Throughout the fifteenth century, the most widely revered holy men in Southern Europe were Observant Mendicant friars. Many of these saintly reformers were famous for their attacks on religious minorities, and their cults were tied to the surge in persecutory impulses directed against the Jews. Some of the names that immediately come to mind as instigators of anti-Jewish violence and of calls for the expulsion of the Jews include the Observant Dominicans Giovanni Dominici (1356–1419) and Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) and the Observant Franciscans Bernardino da Siena (d. 1444), John of Capistran (1386-1456), and Bernardino da Feltre (1439-1494).
The attitude toward the Jews of Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), the greatest Observant reformer of the late fifteenth century, has not elicited scholarly attention comparable to that which these other fifteenth-century Observant reformers have received. This paper discusses the anti-Jewish measures that Fra Girolamo called for implementing in Florence during the 1490s, and explores the short and long-term ramifications of the Savonarolan reform on the conversion of Jews in central and northern Italy.
It then traces the connection between Fra Girolamo’s enthusiastic support of facilitating conversions from Judaism and the monastic reform that constituted an important dimension of the friar’s prophetic apostolate in Tuscany.
The last part of the paper proposes that Fra Girolamo’s interest in converting the Jews had a notable effect on women’s religious communities that were headed by Savonarolan sympathizers or were otherwise inspired by the Savonarolan reform in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.