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The Inquisition of Como :: History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts

The Inquisition of Como

The case of Inquisition of Como (Lombardy) is one of the first and large-scale witch-hunt that occurred in Italy. While the trial documents were likely destroyed, but these trials are admirably mentioned in the Malleus Maleficarum multiple times. Heinrich Kramer describes how, “The Inquisitor of Como in the space of one year, which was the year of grace 1485, caused forty-one witches to be burned; who all publicly affirmed, as it is said, that they had practiced these abominations with devils.” Furthermore, the accused witches underwent extreme public humiliation, including the shaving of their entire bodies. The fact that Kramer used these trials as an example to include in Malleus, which rapidly spread across the continent and became a uniform witch-hunters manual, the Inquisition of Como followed the narrative of stereotypical witch-trials. These trials were by no means cautious and consisted of accusations based on ideas and fears involving the demonic pact and the sabbat, the use of leading question and torture to gain specific confessions, followed execution based on these confessions.

This tribunal was very likely one of the most active in the Italian peninsula throughout the first decades of the sixteenth century. While it is an example of an extreme mass witch-hunt, it serves as an exception to the normal Italian witch-trial, due largely to the fact that it was removed from the influence of the Renaissance. The Lombardy region was bordered by Switzerland and Austria, and the trials of the Inquisition of Como occurred in the isolated, Alpine area of the region, likely due to the influence of the witch-hunts in these bordering nations. This instance proves the theory that witch-trials often broke out in isolated, rural areas that lacked centralizing authority.

malleus.cover Malleus_Maleficarum1

Institoris, Heinrich, and Jakob Sprenger. The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. New York: Dover, 1971.

Duni, Matteo, Under the Devil’s Spell: Witches, Sorcerers, and the Inquisition in Renaissance Italy, Syracuse University Press, 2008.

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