In the crypt of the Tyn Church in the Old Town Square in Prague, opposite the tomb of Tycho Brahe, there is a red marble tomb, with a Latin inscription and bearing the name Simon Abeles. This tomb has a very strange story.
In 1689, the nine year old Simon lived with his parents in Josefov, the Jewish quarter of Prague. That year, there was a great fire in Josefov, and many of the residents were evacuated and temporarily housed outside of the ghetto. Simon lived for a time with a Christian family. Up to that point, his life as a Jew had been categorized by persecution, poverty and the walls of the Prague Ghetto. When living with the Christian family, he experienced, for the first time, the social freedoms which were not ordinarily granted to Jews. He was dazzled by the Christian religion and the social position he had attained outside the ghetto.
Eventually, Josefov was rebuilt and Abeles went back to live with his family, but three years later, in 1693, he escaped Josefov, went to the Jesuit mission, and was baptized there. The Jesuits then took him back to Josefov. It's not clear why the Jesuits took him back, maybe they felt that he should not have been away from his family, maybe they wished him to be an emissary of Christianity in Josefov, we shall never know, because six months later, his body was found buried in the old Jewish cemetery in Josefov.
The Christian authorities immediately arrested the boy's father, Lazar, and a family member, Lobl Kurtzhandl. The two were put on trial, found guilty of the murder of the boy and sentenced to death by torture.
Lazar was tortured until he confessed, and then hanged himself using his belt in order to avoid further torture. However, the executioner decided that the sentence should be carried out anyway on the man's corpse. The body was thrown out of the window, dragged through the streets of the town, drawn and quartered, and then Lazar's heart was cut out and ground into his face. A similar fate befell Kurtzhandl, during his execution, all of the bones in his body were crushed under a wheel. During the punishment, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour, and in return was given a swift death.
Simon's body was disinterred from the Jewish cemetery, and lay in state for a week in the Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The body was said to be incorruptible, and it is said that the townsfolk would dip their hands in the blood that still flowed from its wounds. The body was then carried with full honours to the Tyn Church, where it was buried.
There are a number of mysteries about the scandal. First and foremost, how the boy actually died. The original story was that the boy was murdered by his father for converting, although a number of sources have said in fact the father was attempting to administer a punishment and went too far, and was therefore guilty of nothing more than accidental murder. Some other sources say that the boy died of natural causes, and the whole trial and subsequent execution was either a mistake by the Jesuits, or else purposefully planned to discredit the Jews. Weight is leant to this by the death of Lazar - how would a man who was chained and shackled be able to hang himself? Whatever the real story was, this was used as a piece of anti-Semitic propaganda for several hundred years after the event.
- Europe Touring Notes, Richard Goldstein
- The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe, Eli Valley