The Largest Witch Hunt in World History: The Basque Witch Trials (1609-1614)

October 7, 2019

The Largest Witch Hunt in World History: The Basque Witch Trials (1609-1614)

October 3, 2019        By Dan Wade

In the spirit of Halloween, The Foreign and International Law Collection invites you to view its annual “witch trial exhibit”: The Largest Witch Hunt in World History: the Basque Witch Trials (1609-1614), often referred to as the trials of the witches of Zugarramurdi, a locale in Navarre near the French southwest border. Here following the Auto da Fe of 1610, where six witches were executed and another five burned in effigy after being tortured to death, between 2,000 and 7,000 accused were examined for the practice of witchcraft. The examinations left 11,000 pages of testimony. The enormity of this enterprise is understood when compared to the Salem witch trials where 25 were executed but only 200 examined. 

The significance of the trials of the Zugarramurdi witches is that the chief examiner, an Inquisitorial judge, Alonso de Salazar y Frias, became quite skeptical of the accused stories, and demanded tangible evidence of the alleged or confessed witchcraft practices. Finding little, he persuaded the Suprema, the Inquisitorial Supreme Court, to absolve the pending cases and write a new set of rules of procedure requiring such evidence. This created an attitude of tolerance, and few witch trials took place in Spain after the 1614 Declaration, which was not the case in much of the rest of Europe.

The curator wishes to thank The Sterling Memorial Library for loaning several of its books to the exhibit. Accompanying the books on display are two maps and several illustrations. The exhibit runs through Halloween. It is curated by the author of this blog. Happy Halloween!   

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