The Sacrum Profanum Festival was established in 2003 in cooperation with the Krakow 2000 Festival Office, the Krakow Philharmonic and the Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne label. The originators of the name, idea and programme were Anna Oberc and Paweł Orski. Initially, the festival combined secular and sacral music of the 18th and 19th centuries, performing it both in the philharmonic hall and in the rolling mill hall of the Sendzimir Steelworks, where great performances took place, including Carmina Burana, Romeo and Juliet and Bernstein. Since the third edition, the festival has focused on presenting 19th- and 20th-century music according to a national key. Subsequent editions presented Russian (2005), French (2006), American (2007), German (2008), British (2009), Nordic (2010), American again (2011) and Polish (2012) music in grandmaster performances by the best ensembles specialising in contemporary music, including Kronos Quartet, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Modern, musikFabrik, Asko|Schönberg and Ensemble InterContemporain. In 2007, the festival opened to jazz music, including works by Miles Davis, performed by Tomasz Stańko and George Gershwin, performed by Leszek Możdżer.
Filip Berkowicz has been the artistic director of the festival since 2008. Since that time, the festival has presented contemporary music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Since 2011, a lot of space in the programme has been devoted to the presentation of American music, including minimalism. Apart from modern classical, there is also an ambitious entertainment during concerts of important artists: Kraftwerk (2008), Aphex Twin (2009), Jónsi (2010), Sigur Rós (2012) and Warp 25: Autechre, Battles, Hudson Mohawke and LFO (2014). Another trend was to present contemporary music by classical composers, reinterpreted or remixed by young alternative music artists, mainly jazz and electronica - since the 9th edition, the festival has presented Reich 75 with the participation of Will Gregory, Adrian Utley, Aphex Twin and Leszek Możdżer (2011), Polish Icons (Penderecki, Górecki, Lutosławski and Kilar) with remixes by Ninja Tune artists: DJ Vadim, Grasscut, DJ Food, King Cannibal and Skalpel (2012) and Polish Icons 2. Lutosławski in remixes by Clark, Mira Calix, Emika and Oneohtrix Point Never (2013). Polish music was particularly present in two cycles: Made in Poland (classics of the Polish composing school, 2010) and Miłosz Sounds (composer's commissions, 2011), as well as in the 10th anniversary edition, entirely devoted to Polish composers. Also presented were projects with alternative music in special versions enriched with orchestrations: Cinematic Orchestra with Sinfonietta Cracovia (2009), múm & friends (2010), Squarepusher with Sinfonietta Cracovia (2014) and These New Puritans with stargaze and Synergy Vocals (2015).
The involvement of artists from the world of alternative music also took on the form of performing classics of contemporary music: Jonny Greenwood playing Electric Counterpoint by Reich (2011), Adrian Utley & Guitar Orchestra with Riley’s In C (2013) and Ólafur Arnalds reinterpreting the music of Chopin (2015). Since 2013, bands specialising in contemporary music performance have also presented acoustic interpretations of electronic tracks from the genre of IDM and guitar alternative: Aphex Twin and Venetian Snares played by Alarm Will Sound (2013), Warp XX played by London Sinfonietta (2014), Thurston Moore, Dan Deacon and Lee Ranaldo performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars (2013-2014) or Dan Deacon performed by Sō Percussion (2015). This led the festival to the 13th edition, filled with the music of indie classical composers - from the world of alternative music, writing classical scores. These included Bryce Dessner (The National), Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Ólafur Arnalds and Jóhann Jóhannsson. The finale of the last edition was a special event - Magic Mountain created by Paweł Mykietyn, Andrzej Chyra, Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk and Andrzej Bałka. The opera was co-produced with the Malta Festival and the Polish Radio Two.
In 2016, the festival was curated by Krzysztof Pietraszewski from the Krakow Festival Office, who proposed expanding the festival both formally and in terms of its programme. Apart from concerts, the Sacrum Profanum formula opened up to other arts: opera, exhibitions and audio art installations, as well as ballet in the future, but also meetings, discussions and workshops supplementing the main themes. Stylistically, the programme creates an alchemical mixture of three trends: from 20th century contemporary music, through avant-garde, to indie classical. The invited artists include Mike Patton, Eyvind Kang, Maja Ratkje, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Arditti Quartet, Ictus Ensemble and Zeitkratzer, who performed the repertoire of Berio, Boulez, Stockhausen, Zorn, Muhly, Zubel and Karkowski.