Archive for April 14th, 2011

1647: Domenica Gratiadei and her coven of witches

2 comments April 14th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1647 marked the execution of five supposed witches in Trentino.

Secular and modernist as this grim site‘s curators confessedly stand, we have perhaps given too little credence to those devout officers of the law who labored in those years to uphold the throne of heaven besieged by Satan’s varied earthly minions.

Montague Summers

In an effort to balance the record, we present this date’s account as rendered by a guy who took the supernatural a bit more seriously: Montague Summers.

Summers is a weird figure, but if he wasn’t really a throwback believer in Rome’s phantasmagoric early modern theology, he was the century’s most sublime performance artist.

Converting to Catholicism as an Anglican deacon, he went about in spooky clerical robes although his ordination status remains unclear to this day, immersed his capacious mind in supernatural arcana, and penned voluptuously eloquent books credulously treating the spectral evidence another era had given against sorcerers, vampires, lycanthropes, and suchlike habitues of the Monster Manual.*

I have endeavoured to show the witch as she really was -– an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes: a member of a powerful secret organization inimical to Church and State: a blasphemer in word and deed, swaying the villagers by terror and superstition: a charlatan and a quack sometimes: a bawd: an abortionist: the dark counselor of lewd court ladies and adulterous gallants: a minister to vice and inconceivable corruption, battening upon the filth and foulest passions of the age.

Summers projected (perhaps intentionally) a mysterious and vaguely sinister persona and did not disdain to cultivate a friendship with nefarious occultist Aleister Crowley, his contemporary. There were even rumors of an unwholesome interest in pederasty.

We’re confident that none of this has done his sales a bit of harm. So who are we social pests and parasites of the blogosphere not to batten upon it ourselves?

The below is drawn from Summers’ The Geography of Witchcraft — and as the reader will perceive, Geography at least purports to treat the flying-off-to-infernal-orgy stock in trade of those bygone witch hunters as legitimate evidence of the lead crone’s “attendance at the Sabbat, sometimes, no doubt, an experience on the psychic plane, for she was undoubtedly a medium of unusual powers, and sometimes in actual fact.”

A typical case of Witchcraft, and one which owing to its prominence and the meticulous investigations of the authorities has luckily been reported in full, attracted considerable attention in the winter of 1646 and the following spring. It will, moreover, be found to present so many factors and features, which occur again and again in the contemporary trials of wellnigh every European country, that it may profitably be dealt with in some detail.

A certain old woman of Castelnovo, Maria Salvatori, nicknamed “la Mercuria,” who had long been suspected of sorcery, was arrested on 26 October, 1646, and formally examined. At first the two principal charges, sufficiently damning in themselves, seem to have been that at her communions she did not swallow the Sacred Host, but kept It in her mouth to spit It out secretly and reserve It for some abominable purpose, and also that by her ecbolic spells she had caused the young Marchesa Bevilacqua to miscarry in childbirth. She was again interrogated on 8 November and put to the torture of the cord when she accused Domenica, the widow of a certain Tomaso Camelli, and Domenica’s daughter, Lucia, the wife of Antonio Caveden, both of whom dwelt at the hamlet of Villa, of being rank witches. She also avowed she had taken a Host from her mouth to give to Lucia Caveden, who thereby confected a charm which caused the abortion of the Marcioness. She added that she had also bewitched Cristoforo Sparamani, the son of Cecilia Sparamani, and that a certain Delaito Cavaleri was a necromancer and a worshipper of Satan. A further interrogation followed on 15 November, as a result of which the court, consisting of Paride Madernino, delegate in all criminal and civil cases in the districts of Castelnovo and Castellano, and his assessor Giovanni Ropele, doctor utriusque iuris, promptly gave orders to GiuseppeCoriziano, “bargello di questa turia,” to arrest Domenica and Lucia. This was done, and on Saturday, 24 November, 1646, at Nogaredo, the proceedings against the witches were formally opened. “Processus Criminalis pro destructione lamiarum.” On 27 November Domenica Carnelli was questioned by the judges, but they got little enough out of her. Two days following Lucia Caveden was brought before the tribunal. She vehemently declared that the charges were all malice; the hag Salvatori was her enemy; and with many cries she called Heaven to witness her innocence, repeatedly exclaiming “per grazia del Signor Iddio no son una stria” But the next day she proved less firm and implicated yet another woman, Domenica Gratiadei, who was immediately thrown into prison, a number of suspicious objects being found in her house when it was closely searched by the officers. Certain pots of a dark unguent and a mysterious powder being produced in court, Lucia Caveden confessed that these were for the destruction of human life and cattle. Seeing that the game was up Domenica Gratiadei, upon being put to the torture, soon laid bare all the secrets of the infernal sisterhood. She had made this unguent with which she annointed herself to attend the Sabbat “trasformata in gatto,” she had cast the evil eye on Cristofero Sparamani, she had renounced her baptism, defiled the Blessed Sacrament, adored Satan with divine honours. The judges were filled with horror, and trembled at the hideous tale of diabolism these women poured forth. Cecilia Sparamani, a plain honest woman, was next summoned as a witness and told how her son fell into fits of no ordinary kind. The doctors had acknowledged their skill baffled, and in spite of the prayers of two Capuchin fathers and the exorcisms of Monsignore the Bishop of Brondolo, this preternatural sickness still persisted. She informed the court that as soon as summer came and the roads were passable she intended to take the boy to the shrine of S. Antony at Padua, to whom she had a special devotion.

On 18 December, 1646, Benvenuta, the daughter of Domenica Gratiadei, made a startling confession. She declared that she had been taken by her mother “as if in a dream” to a place where there was dancing and singing, where she had been welcomed by a large number of revellers, and especially by a young man, who having kissed and fondled her awhile afterwards had connexion with her. This was, her mother averred, Satan himself. When closely questioned as to these proceedings the girl could only reply: “Tutto mi sembra, come ho detto, un sogno: e parevami che sempre vi fosse il diavolo in forma di quel giovene.” It would seem from these very striking and significant words that the girl was a hypnotic subject, entirely under her mother’s control, and that on these occasions she passed into a semi-trance state. The case dragged on throughout the months of January and February, 1647. There were interminable interrogations, and a large number of persons were gradually implicated.

On 2 January 1647, Domenica Gratiadei gave a detailed description of the Sabbats she had attended. She and an old warlock named Santo Peterlino always led the coven. “The rest followed in the shape of cats; but the Devil went first of all.” They enjoyed banquets, dances, plays, music, songs, and afterwards all worshipped Satan, presenting him with Hosts which they kept from their last communion. Before attending the Sabbat she anointed herself with an unguent made of “the Blessed Sacrament, the blood of certain small animals, Holy Water, the fat of dead babies” which was mixed with horrible imprecations and blasphemies to confect the charm.

On 10 January, a strange figure, Maddalena Andrei, nicknamed “La Filosofa,” first appears in the case. She confessed that she had assisted in the making of the ointment and had also adored the Devil who frequently appeared to her, “brave, like a gallant captain, dressed all in red.” On 9 March, when Giuseppe Goriziano entered the cell of La Filosofa to summon her to court he found her lying dead upon the floor. The common people believed that she had been carried off by Satan, especially as the Archpriest of Villa, Don Giovanni Bragliardi, shrewdly suspecting that the unhappy woman had committed suicide, refused her sepulture in consecrated ground.

This long and complicated Witchcraft-trial at length came to an end in April 1647. The court was throned with an excited yet hushed crowd, when the judge Paride Madernino and his assessors the Counts of Lodrone and Castel-Romano delivered the sentences. Domenica Camelli, Lucia Caveden, Domenica Gratiadei, Catterina Baroni, Zinevra Chemola, Isabella and Plonia Gratiadei, and Valentina Andrei were condemned to death. Maria Salvatori, “la Mercuria,” and Maddalena Andrei, “la Filosofa” had expired in prison. The condemned were beheaded and their bodies burned. It would seem, however, that Isabella and Polonia Gratiadei and Valentina Andrei managed to escape and could not be traced. The execution of the rest took place on 14 April, 1647, when Leonard Oberrdorfer the common hangman carried out the judicial sentence.

The chief witches here naturally fall into four groups each constituted of one old and one young woman, Domenica Camelli and Lucia her daughter; Domenica Gratiadei and Benvenuta her daughter; Isabella Gratiadei and Plonia her daughter; Maddalena Andrei and her daughter Valentina. The chief of the coven was undoubtedly Domenica Gratiadei, whose vile confessions, a mixture of most horrid blasphemies and lewdest obscenity, convince her of being a wretch wholly devoted to evil, and an active propagandist of the Satanic cult. It was she who had debauched her own daughter to “the Devil,” that young man whose name and individuality do not appear, but who may be guessed to have been a noble of the district, using the witches for his own ends and, presumably, supplying them with money to carry out his dark designs. That the whole gang frequently attended the Sabbat, at which he was not unseldom present, there can, I think, be no question.

This case is recounted in much greater detail in Italian in this Google book; this page has another summary, also in Italian.

* “[I]n every way a ‘character,’ and in some sort a throwback to the Middle Ages,” the London Times blurbed Summers at his death (obituary in the Aug. 11, 1948 issue). But his “preoccupations with the supernatural, however, represented only one side of his nature. His solid services to learning lie rather in his copious editorial and critical work on the English Restoration drama — a field in which he possessed the most comprehensive and expert knowledge.”

Summers’ edited compendium of 17th century playwright Aphra Behn‘s works is available free at gutenberg.org.

For exemplars of the stuff more topical to this post, one can also peruse free online his The Vampire: His Kith and Kin and his translation of the notorious witch-persecution manual Malleus Maleficarum.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Mass Executions,Public Executions,The Supernatural,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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