The Affair of the Sausages: A Meaty Moment in the Swiss Reformation (1522)

When we think of pivotal moments in the history of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses or the Diet of Worms might come to mind. However, one of the more unusual and lesser-known episodes that significantly impacted the Protestant Reformation took place in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1522. This event, known as the Affair of the Sausages, was a seemingly mundane act that sparked a religious and social revolution.

The Context: Switzerland in the Early 16th Century

In the early 16th century, Europe was undergoing significant religious and political upheaval. The Protestant Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther in 1517, was challenging the authority and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. In Switzerland, similar sentiments were brewing, especially in the city of Zurich, where Huldrych Zwingli, a charismatic and reform-minded priest, was gaining influence.

Huldrych Zwingli
Huldrych Zwingli

Zwingli, like Luther, believed in the need for reform within the Church. He questioned various practices and doctrines that he viewed as unbiblical, such as the veneration of saints, the sale of indulgences, and the requirement of clerical celibacy. Zwingli’s ideas were spreading rapidly, setting the stage for a confrontation with established religious authorities.

The Key Players: Huldrych Zwingli and Christoph Froschauer

Huldrych Zwingli was the central figure in the Swiss Reformation. Born in 1484, Zwingli was a contemporary of Martin Luther. He became a parish priest in Zurich in 1519, where he began to preach reformist ideas based on his study of the Bible and the writings of Erasmus. Zwingli’s preaching attracted a significant following, and he soon became a leading voice for reform in Switzerland.

Christoph Froschauer was a prominent printer in Zurich and a supporter of Zwingli’s ideas. Froschauer played a crucial role in disseminating reformist literature, making him an important ally in the spread of Protestant thought. It was at Froschauer’s house that the infamous sausage-eating incident took place, marking a critical moment in the Swiss Reformation.

The Event (Drumroll, Please): Eating Sausages During Lent

Lent is a period of fasting in the lead-up to Easter, in which Catholics were traditionally required to abstain from eating meat on certain days. This practice was strictly enforced by the Church, and violations could result in severe penalties.


On March 9, 1522, during the first Sunday of Lent, Christoph Froschauer hosted a gathering at his house. Among the attendees were several prominent citizens of Zurich and supporters of Zwingli’s reformist ideas. In an act of deliberate defiance against Church authority, Froschauer and his guests ate sausages, a clear violation of Lenten fasting rules.

medieval food

Huldrych Zwingli was present at the gathering but did not partake in the sausage feast. However, he supported the act and subsequently preached a sermon titled “On the Choice and Freedom of Foods,” in which he argued that fasting and dietary restrictions were not mandated by the Bible but were instead human inventions imposed by the Church. Zwingli emphasized the principle of Christian liberty, asserting that individuals should have the freedom to make their own decisions about fasting based on their understanding of Scripture.

A Sausage Scandal

The Affair of the Sausages quickly became a scandal in Zurich. The event highlighted the growing tension between reformers and the established Church. Local authorities arrested Froschauer and his guests, charging them with violating the fasting laws. The incident sparked heated debates and discussions throughout the city.

Zwingli’s sermon and the subsequent controversy brought the issue of religious reform to the forefront of public discourse. Support for Zwingli and his ideas grew, and he continued to challenge the Church’s authority on various matters. The Zurich city council, influenced by the growing reformist sentiment, eventually sided with Zwingli and began to implement his reforms.


In January 1523, the Zurich council held a public disputation, known as the First Zurich Disputation, to debate Zwingli’s teachings. Zwingli presented his case, arguing for the primacy of Scripture over Church tradition and the need to eliminate practices not grounded in the Bible. The council ultimately endorsed Zwingli’s views, leading to significant religious and social changes in Zurich.

The Impact: A Catalyst for Reform

The Affair of the Sausages was a turning point in the Swiss Reformation. It demonstrated the willingness of ordinary citizens to challenge Church authority and embrace reformist ideas.

Zwingli’s influence continued to grow, and his reforms spread to other parts of Switzerland. He introduced changes such as abolishing mass, removing religious images from churches, and simplifying worship services. Zwingli’s emphasis on Scripture and personal faith laid the groundwork for the development of the Reformed tradition within Protestantism.

The event also had broader implications for the Reformation movement. It highlighted the power of local actions to inspire broader changes and demonstrated the potential for reform to take root outside of Germany, where Martin Luther’s movement was centered.

Legacy: A Lasting Influence

The legacy of the Affair of the Sausages extends beyond its immediate impact on the Swiss Reformation. It serves as a reminder of the importance of challenging unjust authority and advocating for individual rights and freedoms. The event exemplifies how seemingly small acts of defiance can spark significant social and religious change.

Huldrych Zwingli’s contributions to the Reformation are often overshadowed by those of Martin Luther and John Calvin, but his role was crucial in shaping the direction of Protestantism. Zwingli’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture and his advocacy for reform influenced subsequent generations of reformers and helped establish the foundations of the Reformed tradition.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

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