The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

Bologna, 1858: A police squad, acting on the orders of the Inquisitor, invades the home of a Jewish merchant, Momolo Mortara, wrenches his crying six-year-old son from his arms, and rushes him off in a carriage bound for Rome. His mother is so distraught that she collapses and has to be taken to a neighbor's house, but her weeping can be heard across the city. With this terrifying scene--one that would haunt this family forever--David I. Kertzer begins his fascinating investigation of the dramatic kidnapping, and shows how this now obscure saga would eventually contribute to the collapse of the Church's temporal power in Italy. As Edgardo's parents desperately search for a way to get their son back, they learn why he--out of all their eight children--was taken. Years earlier, the family's Catholic serving girl, fearful that the infant might die of an illness, had secretly baptized him (or so she claimed). Edgardo recovered, but when the story reached the Bologna Inquisitor, the result was his order for Edgardo to be seized and sent to a special monastery where Jews were converted into good Catholics. The Inquisitor's justification for taking the child was based in Church teachings: No Christian child could be raised by Jewish parents. The case of Edgardo Mortara became an international cause célèbre. Although such kidnappings were not uncommon in Jewish communities across Europe, this time the political climate had changed. As news of the family's plight spread to Britain, where the Rothschilds got involved, to France, where it mobilized Napoleon III, and even to America, public opinion turned against the Vatican. Refusing to return the child to his family, Pope Pius IX began to regard the boy as his own child. The fate of this one boy came to symbolize the entire revolutionary campaign of Mazzini and Garibaldi to end the dominance of the Catholic Church and establish a modern, secular Italian state. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1997, and has been made into a play by Pulitzer and Oscar winning playwright, Alfred Uhry. Early versions of the play were performed at Hartford Stage in 2002 and the Guthrie Theater in 2006.

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International Editions

  • Italian Edition, Rizzoli, 2005

    (Prigioniero del Papa Re)

  • British edition by Picador in 1997

    (paperback by Papermac)

  • French edition

    (Pie IX et l'enfant juif, Perrin, 2001)

  • German edition

    (Die Entführung des Edgardo Mortara, Hanser, 1998)

  • Brazilian edition

    (O Seqüestro de Edgardo Mortara, Rocco, 1998)

  • Hebrew edition

    (Kinneret, 2000)

  • Spanish edition

    (El Secuestro de Edgardo Mortara, Plaza Janés, 2000)