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Anna Göldi: the last witch killed in Europe.

5 min read

Did you read our story? Do you remember? In Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1324 Petronilla de Meath is burned at the stake because was probably a “witch”. The woman can not know it, but the trail of blood that traces her innocent death will be extended for another 458 years, until 1782, when Anna Göldi dies, and was the last witch killed in Europe. Anna Göldi was born in Sennwald, Switzerland, in 1734, the fourth of eight children, in a wealthy family. His father was a nephew of a prestigious local judge, of whom he inherited his own seal. Due to differences with the mayor of the country concerning land and a direct aggression, the family falls into ruin, forcing the eight brothers to find jobs in more well-to-do houses. Anna changes cities, probably to avoid the mockery of the villagers, and goes to Maienfeld, in the Canton of Grisons, where she becomes the servant of the Mayor Enderlin. She then moved to Sax, to become a baker’s maid, and in 1762 in Sennwald, in the Canton of St. Gallen, where he became the maid of the local shepherd. Here she meets Jakob Rhoduner, who leaves her pregnant and runs away as soon as he learns of her pregnancy. In 1765 Anna gives birth to a son who dies in unknown circumstances. Infant mortality was very common in Europe at the time, but Anna was condemned for infanticide, and she was forced to house arrest at her sister’s home for 6 years. Escaped to arrests by changing canton (where another jurisdiction existed), she worked from 1765 to 1768 for the landamman Heers, then took up residence at the Mollis pastor in Canton Glarus, Johann Heinrich Zwicky. A few years later she has a relationship with Melchior, the son of the pastor, with whom he conceives a child, born in 1775, whose traces have been lost in history. After becoming a mother again, she leaves the Zwicky family, no one knows why. She returned to the Canton Glarus and start to work for a binder, Tinner, and remained there until 1780.

Anna Göldi is now 46 years old, and Johann Jakob Tschudi-Elmer takes her as a maid and nanny for her 7-year-old daughter Anna Maria. All perfect, for awhile, but a year later, in September 1781, Anna Maria accompanies the Anna Göldi in her visits to her friends Steinmüller, and at their home she eats a Basler Läckerli, a typic biscuit from Basel. About a month later, in October, Anna Maria finds a pin in her cup. Anna is immediately suspected of having bewitched the biscuit and thrown a curse, precisely an evil eye, on the little Tschudi-Elmer. On October 25, 1781, she was let go from the house and took refuge first to their friends, the Steinmüllers, and then to her sister at Sax. But the little Anna Maria keeps finding the pins in the cup, and with her, also her sister. The authorities of the Canton of Glarus, at the request of the powerful Johann Jakob Tschudi-Elmer, issue an arrest warrant for Anna Göldi, promising a reward of 100 crowns (an astronomical sum) for her capture alive:

Anna is backed into a corner, escapes through the Rhine valley and finds refuge in Herisau, in the Canton of Appenzell, and then in Degersheim, in the Canton of St. Gallen. Here she needs to work, and finds employment as a waitress, but her escape will last very little. The news of the reward spreads, and Anna is not long in being suspected. On February 21st, 1782, she was arrested and taken to Glarus. On March 15th she visits the little Anna Maria, and the authorities ask her to remove the evil eye she had thrown at the little girl. After a quick massage, the girl immediately recovers, and as if by magic, the pins disappear from plates and cups.
Anna is a witch!
And of course, this is how the judges of the Evangelical Council of Glarus think, that, at the request of Tschudi-Elmer, ruthlessly torture the woman, who confesses to dialogue with the devil who manifests at her in the form of a black dog. Anna signs the confession and is condemned for poisoning, then passing at the sentence of death, with 32 votes in favor and 30 against. On 13 June 1782 Anna Göldi’s head is cut off with a stroke of the ax by the executionar of the Canton of Glarus.

In the 1782 the flame that led to the Enlightenment revolutions and the victory of reason over superstition had already flared up since some time. In fact, the witch hunt was over at least thirty years earlier, with the last burnings dated back at the beginning of the 18th century. So, why was Anna killed? The trial and condemnation of Anna Göldi should be placed in the context of the murder, in fact, only the high social position of the accuser, Johann Jakob Tschudi-Elmer, father of Anna Maria, allowed such an anachronistic injustice. The man probably wanted to cover his relationship with Anna, still very attractive and very free for his time, and decided to try with the witchcraft, an expedient which would have allowed him to avoid a devastating scandal. Anna’s fate was to end up on the gallows, but her fault was very different from the witchcraft she was accused of. The Anna’s story inspired the creation of a museum dedicated in Glarus, and her life was told in numerous theatrical performances, as well as in a 1991 film in German. This is the trailer:

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