HGS U3A Evening Book Group entertained and were entertained by the author of the group’s most recent read.
Rick Friend, author of The Pope’s Son, joined the Evening Book Group to inform our discussion about his novel. Rick, the brother of one of the members of the group, made his debut as an author with this book—based 90% on fact—about the “virtual kidnapping” of a little Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, on the orders of Pope Pius IV in 1858. Rick Friend came across this extraordinary story in the archives of Swiss Cottage Library where he read a piece about it in the Jewish Chronicle. He was intrigued and continued to research the case—leading eventually to writing this gripping novel.
Rick told the group “It seemed like a hidden story, as none of my Jewish or Catholic friends had ever heard about it.” Rick told us that he had spent months researching in the British Library and the Vatican to find out more about the case and about Pope Pius IV. The case was well documented in the Catholic press of the time, and also The Times of London. It took many years of painstaking research and visits to Liège, Bologna, and Rome to complete the work.
It was a cause celèbre of the time that the Pope had arranged that Edgardo Mortara was taken from his parents’ home, orthodox Jews, and brought to the Papal court “in order to guide the boy’s soul to heaven”. Edgardo had been secretly baptised by his 14 year nursemaid when as a baby he was very ill. This baptism formed the basis for the “abduction” by the Papal emissaries.
The group learnt from Rick that, at the time, almost every country in the world was aware of this great injustice—particularly of course the parents of Edgardo who never recovered the trauma of losing their son in this way. Many countries and their representatives had urged the Pope to let the boy go, including Sir Moses Montefiore, the British aristocrat—all to no avail.
This “first” for the Evening Book Group of being able to talk to the author about their work, is something we hope to repeat—as our understanding and enjoyment of The Pope’s Son was greatly enhanced by having Rick Friend join us.