura Graziani Secchieri

A new piece in the mosaic of the history of Ferrara and its Jewish Community

I had just published an essay in which I lamented the lack of an updated and scientific study on Jewish cemeteries in Ferrara, when I was shown a deed from the State Archives of Modena inherent to the burial place used by the Jews in 1335.

Sacrati-Muzzarelli-Crema Palace. The restructuring occurred in the fifteenth-century incorporated cotto decorations and marble Gothic capitalsThis discovery was the starting point for further exploration of the Jewish presence in our city in medieval times. The results were written by Silvia Superbi and myself under the title Il cimitero ebraico del Sesto di San Romano: prime riflessioni, published in an issue of "Analecta Pomposiana".

The scarce, but extremely precise, information about the Sesto di San Romano cemetery can be found in a fourteenth century document which opens with the transcript written by Brother Lamberto Cingoli of the Order of Preachers and Inquisitor for the Lower Lombardy province, through which the Dominican reiterates the rights claimed by the Inquisition over a building with a courtyard intended for the burial of Jews, located in the Sesto di San Romano district of Ferrara.

The back entrance was on what has become via Bersaglieri del Po, whereas access to the front was on the main road which is Sacrati-Muzzarelli-Crema Palace. A fourteenth-century fragment representing the siege of a town in which an ancestor of Francesco Sacrati foughtnow corso Martiri della Libertà. The deed then proceeds with the sale of the property to master Iacobucio Calegari and concludes with the stipulation that the buyer must continue to allow the Jews to carry out their burials in the courtyard.

The introduction describes how the building and lands were confiscated because of heinous acts carried out previously by the Jews: unfortunately Brother Lamberto specifies neither what type of behaviour he was referring to, nor in which period they took place.

The confiscation of property was the usual outcome of Inquisition sentences. Although on the contrary, an Inquisitor could not act against Jews as such, having no jurisdiction over them. The requisition could not have been motivated by the ordinary conduct of Jewish life or the activity of money lending at an interest; the more likely reason would have been actions against the Opening words of the Act of January 12, 1335, by the notary Giovanni Dal Sale (State Archives of Modena)Christian religion, such as abjuration, ritual murder and host desecration. But as the hypothesis of the last two offences is to be excluded, we must therefore believe that acts of apostasy had been previously committed by Jews in the building with the large courtyard.

One may ask why Brother Lamberto was careful to specify that the use of the area as a cemetery must continue in the future. This was because the presence of land to be used exclusively for burial purposes was one of the non-negotiable points in the negotiations that regulated the residence in the city of the foeneratores and their families.

An article, dated 1275, required compliance with the unspecified immunities that had been previously granted to the Jews, to which no dispensations could be made by either the Pope or the Marquis d' Este.

Let us now take a closer look at the characters in our story. The Dominican monk Lamberto alternated his activity as Inquisitor, between 1324 and 1336, with the teaching of theology in Bologna. In addition, he was Prior both of the city of Bologna and of the Lower Lombardy province. His fame, however, can be mainly attributed to the sentence that he issued in 1324 in relation to the astrologer and follower of pauperism Cecco d'Ascoli, who was burned at the stake in Florence in 1327.

The Jewish community in Ferrara at that time was made up of about eighty people, but it is inconceivable that this many people 1. Cimitero ebraico del Sesto di San Romano. 2. ‘Iacominus tabernarius’. 3. Marchese Bertoldo d’Este. 4. ‘Iacomunus Caxarolus’. 5. ‘Iohannes de Bruscho’. 6. ‘Ser Ubertus de Sacrato’. 7. Torre dei Leoni. 8. Porta dei Leoni. 9. Via Larga dalla Porta dei Leoni alla cattedrale (attuale corso Martiri della Libertà). 10. Contrada di Borgonuovo (attuale via Cairoli). 11. Vescovato. 12. Cattedrale. 13. San Domenico. 14. Uffici dell’Inquisizione. 15. San Francesco. Graphic reconstruction of the ancient area called “Sesto di San Romano”, contextualized in the present urban settlementmanaged to live with money lending as their only activity. The area chosen for the settlement was close to the urban river ports, docks for goods from the inland areas of the Po Valley and the Po di Primaro. It was here that Roman moneylenders had recognized the economic strength of the municipal city and they controlled or influenced commercial trade from the Centoversuri district. Around these early foeneratores, there was an accumulation of workers carrying out different jobs: some were responsible for the production of kosher foods, the circumciser, the rabbi and artisans to cater to the everyday needs of the people of Ferrara, whether they were Jewish or Christian.

Now that we have identified the Inquisitor and the Jews of Ferrara as protagonists of this story, we return to the object of the sale in 1335. The name that allowed us to find the building sold in 1335, along with its courtyard used as a cemetery for Ferrara Jews, was that of Ser Uberto known as del Sacrato. Oddly enough, none of the documents relating to the Sacrati buildings and their neighbours on the block between via Cairoli and via del Pozzo, make further mention of the Jewish cemetery of Sesto di Romano and it does not even appear as a name place. This silence is a symptom of what I believe to have been the only Jewish temporary emigration, lasting no more than forty years, which interrupted almost a thousand years of a Jewish presence in Ferrara.

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