Home News Swiss exonerate Europe’s last executed witch

Swiss exonerate Europe’s last executed witch

Published on 28/08/2008

28 August 2008

BERN — The Swiss authorities decided Wednesday to clear the name of the last witch, Anna Goeldi, who was beheaded in Europe more than 220 years ago.

The parliament of the Swiss canton (state) of Glarus decided unanimously Wednesday to exonerate Goeldi as a victim of "judicial murder," said Josef Schwitter, a government spokesman.

Goeldi was executed in 1782 for an alleged case of poisoning.

Several thousand people, mainly women, were executed for witchcraft between the 14th and 18th centuries in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.

Yet Goeldi’s trial and beheading in the village of Mollis took place at a time when witch trials had largely disappeared from the continent.

Goeldi, a maidservant in the house of prominent burgher Johann Jakob Tschudi, was convicted of "spoiling" the family’s daughter, causing her to spit pins and have convulsions. Yet Tschudi, a doctor and magistrate, was alleged to have had an affair with Goeldi – and if that came out, his reputation would have been seriously damaged.

The case was brought to light through a book by local journalist Walter Hauser.

The move to exonerate Goeldi came after a long debate in the eastern Swiss region, and was taken after talks with both the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

In 2007, the canton’s executive branch and the Protestant Church council both rejected considering an exoneration, but the Glarus parliament urged the executive branch to reconsider. In June, the Glarus executive branch did, and asked parliament to ratify Goeldi’s exoneration.

The Glarus government said the Protestant Church council, which conducted the trial, had no legal authority and had decided in advance that Goeldi was guilty. She was executed even though the law at the time did not impose the death penalty for non-lethal poisoning.

"This is to acknowledge that the verdict handed down came from a non-legal trial and that Anna Goeldi was the victim of judicial murder," the government said in June.

Goeldi’s torture and execution was even more incomprehensible, the government said, because it happened in the Age of Enlightenment when "those who made the judgment regarded themselves as educated."

"In spite of that, they tortured an innocent person and had her executed, although it was known to them that the alleged crime was neither doable nor possible and that there was no legal basis for their verdict," the government said.

The exoneration was also an acknowledgment that an unknown number of other innocent people whose cases cannot be reviewed had been killed over the centuries. The Glarus government did not assume any responsibility, however, for past wrongdoings.

A museum on Goeldi opened in Mollis in 2007 on her 225th death anniversary. The Glarus government is also donating USD 118,000 (CHF 129,000) to create a theatre play about her life.

[AP / Expatica]