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Weigel, Katarzyna

(late 1450s–1539), convert to Judaism who was burned at the stake for apostasy in 1539. Weigel was also known as Katarzyna Malcherowa or Katarzyna Zalaszowska, and was the wife of a Kraków city councilman, Melchior Weigel.

In 1529, Malcherowa was accused of apostasy to Judaism and was summoned to the episcopal court headed by Bishop Piotr Tomicki. According to the charges, she had been practicing Judaism for several decades. During her trial in 1530, she was forced to retract her beliefs by stating that she had accepted Judaism out of “female curiosity,” “madness, and weakness of the mind.” Her public abjuration and reconciliation with the Catholic church took place on 11 August 1530, at which point she renounced heresy and especially “the squalid Jewish unbelief,” while affirming “the true Christian apostolic faith.” In this formulaic abjuration, she asked to be subjected to “the severity of the spiritual law” should she relapse. Malcherowa appeared in the bishop’s court over monetary matters as well. In 1531, she sued a priest and a head of a hospital, Stanisław Stanko, for unpaid debts, and even appealed to the archbishop of Gniezno. There is evidence that she and her husband maintained business relations with Jews in Kraków, including Rabbi Mosheh Fischel.

On 19 March 1539 under the orders of Bishop Piotr Gamrat, Weigel was again summoned to the episcopal court, where she was accused of relapsing into apostasy. She was then imprisoned and examined by a committee of Catholic scholars who on 16 April found her guilty. Now considered a relapsed heretic and apostate, she was subjected to the utmost severity of the law. Accordingly, she was stripped of her property and released to the secular authorities for final sentencing and execution, as canon law allowed the church to confiscate property of relapsed heretics but not to impose the death sentence. On 19 April 1539, in accordance with Magdeburg laws, she was burned at the stake.

Weigel’s execution was a significant event in Kraków. Even though it took place at a location described by a prominent scholar as “a place where they collect dead dogs,” it was attended by church officials and large crowds. Historians have often characterized her case as a Protestant heresy, but sources suggest that she was indeed considered an apostate to Judaism and was treated differently from others accused of heresy. Katarzyna Malcherowa may also have been one of a number of converts to Judaism who precipitated actions by Catholic authorities against Jewish proselytism.

Suggested Reading

Majer Bałaban, Historja Żydów w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, 1304–1868 (Kraków, 1991), vol. 1, pp. 125–127; Simon Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, trans. I. Friedlander (Bergenfield, N.J., 2000), p. 34; Janusz Tazbir, A State without Stakes: Polish Religious Toleration in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Warsaw, 1973), p. 47