Document Type


Publication Date

March 2011


Harvard University Press

Place of Publication

Cambridge, Mass.


My book, Sinners on Trial: Jews and Sacrilege after the Reformation tells a story of the process of affirmation of Catholic dogmas after the Reformation, not necessarily though religious education and propaganda but through the application of criminal law, and the courts' treatment of "the sacred" and, thus, also of the "sacrilege."

"Sinners on Trial" combines political, legal, and cultural historical approaches. In Poland, the contest over the sacredness of the Eucharist, a major Catholic dogma challenged by the Reformation, became manifest in lay courts' adjudication of crimes against property and religious symbols, especially those linked to the Eucharistic rituals. The mishandling of sacred symbols and objects transformed sins into crimes and led to harsh sentences, including burning at the stake.

Far more than the Church's efforts to educate the laity, the lay courts' classification of Catholic spaces as the only "sacred spaces" and their adjudication of crimes of "sacrilege," were crucial for the (re)Catholicisation of Poland, and the shaping of the country's religious identity.

"Sinners on Trial" crucially casts a new light on the most infamous case of sacrilege, the accusations against Jews for stealing and desecrating the host, situating it within a broader context of the politics of crime -- most specifically that of sacrilege, illuminating its post-Reformation character.