Wurzburg Witch Trials
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The trial of Johannes Junius in 1628 demonstrates the nature and extent of the witch hysteria that gripped Bavaria during the period, and was particularly focused in the two cities of Bamberg and Wurzburg.
- Although there had been sporadic trials and executions of witches in the region since 1560, significant persecutions began in 1623, after the accession of Gotfired Johan von Dornheim as Prince-Bishop of Bamberg, and the accession of his cousin, Philipp Adolf von Ehrenberg as Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg.
- Johannes Junius was the burgomeister of Bamberg, which makes his case stand out from the hundreds of other individuals tried for witchcraft due to his prominence and prestige.
Prior to his execution, Junius wrote a farewell letter to his daughter Veronica containing details of his arrest, torture and trial. His experience was typical for those accused of witchcraft. He states: "For whoever comes into prison must become a witch or be tortured until he intents something out of his head." This demonstrates the dilemma of the individuals arrested for witchcraft who can escape torture only by making a confession. At first Junius proclaimed his innocence. When asked by an inquisitor, "Kinsman, how came you here?" Junius replied "Through false information." By mentioning that one of the inquisitors was his kinsman, Junius indicates that even family relationships were of no value to a person accused of witchcraft.
To extract a confession, the inquisitors subjected Junius to various extreme tortures. Eventually, the executioner took him aside and said: "Sir, I beg you, for God's sake confess something, for you cannot endure the tortureand even if you bear it all, yet you will not escape, not even if you were an earl." He finally confessed, "in order to escape great anguish and bitter torture." The torture and confession was considered the preliminary stages of the proceedings, analogous to a modern day arrest and interrogation.
The underlying philosophy of the trial was not to weigh guilt or innocence, but rather to extract additional information and distribute punishment for the crimes to which an individual had already confessed. Junius was asked by the trial court to "tell what people I had seen" at the witch's Sabbath that he had confessed to attending. When he refused to implicate others, the court threatened him with additional torture. As a result, he named a number of other individuals. This demonstrates the mechanism by which the witch trials grew exponentially, with each person accused of the crime naming several others. After the court was satisfied with his responses, it condemned him to death.