Blood Libel: The Torture & Immolation of the Jews of Sternberg – A Rare Low German Incunabulum


Van der mysehandelinge des hiligen Sacramentes. (Low German edition of Geschichte der Juden zu Sternberg mit dem Sakrament).

[Magdeburg: Simon Koch], about 1492- 1493


Octavo: 19 x 13.2 cm. [6] lvs. With a large title-page illustration showing Jews attacking the Eucharist with knives.

Modern wrappers. Light damp-staining, a little darker to the final leaf, mild soiling to title and final leaf verso, inscriptions and shelf marks to title. Provenance: From the 17th century library of Nikolaus Baring (1607-1648), with his owner's entry in pen and ink on title: "Ex bibliotheca Nicolai Baringii 1641". Extremely rare. ISTC reports four copies, all in Germany. Baring was a preacher who enjoyed the patronage of Duke Georg of Brunswick, who appointed Baring pastor at the Aegidienkirche of Hanover in 1641, the year in which this book was purchased.

A disturbing, illustrated antisemitic incunabulum in Low German, of great rarity. It relates contemporary events that took place in Sternberg. An impoverished priest, Pieter Dehn, was said to  have  sold  consecrated  hosts  to  a  Jewish  family,  who  wanted  to  use them  for  entertainment  at  their  daughter’s  wedding.  When  they  stabbed the  host  in  the  midst  of  the  wedding  festivities,  it  started  to  bleed and rose from the table. Shocked by this turn of events, the mother of the bride returned the host to the priest, who—unsuccessfully—tried to hide it. The host revealed itself to a burgher, and the entire conspiracy was uncovered. The Jewish family who had organized the wedding and many of their supposed  guests,—sixty-five  people  in  all—were  tortured, interrogated  and had  their  “confessions”  transcribed  and  diffused  in  printed  broadsheets and  books  to  provide  evidence  for  the  alleged  course  of  events. There were  concrete  consequences  for  the  Jewish  population:  twenty-five men and two women were burned at the stake on the basis of the forced confessions, followed shortly thereafter by the final expulsion of the entire Jewish population from the county of Mecklenburg.(Cordelia Heß, “Social Imagery in Middle Low German”, p. 307 ff.)

The report of the desecration of the Host by the Jews of Sternberg appeared in seven contemporary editions, all undated but assigned in the bibliographies to about 1492 -1493. All editions are extremely rare, two of them being recorded in a single copy; another is only represented by a 19th c. facsimile. This edition by Koch is the most “common”, existing in 5 copies (including this one.) There are no copies of any edition in North America.

Four of the editions are in Low German (Niederdeutsch). The present edition was printed by Simon Koch, whose publications were predominantly in Low German. Another of the Low German editions was printed at Lübeck by Matthaeus Brandis, who also printed in Magdeburg; a number of imprints are associated with both Koch and Brandis, who shared woodcuts and even type. As a sign of the text’s rarity, it is not discussed by Cordes and Möhn in their (not quite) exhaustive Handbuch zur niederdeutschen Sprach und Literatur Wissenschaft.

The text  includes  a  short  introduction outlining  the  story  (fol.  2r–3r), followed  by  the  entire  text  of  the Urfehde (confession  of  guilt)  of  the accused and convicted priest (fol. 3r–3v), and then parts of the confession of the mother of the bride, referred to as “the wife of Eleazar.”(Heß)

The events achieved wide notice. They were reported (and the immolation of the Jews illustrated) in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493). The miraculous Eucharists were enshrined and Sternberg became a popular pilgrimage site and remained so until the Reformation.

ISTC is00790250; Not in Goff, Hain or BMC. Borchling & Claussen 210; Schreiber, Manual V, 5320. GW M44009; Voull(B) 1496,2; GW M44009