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Val Camonica Witch-Trials :: History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts

Val Camonica Witch-Trials

Two large-scale witch-hunts also occurred in Val Camonica, a small, remote and mountainous area then under the republic of Venice.  While part of the Venice, Val Camonica was entirely different than and isolated from Venetian society. An educated local observer in 1518 wrote an account on the witch-trials that occurred in this area and described the inhabitants, who practiced pagan beliefs, as “largely ignorant, goitrous, and almost entirely deformed and lacking all the finer point of civil society.” Because of the lack of Christianity in the area, it became a target for Inquisitors who sought to purify the republic of Venice of heretics and enemies of Catholicism. Foreign inquisitors carried out witch-hunts in these areas from 1505 until 1510 and from 1518 until 1521.

These trials, like those of the Inquisition of Como, gained confessions through leading question and the use of torture, and an estimated hundred individuals were burned alive. People in the area were unaware of the cumulative concept of witchcraft, however the Inquisitors leading the trials fed them information. During the case of Benvegnuda ‘ditta Pincinella’ of Terra di Navi, she originally only made a confession of superstition, however over the course of days, her confession is transformed into a demonic pact. Furthermore, in a flat contradiction of the Canon Episcopi, which attributed the idea of the sabbat to dreams and delusions of the Devil, she claimed, “I truly know that I go bodily and not in my dreams.” The use of leading questions and torture is explicit in this instance.

When news of these trials reached Venice, the Council of Ten, which was one of the main ruling bodies of the republic, were baffled and doubted the existence of witchcraft in the area. Piero Tron, the Venetian podesta of Brescia, wrote, “these all seem grave and strange matters, rather beyond me, which I do not believe.” The Council quickly removed the leading inquisitor from the area and discredited the validity of the accusations and confessions of the trials. When expressing their grief and complete opposition of the trials, they wrote, “These poor creatures of the Val Camonica are simple people with the coarsest understanding” and died as martyrs.  Like the Inquisition of Como, the trials in Val Camonica occurred in isolated areas, removed from central governing bodies of the Renaissance Italian city-states and separated from their culture.

Illustration of Joan of Arc Being Burned at the Stake

Bowd, Stephen. Honeyed Flied and Sugard Rats: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Superstition in the Bresciano, Past and Present, (2008) 134-156.

Duni, Matteo, Under the Devil’s Spell: Witches, Sorcerers, and the Inquisition inRenaissance Italy, Syracuse University Press, 2008, 5.


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