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The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

About the Book

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of David Kertzer's The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. The book tells the dramatic story of a Jewish child torn away from his family, a child whose fate would have powerful consequences for the future of both the Italian nation and the Catholic Church.

At nightfall one June evening in 1858, a knock sounds at the door of a Jewish family in Bologna, Italy, then part of the Papal States. The dumbfounded couple, Momolo and Marianna Mortara, find a phalanx of police awaiting them. Their fright turns to panic when the police chief announces that he has been ordered to take away their six-year-old son, Edgardo. "You have been betrayed," he tells them. Someone, he says, has secretly baptized the boy, and now that the boy is Christian, he cannot remain with Jewish parents.

Despite their pleas to the Inquisitor of Bologna, who had heard the rumor of the Jewish boy's baptism and ordered the child seized, little Edgardo was removed by the police and sent to a Church institution in Rome dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. The parents, still believing that the taking of their son was a mistake--for they were sure Edgardo had never been baptizedÜput their faith in Pope Pius IX. The Pope, however, stood firm in the face of a storm of international protest demanding that he send Edgardo back to his parents. Indeed, he began to see Edgardo regularly and to regard Edgardo as his own son.

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara tells of the desperate attempts of the Mortaras to get their child back. The case drew in emperors and ambassadors, and Italian patriots seized on it as well, eager as they were to discredit the Papal States and to bring about the unification of Italy. Before the story ended, the Mortara family, the Papacy, and Italy would be changed forever.

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
by David Kertzer

  • Publication Date: June 30, 1998
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0679768173
  • ISBN-13: 9780679768173