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  • Valcamonica Witch Trials

    By Anthony Parente

    Plaque commemorating the witch trials of Valcamonica
    © Luca Giarelli
    English translation of plaque:
    In Memory of Federici of Sonico accused of heresy and the victims of burning because of witch craft in the sixteenth century in Valcamonica
    Valcamonica is a picturesque valley of the central Alps within the Lombardy region of Italy. It is renowned for its prehistoric rock drawings, which are the largest collections of prehistoric petroglyphs in the world. In fact, it was recognized by UNESCO in 1979 making it Italy's first world heritage site. The area may be famous for its petroglyphs but during the 16th century is became infamous for its series of witch trials.

    The 16th century was a time filled with religious conflicts, social turmoil, and economic uncertainties. Paganism had a stronghold over Christianity in the area. Widespread paranoia over witchcraft caused religious authorities and the public to harbor fears against evil forces threatening their way of life. The valley became a breeding ground for accusations and rumors. Often this was spurred from vendettas or jealousy giving people a weapon against those whom they did not like. The accused were predominantly women, and they were blamed for anything negative (drought, unexplained death, fires, and storms) that happened in the area.

    To quell the fears an inquisition was held and thus the first witch trials took place between 1505-1510. There was no due process for those accused. Often, they were tortured to extract a confession, but they were already convicted by the courts and public opinion. People needed a scapegoat, and those unfortunate souls were condemned. On June 23, 1505, seven women and one man were burned at Cemmo a frazione in Valcamonica. It did not stop there. In 1510 over sixty men and women were burned at the stake confessing to injuring animals, land, and people with spells that caused drought and fires. Those fortunate to not be burned alive were imprisoned.

    It did not take long for the second witch trials to convene. Inquisitors were stationed throughout the parishes in Valcamonica in 1518 and soon thereafter people were accused of starting the plague and severe storms through magic. In July 1518 over sixty men and women were burned at the stake. It did not take long for word to reach the authorities of the Venetian Republic, who ruled over the area. The Council of Ten was against these acts expressing their displeasure that such extreme measures were taken without their approval. The council ordered that any further trials and executions shall be suspended.

    The witch trials have left a mark on the valley and destroyed lives all because people succumbed to their fears and paranoia. We all need to look back at tragedies in history especially those founded on heresy, rumors, and unfound accusations to see the ramifications that fear, and paranoia can create. Today people are often recklessly accused because they do not have the same beliefs as others. Although they may have their due process those accused have already been convicted in the court of public opinion. Their life is ruined all because a few misguided people cannot get over their own fears.

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