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29 March 2015

BOOK: "Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages, 400-1500 ", by Karl Shoemaker


Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages, 400-1500, by Karl Shoemaker, (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages, 400–1500 rethinks the history of sanctuary protections for criminals in the Western legal tradition. From the twilight of the Roman Empire until the sixteenth century, every major medieval legal tradition afforded protections to fugitive criminals who took sanctuary in churches. Sanctuary-seeking criminals might have been required to perform penance or go into exile, but they were guaranteed immunity from corporal and capital punishment. In the sixteenth century, sanctuary protections were abolished throughout Europe, uprooting an ancient tradition and replacing it with a new set of juridical arguments about law, crime, and the power to punish.

After situating sanctuary law within early Christian and late Roman traditions, this book explores a rich range of medieval legal, ecclesiastical, and social sources, with special attention to the early English common law, and it concludes by examining the legal arguments that led to the abolition of sanctuary privileges and ushered in a new state-centered age of criminal deterrence and social control.


The book won the 2014 John Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy. The Academy awards the prize "for a distinguished first book in the field of medieval studies judged by the selection committee to be of outstanding quality." 

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