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Cologne witchcraft trial reopens after 400 years

The Local · 13 Feb 2012, 08:22

Published: 13 Feb 2012 08:22 GMT+01:00

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It is thought around 25,000 women were sentenced to death for witchcraft down the centuries in Germany - including Cologne native Katharina Henot. She was arrested and thrown in prison under charges of witchcraft in 1627.

But it is said Henot had nothing to do with the occult; as the head of the city’s post office and a powerful socialite it was more likely that her charges were politically motivated.

After weeks of torture, Henot eventually lost all movement in her right hand, meaning that her final plea for innocence was scrawled, almost illegibly, with her left. But no matter how fiercely she protested, city officials ignored her and she was sentenced to death.

Henot was then paraded around the streets of Cologne in a wagon, until being brought to a large square in the city, where she was tied to a stake and burned to death.

To this day, neither Henot nor many of the 25,000 women killed for alleged witchcraft have had their names cleared - in the eyes of the law, they are still guilty of the mystic misdeeds they were convicted of centuries ago.

This could change for Henot on Monday, as her case will be reopened by the same panel at the city council that was responsible for her death nearly 400 years ago.

They will assess the case, and provided that their feelings towards the supernatural have changed since she was sentenced, Henot’s name should be cleared.

“Katharina held her own reputation in high esteem, she would want to have it cleared,” said Hartmut Hegeler, an evangelical priest and religious education teacher who made the request to the Cologne council.

The 65-year-old from Cologne was approached by a group of students who wanted to learn about the witch trials. It was only when the same students started to ask Hegeler questions he could not answer, that he realised Henot had not yet been acquitted.

Henot’s case then became a problem of faith for the priest; “As Christians, we find it challenging when innocent people are executed, even if it was centuries ago,” he said.

He has even tracked down several of Henot’s distant living relatives. One of them is Martina Hirtz who said “I do think she should have her name cleared. But I think of the endless amount of people still living who are being mistreated and find that much worse.”

Hegeler is not the only person keeping Henot’s memory alive - there is a novel based on her life, a song, and a sculpture outside the Cologne town hall.

Story continues below…

The sculpture, which was made by a descendant of Henot in 1988, shows her pointing to the fire underneath her feet with one hand, and holding the other one up in a gesture of defence.

“It symbolises the idea that such an injustice should not be allowed to happen again,” said the sculpture’s creator Marianna Lüdicke.

The Local/DPAD/jcw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

08:45 February 13, 2012 by mos101392
With Europe's history and countless wars, it makes you wonder how they found time to burn people for witchcraft. Seems they may have needed these witches after all to help them get their finances in order.
10:54 February 13, 2012 by auniquecorn
This could change for Henot on Monday, as her case will be reopened by the same panel at the city council that was responsible for her death nearly 400 years ago.

Wow, kinda makes you wonder. The same panel?
12:17 February 13, 2012 by LancashireLad
Am I the only person thinking that valuable taxpyers money could be better spent elsewhere?

"As Christians, we find it challenging when innocent people are executed, even if it was centuries ago"

Crusades? Inquisition?
16:06 February 13, 2012 by nemo999
With "SAME PANEL" hear here case, should we expect a different out come? Do they get burn her ashes at the stake in the town square if she is found guilty?
18:55 February 13, 2012 by Gretl
"as her case will be reopened by the same panel at the city council that was responsible for her death nearly 400 years ago."

Shouldn't the panel be charged with witchcraft, consorting with demons or vampirism for being around for 400 years?
11:03 February 14, 2012 by michael4096
@LancashireLad - "..valuable taxpyers money could be better spent.."

Unfortunately, Arthur Miller is no longer here to remind us of the dangers of irrational fear and those that would exploit it. Of couse, it would be nice to think that people today would not fall into that trap but world events and even some commenters on this forum illustrate that they do. An event like this appears a waste of money but if it serves to make a new generation aware of the danger it isn't a total loss.

Whether or not the new generation digest the message or not is another question.
16:10 February 15, 2012 by Asgarli
That is exactly where our tax money should go, bravo!
18:53 February 15, 2012 by WootUSA
Legal experts describe this case as a sort of "catch-22" because if the accused woman actually manages to appear in court, it can be used as evidence against her.

Ref: Woot.com
17:08 February 17, 2012 by koli
It is good to be rich and with time on your hands. Guess Germans are now so rich that they can afford to do things like this and spend lots of money and time with a 400 year old case. Or are they practicing for something we are not aware of?
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