Tombstones and Cult of the Alleged Victims of the Jewish Ritual Massacres in the Lithuanian Historical Lands from the 17th through 19th Centuries (Summary)

Marcin Zgliński (PDF)

The phenomenon of Jewish accusations of ritual murder has been well-studied in the literature from historical and anthropological viewpoints. The artistic decoration of the tombstones and reliquaries of the alleged victims of Jewish ritual massacres in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania has not been explored to date. It is based on written sources, iconography and surviving Western European equivalents.

The aim of this article is to show how the superstitious belief spread that the blood of innocent Christian children was shed in Jewish rituals. This superstition spread in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages from the 12th through 15th centuries. However, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the process started on a larger scale only in the late 16th century and continued until the Enlightenment. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V legalised the cult of the victims of Jewish ritual murders. In 1592, a boy allegedly murdered by Jews was given a ceremonial burial in the Bernardine Church of Vilnius. The accusations of ritual murders in Sandomierz in 1698 and 1710, initiated by the priest Stefan Żuchowski, and especially his two publications, which served as a guide for the preparation of similar trials, inspired by Jan Fryderyk Sapieha, the Grand Chancellor of Lithuania. At the end of the history of the famous picture in Kodeń (1720), written under the pseudonym of the priest Jakub Walicki, there is a poetic text describing the alleged murder of Maciej Łukasiewicz in Kodeń in 1698 and quoting the Latin inscription of the child’s tombstone. A child of the underclass testifies to the glorification and sacralisation of the alleged Jewish victims. Introducing a new praised object complements the whole group of myths constructed by Sapieha. In 1769, the remains of Franciszek Maciejczuk were accidentally unearthed in Białystok. Their good state was acknowledged as the result of a miracle caused by the martyr’s death at the hands of the Jews. The remains were buried under the high altar of the parish church. The model of transferring examples of Jewish ritual murders to the East and sacralising the alleged victim was eventually applied by the Orthodox in the case of Gabriel Zabłudowski, who was allegedly captured and killed by Jews in 1690.

Keywords: Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, ritual massacres, reliquaries, Jan Fryderyk Sapieha, Kodeń, Sandomierz