Conversion sermons and their upsetting stories in early modern Rome

FBK Aula Piccola

Fondazione Bruno Kessler - Polo delle Scienze Umane e sociali

FBK Aula Piccola

Fondazione Bruno Kessler - Polo delle Scienze Umane e sociali

For nearly three centuries, Jews in Rome were forced, every Saturday, to attend a hostile sermon aimed at their conversion. This event took place in public, observed by local Christians, dignitaries, visitors, and potential converts. As the Catholic Church began to embark on worldwide missions, sermons to Jews offered a unique opportunity to define and defend its new triumphalist, global outlook. The city’s most important organizations invested in maintaining the weekly spectacle. They became a point of prestige in Rome, such that the title of “Preacher to the Jews” could make a man’s career. Foreign tourists eagerly attended, seeing them as one of the city’s most distinctive attractions. The presence of Christian spectators, Roman and foreign, was integral to these sermons, and preachers played to the gallery. But conversion sermons also provided an intellectual veneer to mask ongoing anti-Jewish aggressions. In response, Jews mounted a campaign of resistance by any means available. This talk will examine the background and context of conversion preaching, the place of preachers and their colleagues in the ‘conversionary hothouse’ of early modern Rome, the unusual stories of lives and deaths affected in this spectacle, and their significance for early modern Catholic history.

Scientific coordination:
Massimo Rospocher (FBK-ISIG)
Sandra Toffolo (FBK-ISIG)


Cycle of seminars: “Tavola ovale di storia moderna


The event will be held in English

In-person for a maximum of 15 seats
Use of mask required



Biblioteca FBK, D 361874, s-ar 3-A-20 (3) (detail)



  • Emily Michelson - Speaker
    University of St Andrews
    Emily Michelson is a cultural and religious historian of early modern Italy, and a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland. Her work investigates interfaith encounter and the role of minority groups in shaping early modern Catholicism, during a period when the latter claimed cultural dominance and global reach. She is the author of two monographs, 'The Pulpit and the Press in Reformation Italy' (Harvard, 2013), which examines how Catholic preachers handled their fear of the Reformation in their sermons, and 'Catholic Spectacle and Rome’s Jews: Early Modern Conversion and Resistance' (Princeton, 2022), which reconstructs the weekly spectacle of conversion sermons in Rome, and from which she draws her talk today. She recently co-edited the 'Brill Companion to Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome' and is currently co-editing the forthcoming 'Cambridge Companion to Counter-Reformation Saints and Sanctity.'



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