Ubi Maior - Card 55
THE JEWISH GHETTO
Elected to the papal throne on May 23th 1555, at the age of 79, the cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa immediately showed how his pontificate would certainly not have been under the banner of reformism and liberalism. After having chosen Paul IV as his name and having celebrated a coronation ceremony of great pomp, on July 15, 1555 the Pope issued the Bull “Cum Nimis Absurdum” with which several ghettos were established in the Papal States.
The Papal Bull clearly revealed its anti-Jewish nature: “it is extremely absurd and disgraceful that the Jews, whom only their own guilt subjected to eternal slavery, can show such ingratitude towards Christians, with the excuse of being protected by Christian love“.
Paul IV established rigid norms for the Jews residing in the Papal States: the obligation to clearly wear a glaucous-colored badge, the obligation to be allowed to work only as scrap dealers and ragpickers and the obligation not to become acquainted with Christians.
For the Jewish doctors there was the absolute prohibition to treat Christians, even if, given the particular ability of Jewish doctors, this prohibition was often disregarded.
The heaviest obligation to respect was, however, that of having to live in a place physically separated from the houses of the Christians: here was created the Jewish Ghetto, which in Rome was located in the Sant’Angelo District, where most of the Roman Jewish community had been living freely for a long time. Life in that small strip of land, also penalized by the proximity of the Tiber with its periodic flooding, was almost impossible.
In addition to the daily difficulties, there were also the so-called “forced sermons“: on Saturdays the Jews were gathered in certain churches and forced to listen to very persuasive sermons which, in the mind of the Pope, were supposed to “enlighten their darkened minds“.
The death of Pope Paul IV, which occurred on August 18th 1559 and was greeted by real ovations from the Roman citizens (demonstrating how the hate for the Pontiff had reached insurmountable heights), did not put an end to the shameful Jewish Ghetto, which continued to exist until 1870, when the doors were opened and the walls of the Ghetto were torn down as a result of the Unification of Italy.