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The “Judaic-Reasoning Novgorod Heretics” and Some Echoes of Spain in Late Medieval Russia

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In October 1490 Archbishop Gennadii of Novgorod sent a report from the Imperial (Holy Roman Empire) envoy of the Spanish Inquisition to the new Metropolitan of Moscow Zosima. This was in the light of the upcoming synod trial of the accused “Judaic-reasoning Novgorod Heretics,” some of whom Gennadii was then empowered to subject to a humiliating auto-da-fé, without, however, any executions. The overall manuscript evidence indicates that Gennadii’s “judaizing” charges must be taken cum grano salis, that Russian churchmen were clearly concerned with other challenges to Orthodoxy, and the Russian Church’s relationship to Jewish texts was not uniformly hostile. But the report, if quite inaccurate, did have some effect in Russia, even though Russia’s inquisitional proceedings were unique to local conditions and traditions and evinced little influence from any part of the Roman Catholic world. Gennadii’s report dangled the prospects of several thousand immolations and accompanying lucrative property confiscation to the benefit of the royal fisc, but the Russian authorities of the day actually found few such culprits worthy of imprisonment and execution—this in contrast to the former Novgorod Republic’s immense church lands, many of which the state seized and converted into pomest’ia, that is service tenures.

Affiliations: 1: Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., USA,


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