Sinners on Trial

Sinners on Trial

Magda Teter
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Sinners on Trial
    Book Description:

    Criminal law became a key tool in the effort to legitimize Church authority in post-Reformation Poland. Recounting dramatic stories of torture, trial, and punishment involving Christians and Jews, this is the first book to consider the sacrilege accusations of the early modern period within the broader context of politics and common crime.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06133-0
    Subjects: History, Religion
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-ix)
  3. [Map] (pp. x-x)
  4. Introduction: From Sin to Crime (pp. 1-8)

    In the summer of 2009, a scandal about the handling of a consecrated Communion wafer broke in Canada after the prime minister, Stephen Harper, accepted a wafer during a Catholic funeral Mass for the former governor-general, Roméo Leblanc. As a devout Protestant, Harper should not have received the Communion at a Catholic Mass, but that was not the scandal. Rather, it was the question: What happened to the sacramental Communion wafer?¹ Video cameras showed the prime minister accept the host, as the consecrated wafer is known, but apparently not consume it. Some even said he had put it in his...

  5. 1 The Meaning of the Sacred (pp. 9-39)

    In the thirteenth century, the medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “The holiness of a place is directed to the holiness of man who worships God in a holy place. For it is written: ‘God did not choose the people for the place’s sake, but the place for the people’s sake (2 Macc. 5:19).’ ”¹ Sacred space was determined by what the people did there. Service to God made a place sacred.

    The understanding of sacred topography—within churches for Christians and synagogues for Jews—was shaped, from antiquity, by the interior topography of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem.² With...

  6. 2 Stealing Sacred Objects (pp. 40-62)

    Both Jews and Christians recognized degrees of sacredness of objects and spaces. Much as in synagogues, where the Torah scroll was considered most sacred and other objects assumed a level of sacredness relative to the Torah scroll and their own use in liturgy, degrees of sacredness also existed within Catholic churches, where nonliturgical objects were not as holy as those used during liturgy.

    The medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas distinguished “various degrees of holiness” in “the sin of sacrilege,” that is, “the irreverent treatment of a sacred thing.”¹ The “species of sacrilege,” he wrote, must be “distinguished according to different...

  7. 3 Prosecuting Sins, Defending Faith (pp. 63-88)

    In 1721, a Christian man, Woyciech Cierpiątka, stood before the court in the town of Chełm, accused of robbing a Catholic church and stealing liturgical objects—a monstrance and a pyx containing six hosts. After hiding the stolen items in hay for three days, he took them to some Jews in the nearby town of Rejowce, who “immediately delivered him to the magistrate.”¹ Cierpiatka was sentenced to death “for touching shamefully with his hands the consecrated communion wafers, as well as the monstrance and the pyx.” His hands were to be scorched in a public event in front of the...

  8. 4 The Making of a Polish Jerusalem (pp. 89-125)

    On Fridays, as late as 1926, and perhaps even up to the eve of World War II, in a small Catholic church on what has been known as “the Jewish street,” a few meters off the main market square in the city of Poznań, the faithful did not sing the prayerKyrie Eleison,“God Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy.” Instead, the church followed a liturgy that diverged markedly from the approved official liturgy of the Catholic Mass. The song’s text that replaced the words ofKyrie Eleisontold of Jewish desecration of the host in Poznań:

    O, Jesus, unsurpassed in...

  9. 5 Protestant Heresy and Charges against Jews (pp. 126-156)

    In the spring of 1556, Dorota Łazęcka, a Christian woman who was a servant in a Jewish household in the small Polish town of Sochaczew, was accused of stealing the consecrated wafer during the Easter season and delivering it to Jews. She was promptly burned at the stake. The Jews were charged with desecration of the host by “stabbing and torturing” it and they too were sentenced to death by burning. It was the first documented trial for host desecration in Poland. The trial illuminates religious and political tensions in Poland at the time of a conflict that the Catholic...

  10. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  11. 6 Christians on Trial, Jews Expelled (pp. 157-175)

    In the spring of 1600 in Bochnia, then a leading but declining salt-producing city just 40 km east of Cracow, two Christian men, Mathias Dudka and Maciej Mazur, stood before the city magistrate, accused of host desecration. Their trial became freighted with political consequence, its full scope evident only in 1605, when King Sigismund III issued a decree ordering that Jews be expelled from the city. Many moved to the nearby private town of Wiśnicz, owned by a prominent nobleman, Stanisław Lubomirski. The expulsion was an unusual act for Poland, touted by a local writer as a unique success that...

  12. 7 The Struggle for Power and Authority (pp. 176-199)

    King Sigismund III, the same king who issued a decree expelling Jews from Bochnia in 1605 in the aftermath of a host desecration trial, twenty-five years later defended Jews against similar anti-Jewish charges in Przemyśl. This reversal did not stem from a change of heart; even at the time, he was known to be key to the successful re-Catholicization of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Rather, the king fought back to protect his own power, challenged by “the insolence” of the magistrate.¹

    On March 25, 1630, a Monday before Easter, a Christian woman, Caterina Kucharzowa, was accused of sacrilege in Przemyśl, a...

  13. 8 Justice and the Politics of Crime (pp. 200-226)

    Charges of sacrilege filed against Christians in post-Reformation Poland allowed secular courts to affirm the sacredness of Catholic churches and relegated other religious groups to a realm excluded from “the sacred.” In doing so, the courts, perhaps unwittingly, strengthened the power of the Catholic Church, accomplishing exactly the opposite of what they were expected to do when first granted the right to take on religious cases in the wake of the Reformation.

    Politically, the secular courts’ power and the charges of sacrilege were most acutely manifest in high-profile trials that involved Jews in Sochaczew in 1556, at the height of...

  14. Glossary (pp. 227-228)
  15. Abbreviations (pp. 229-230)
  16. Note on Names and Terminology (pp. 231-232)
  17. Notes (pp. 233-304)
  18. Select Bibliography (pp. 305-314)
  19. Acknowledgments (pp. 315-318)
  20. Index (pp. 319-331)


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