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Jewish Cemetery Unearthed in Rome Gives Haunting Picture of Anti-Semitism

03-30-2017
Rome's Archaeological Superintendency / Religion News Service

Italian archaeologists uncovered the remains of 38 skeletons buried in a Jewish cemetery hundreds of years ago, along with evidence of the persecution they endured. 

Researchers discovered the remains during excavations in an area called "Campus Ludeorum" Latin for "Field of Jews." They're thought to have been buried there between the mid-14th to the mid-17th centuries and give insights into the harsh lives many Jews experienced under Papal rule. 

"I am very happy we have found important information about this cemetery, perhaps for the first time ever," the archaeologist in charge of the project, Daniela Rossi, told Religion News Service.  "It is testimony to the important presence of the Jewish community in earlier times."

The bodies were buried in plain wooden caskets  with no headstones in accordance with the decrees of Pope Urban VIII. The Pope ruled in 1625 that Jews were to be buried in unmarked graves with no headstones as punishment for not converting to Christianity. 

Archaeologists only realized these were Jewish remains after finding evidence of their faith near the graves. 

"The only Hebrew inscription, a fragment, came from a layer where the graves were obliterated so without a doubt that was the result of Pope Urban VIII decrees in October 1625," Rossi said.

Now, Rome's Jewish community is attempting to correct the sins of the past by reburying the 38 bodies with the prayers and rituals of a Jewish funeral. 

"A cemetery means a lot to the collective experience of any community, to its sense of self," said Claudio Procaccia, cultural director for Rome's Jewish community. "This discovery affirms the vital and vibrant presence of the Jewish community at that time. This is fundamental."

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