Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 621
The law issued by King Chindasvinth (ca 642-653) forbids murderers to seek asylum in churches; if a murderer escaped to the church he shall be expelled only by a priest. The codification known as the Lex Visigothorum (issued and revised several times between 569 and 702).
Si homicida ad ecclesiam confugiat.
Non sumus inmemores, de homicidis actenus adque maleficis diversas quidem legum sententias precessisse et iuxta qualitate sceleris penas esse prepositas, quas unusquisque eorum merebatur excipere. Tamen, quia nequitie huius autores, quanto in malis amplius promti sunt, tanto ad evadendum supplicium occasiones sepe pretendunt, ac se plerumque basilicarum Dei defensione conmittunt, qui contra divinum preceptum scelera perpetrare non metuunt, ideo, quia numquam debet hoc scelus inultum relinqui, quod et vitam perimit et quorundam mentes ad deterius frequenter inpellit, hoc omnem per evum mansurum damus edictum: ut, quemcumque homicidam seu maleficum lex puniri precipit, et preterea, qui ex suo disposito vel male volumtatis adsensum tale nefas committit, nulla hunc occasio nullaque umquam ab hac sententia potestas excuset; sed etiam, si contigerit eum ad altare sanctum fortasse confugere, non quidem presumat eum absque consultum sacerdotis persecutor eius abstrahere, consulto tamen sacerdote ac reddito sacramento, ne eundem sceleratum publica mortis pena condemnet, sacerdos eum sua intentione ab altario repellat et extra corum proiciat, et sic ille, qui eum persequitur, conprehendat; cui ab ecclesia eiecto non alias mortales inferat penas, nisi omnem oculorum eius visionem extinguat et sic ad aliorum terrorem in feliciter victurum dimittat, sed in potestate parentum vel eorum, cuius propinquus occisus fuerit, contradendus est, ut excepto mortis periculo quicquid de eo facere voluerint licentiam habeant, quatenus, dum malorum pravitas conspicit constituta sibi supplicia preterire non posse, vel metu saltim territus a malis abstineat, quem male volumtatis intentio ad inlicitum facinus sponte sepe precipitat.
(ed. K. Zeumer 1905: 281-282)
If a homicide takes refuge in a church.
We are not unmindful that, heretofore, many laws have been enacted and penalties prescribed to be inflicted upon the guilty according to the nature of the crime, whether it be homicide or some other offence. Yet, because the authors of these wicked deeds who are as ready to commit them as they are cunning in seeking opportunities to escape punishment, and, as they, for the most part, betake themselves for protection to the churches of God, while, at the same time, they do not fear to commit crimes in violation of the Divine precepts; for the reason that wickedness of this kind should never go unpunished, because it destroys life, and frequently impels the minds of men to the commission of worse offences, we promulgate the following decree, to be observed through all time, to wit: that, as the law directs that every homicide or malefactor shall be punished, so, whoever, according to his own impulse, or evil disposition, commits such a crime, shall never be released from liability to the law, by any excuse or influence; but in the case that he should take refuge, at the Holy Altar, a pursuer shall not presume to remove him from it without the consent of the priest. The priest having been consulted, however, and oath made that the party sought is a criminal, and liable to be publicly condemned to death; the priest himself shall drive him from the altar, and eject him from the choir; so that he who is pursuing him may arrest him. He who has thus been driven from the church shall not, however, be liable to the penalty of death; but the sight of his eyes shall be entirely destroyed; or he may be delivered up into the power of the parents or relatives of him whom he killed; and the latter shall have the right to dispose of him at their pleasure, excepting they shall not put him to death; as a warning to prevent the intentions of depraved men from being carried into effect, when they know what punishments are prepared for them; and that he whom a wicked impulse often drives to the commission of an unlawful act, may, through terror, abstain from evil.
(trans. S.P. Scott 1910: 227-228; slightly altered)


Chindasvinth was a Visgothic king from 642 to 653. The law was included in the codification both in Reccesvinth's and in Ervig's revision.

Place of event:

  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Gaul

About the source:

Title: Lex Visigothorum, Liber iudiciorum, Liber iudiciorum sive Lex Visigothorum
Origin: Iberian Peninsula
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Lex Visigothorum is a codification of law first composed during the reign of King Leovigild (569-586) on the basis of the Code of Euric, but the origin of all extant manuscripts is its revised version from the reign of King Reccesvinth (649-672). The codification was also enlarged in the times of King Ervig (680-687) and Ecgica (687-702).
K. Zeumer ed., Liber iudiciorum sive lex Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Leges nationum Germanicarum 1, Hannover, Leipzig 1902, 33-456.
The Visigothic Code (Forum Judicum), trans. S.P. Scott, Boston 1910


Functions within the Church - Parish presbyter
    Described by a title - Sacerdos/ἱερεύς
      Public law - Secular
        Relation with - Secular authority
          Equal prerogatives of presbyters and bishops
            Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: M. Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER621,