Centuries after some were burned at the stake, Ghent has made reparation to the victims of the witch persecution. A brand new wooden memorial plaque was inaugurated in Ghent’s Prinsenhof on Tuesday, with the names of 58 alleged witches who were persecuted between 1364 and 1713. Of these, 17 actually ended up at the stake. The accompanying QR code provides information about those affected and what punishment they received.
The list has been prepared based on the historians Jonas Roelens (UGent) and Maartje van der Laak who searched the city and state archives for possible victims. According to Jonas Roelens, a broad interpretation of the term witch was used, because even those who were ultimately acquitted were often stigmatized for years to come. In addition to the names of 43 women, the album also contains those of 16 men and even one seven-year-old boy. They too could be accused of witchcraft – sometimes simply because they did not conform to the patriarchal norms of the time. No social class was spared from the accusations, although women and people who were poor and marginalized were disproportionately represented.
According to historians, the Netherlands was particularly affected by the witch delusion in the 16th and 17th centuries, although the first witch trials took place around 1430. Historians estimate that 1,150 people fell victim to witch persecution in the Southern Netherlands. For comparison: in Germany there are talk of 60,000 witch trials and up to 20,000 deaths. German-speaking countries in particular were under the spell of the witch delusion, with women who were involved in herbs, who were widowed or who had stepped out of the bandwagon for one reason or another, in particular being targeted.
Initially, persecution in our region remained limited. But especially during the sixteenth-seventeenth century, the population often quickly started looking for scapegoats during periods of harvest failure, famine and other setbacks (also individually, such as illness). Mostly defenseless women were locked up for months and sometimes subjected to terrible torture. Compared to some regions in Germany, the witch persecution in our country was ‘all in all’ not too bad. This was also partly due to the fact that Leuven theologians refused to succumb to the witch delusion and refused to substantiate it academically.
Source: City of Ghent/Het Nieuwsblad