[In-person/online] workshop NIKI Florence: ”Ecclesia / Iustitia. Spirituality and Criminal Justice in Late Medieval Europe (ca. 1200-1500)”

Organized by our visiting professor Lidia Zanetti Domingues and Héléna Lagréou

30-31 May 2024

Click here to consult the programme.

Pre-registration is required to guarantee seating or online attendance. The conference is open to the public free of charge.

Please click here to register for online attendance via Teams.

To register for in-person attendance at the NIKI in Viale Evangelista Torricelli 5 in Florence, please click here.


Scholarship in medieval studies still lacks a thorough evaluation of the relationship between religious norms and criminal justice in late medieval Europe. Although interactions between divine and human justice in this society had been often recognised by historians, specialised works tended to sit squarely focussed on either one or the other. Only recently have scholars tried to overcome this limitation, by bridging the traditionally existing gap between studies on religion and culture on one hand and works on socio-political and legal systems on the other. The concept of Ecclesia as a “total institution” that permeated every aspect of medieval society and signified both the Church as an organisation and the community of Christians operating on principles of caritas (neighbourly love) can provide a good starting point to further the discussion. Since the XIII century, indeed, growing expectations were placed on the common faithful in terms of adherence to the norms of caritas at both an intellectual and an embodied level (through a growing participation in sacraments and religious associations as well as exposure to preaching). Around the same time, though, systems of criminal justice started using ever more radical forms of exclusion to punish deviant members of the community (e.g., corporal punishments, denial of burial, total destruction of the criminal’s possessions).The extent to which reformers of criminal justice incorporated the values embedded in the concept of Ecclesia, or rather used the latter instrumentally to legitimise measures enacted to reach other goals, is indeed a question still very much open for debate.


This workshop aims to further our understanding of how late medieval societies reconciled the partially contradictory ideals and expectations of Ecclesia and Iustitia at a collective and individual level, using perspectives coming from art history, literary studies, history and religious scholarship. The time frame considered will be ca. 1200-1500, a period that scholars have often indicated as the cradle of modern judicial systems in Western Europe. Although the primary focus of the workshop will be on the relationship between secular justice and Christian spirituality, we wish to acknowledge that Europe hosted significant non-Christian communities (particularly Jewish and Muslim). Therefore, we welcome discussions on how the presence of these communities and their spirituality influenced the development of judicial systems in late medieval Europe.