From 1626 to 1631, the leaders of Würzburg, Germany prosecuted and executed 900 women and children for witchcraft. Behind the persecution was a plot by powerful Catholic clergy to win back the city from Reformists. In their view, Würzburg witches and Lutherans belonged to the Devil.
Würzburg – Era of Violence and Change
Martin Luther pounded his objections to Catholic indulgence practices on the door of the Worms Cathedral in 1517. Luther’s hammer cracked the faith of Catholicism, and threatened the Holy Roman Empire rulers. The Protestants focused on the logic of Christianity, eliminating the myths and magic of the theology. Catholicism represented a mixture of ancient pagan customs and traditional Christianity. A tug of war between philosophies yielded executions of heretics, local battles, and a war that lasted thirty years. Reformation split Germany by north and south. Würzburg lay near the border.
Würzburg – Prince-Bishops and the Devil
Protestants represented the Würzburg majority. Julius Echter ruled the area as the Catholic Prince-Bishop. Determined to win back Catholicism, Echter, and his successors, chose to stir the pagan past and imaginations of the peasants in blaming the Devil for all of the religious change, violence, poverty, hunger, and illness of the era. Würzburg witches became pawns in defeating Protestants.
A witch hunt began. With hundreds arrested, the largest peacetime trial of the era put the Devil, witchcraft, and Protestantism into one pot. Elderly women became the majority of victims, accused of causing miscarriages, starting plagues, and destroying harvests. During Echter’s reign, 400 victims died at the stake. His successors continued the witch hunt. No one spared children. In one instance, 41 joined 161 executed. Hideous torture drove alleged witches to confession. Death by fire before an enthusiastic rabble purified the sorceress’s souls. The process boiled ancient mystical beliefs and anti-Reformist anger. Killing the witches, and ending Reformation, destroys the devil, returning peace and prosperity.
Würzburg – Fragile Peace Among The Ashes
The Thirty Years War swarmed into Würzburg in 1631 as the Swedish Army captured the city. This ended the rule of Prince-Bishops and the witch persecution. In its wake, a growth of science and Reformist philosophy challenged the concept of confessions by torture and the general devil-worshiper beliefs. Education proved the pen mightier than the stake or sword.
Würzburg – Germany’s Romantic Road
Würzburg is the first stop of nearly 30 medieval towns, including Rothenburg de Tauber, stretching between Baden-Wurttemberg and Bavaria, along Germany’s Romantic Road. 100 church spires dot Würzburg’s skies, and stunning Baroque architecture shadow the cobbled streets. It is an excellent tourist stop.
Past is prologue. One might hope the pyres of hundreds of innocent women and children might end future persecutions of victims based on false accusations. The witch trials at Würzburg demonstrate history will continually repeat itself.