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'Witches' pardoned 400 years after executions

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Photo: DPA Statue of Katharina Henot, Cologne's notorious "witch"
12:20 CEST+02:00
Cologne City Council has pardoned 38 women nearly 400 years after they were sentenced to death for suspected witchcraft, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

Katharina Henot - Germany's most notorious "witch" - stood accused of having entered into a pact with the devil, conjured up a plague of caterpillars, sown strife and encouraged sexual deviancy. In 1627 she was sentenced to death by torture by the Cologne Court.

385 years later, in a symbolic gesture by the Cologne City Council, Henot and 37 other "witches" executed by local authorities are to be pardoned and rehabilitated, wrote Die Welt newspaper on Saturday.

Councillors voted unanimously to pardon the former Cologne inhabitants in a vote on Thursday, rejecting "any violation of human dignity and human rights," wrote the paper.

The move was not a judicial act - authorities in modern day Germany do not have the power to overturn rulings made under the Holy Roman Empire. Instead, the move was intended to highlight how easily a person can be defamed to the point of no longer being seen as human, but a demon that deserves to die a horrible death.

Hartmut Hegeler, a retired pastor from Unna who had submitted a citizen proposal to pardon the "witches" was said to be "very relieved" following the vote on Thursday. He is now hoping a mass will be held in the Cologne Cathedral as a gesture of reconciliation by the diocese, according to the article.

The decision makes Cologne the 14th local authority in Germany to distance itself from historical witch trials. But not all rehabilitation gestures have been agreed without opposition, wrote the paper.

When a citizen from Dusseldorf proposed that two women burned at the stake there in 1738 be rehabilitated, there was an objection from a citizen who claimed pardoning the women would amount to challenging his Catholic faith, wrote the paper. His objection was overruled.

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Historians estimate the total of 25,000 women and men were sentenced to death in Germany in the past for having entered into a pact with the devil, according to the article.

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