Today I would like to extend a warm and hearty welcome to Laura Libricz, with my first ever guest blog post. Thank you to Laura for taking the time to write this wonderful article on witchcraft in Germany. Over to Laura:
Bamberg, Germany: The Early Modern Witch Burning Stronghold
Throughout the dark ages, Christianity had difficulties setting down roots among the Germanic tribes. Stories are told of saints who came to the German people and destroyed sacred trees and mystical places in order to show the people that their gods had no power. Even after Christianity took hold and the Catholic Church was established in the Germanic territories of the Holy Roman Empire, evidence shows that the Germanic people held onto their beliefs in goddesses, magic, herbal remedies, and pagan practices.
Persecution of heathens and witches was regular but not widespread in Germany in the medieval period. But as the Catholic Church grew swollen and corrupt, pagans were seen as a threat. Pope Innocent IV declared in his papal bull Ad extirpanda, dated 1252, that the use of magic, herb collecting, and questionable gatherings in so-called mystical or heathen sites was forbidden and to be enforced by torture. The famed Hammer of the Witches, the Malleus Maleficarum, the handbook by Heinrich Kramer on what witchcraft was and how to deal with it, was first published in 1486 and remained popular for two hundred years.
In the early 16th century, a new opposition to Rome appeared in the Empire among the Germanic territories: the Protestant movements. The most famous of these movements was the Reformation led by the teachings of Martin Luther. The Catholic Church was quickly losing the Germanic regions to this new teaching. By the middle of the 16th century, many major German cities had officially converted to Protestantism. As the 16th century came to a close, severe weather, failing crops, rising prices, disease, and an overall doomsday atmosphere fueled the Catholic Church’s renewed efforts to win back the territories.
Someone or something was responsible for the woes of the world and whoever or whatever was going to pay. People had deep fears regarding Satan and witches and these fears could be used in order to re-seize power. Doctrine and rumors spread quickly because of widespread use of the printing press. Illustrations were popular and even illiterate people could be influenced. Scapegoats were found at first among those people who could least defend themselves: women, children, the poor, the uneducated. Even Martin Luther and the Protestants condemned witches and supported their torture and execution.
In the center of this mania was Franconia, Germany and the witch burning stronghold of Europe, the bishopric Bamberg. During the time of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), more witch trials and executions took place in this area than in any other area in Europe. Thanks to the efforts of historians (see: Sources, at the end of this article), much of the available information has been catalogued and can be reviewed in their publications.
A few thousand documents survived that dark period from 1616 to 1631 even though they had come close to being lost. At some point between 1830 and 1840, the Old Court in Bamberg had a clear out and sold lots of old papers to a housewares shop. The shop had a stand on the market and wrapped their wares in these old papers. Luckily, a historian named Johann Adam Messerschmitt noticed his order of nails was wrapped in official witch trial documents. He bought all the papers and secured them in the Bamberg archive.
What is left today are the documented fates of 884 accused men, women and children. Among the papers, historians have found protocols of the inquisitions. The questions used by the inquisitors were often so comical that the accused would laugh. The demand for reports of the instances of dancing and dining with the devil, what was eaten and drunk at these parties, and who was among the other participants was at first not taken seriously. The documented torture protocols, invoices for jail stays, and invoices to the families of the executed for the wood used in the witch fire are disturbing at the very least.
The first accused were those most easily arrested but soon branched out to include other victims as well. This included well-to-do citizens whose complete possessions and properties were confiscated by the church. Other high-profile citizens opposed the trials as did the whole of the Bamberg city council. One by one these families were arrested, tortured and executed, city chancellors and their families eliminated. This included the five-time mayor Johannes Junius, whose case is one of the most well-documented. The secret letter he wrote to his daughter explaining his innocence exists today.
The witch persecution ended dramatically in 1632. Swedish troops invaded and occupied Bamberg, ended the persecution, and the last of the detained were let go. A few trials took place after this period but the executions were stopped. In August 2015, almost 400 years later, after a massive initiative by the citizens’ group Bürgerverein-Mitte, the Mahnmal, a memorial to warn of past wrongs, was erected to remember the innocent men, women, and children who were accused, tortured and executed.
We remember because ‘their suffering compels us to stand against all types of marginalization, abuses of power, degradation and every sort of fanaticism.’
Further reading: Ralf Kloos: Witchburner Online Museum: https://www.hexenbrenner-museum.com/index.php/en/; Birke Grieshammer: Hexen-Franken http://www.hexen-franken.de; The Memorial: http://www.br.de/nachrichten/oberfranken/inhalt/hexenmahnmal-bamberg-installiert-100.html
Laura Libricz was born and raised in Bethlehem PA and moved to Upstate New York when she was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, she received a scholarship to go to college. She tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all her time reading German literature.
She earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where she resides today. When she isn’t writing she can be found sifting through city archives, picking through castle ruins or aiding the steady flood of Höfner musical instruments into the world market.
Her first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven’s Pond Trilogy. The Soldier’s Return and Ash and Rubble are the second and third books in the series.
The Master and the Maid; Book One of the Heaven’s Pond Trilogy
She’s lost her work, her home and her freedom. Now, harboring a mysterious newborn, she could lose her life.
In 17th Century Germany on the brink of the Thirty Years War, 24-year-old Katarina is traded to the patrician Sebald Tucher by her fiancé Willi Prutt in order to pay his debts. En route to her forced relocation to the Tucher country estate, Katarina is met by a crazed archer, Hans-Wolfgang, carrying a baby under his cloak. He tells her an incredible story of how his beloved was executed by a Jesuit priest for witchcraft right after the birth and makes Katarina—at sword point—swear on her life to protect the child. But protecting the child puts Katarina at risk. She could fall in disfavor with her master. She could be hunted by the zealots who killed his beloved. She could be executed for witchcraft herself. Can Katarina’s love for the baby and Sebald Tucher’s desire for her keep the wrath of the zealots at bay?
Set in Franconia, The Master and the Maid is an accurate, authentic account of a young woman’s life in Germany in the 1600’s, her struggle for freedom and her fight for those she loves.