Basque women burned for witchcraft by a “fanatic” magistrate

the Pays Basque Was it a haunt of witches, “sorginak” in Basque, in the 17th century? The strange language spoken by the population, the autonomy left to women in society when the men went fishing, and a fondness for medicinal herbs certainly caught the attention of Pierre de Lancre. This Bordeaux magistrate was appointed in 1609 by the parliament and King Henry IV to put things in order. He will engage, for at least four months, in an intense witch hunt around Bayonne, tracking down each cauldron, bouquet of herbs or suspended feather. 20 minutes offers you a return to this dark episode of Basque history, on the occasion ofHalloween.

“These witches are women accused by other members of the population of casting spells that bring bad luck to others, specifies to 20 minutes Jacques Dubourg author ofHistory of witches and wizards in the South West, published by Sud Ouest editions, in 2013. Pierre De Lancre had a few hundred arrested, some of whom were convicted and burned. »

The Gazette of Biarritz Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz dated January 18, 1939 and available on the Bnf website retronews, evokes the adaptation of this episode in a play. She speaks of “six months” during which Pierre de Lancre rages in the region and also specifies that it was the intervention of the Bishop of Bayonne and the return of Basque sailors, who had gone fishing in the waters of Newfoundland and alerted to the hunt launched against their wives, which put an end to the outburst of the magistrate described as “fanatic”.

If the female sex mainly bears the brunt of this hunt, wizards are not forgotten. Jacques Dubourg recalls that three priests were thus targeted by Pierre de Lancre, near Ciboure, Ascain and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. We do not know the exact figure but dozens of witches and wizards were massacred on the orders of this very zealous magistrate.

A devilish coughing fit

Jacques Dubourg recounts the tragic end of Catherine de Fernandez, who drew the wrath of the population for having “spit out the host in a handkerchief, at mass”. When asked to explain herself during an interrogation “she said that the devil had provoked a fit of coughing in her and that she had to spit it out”. She was accused of heresy and witchcraft, arousing the anger of the inhabitants who locked her in a barrel and burned at the stake “without any other form of trial”, adds Jacques Dubourg. The means deployed to eradicate these supposed witches lived up to the fear they inspired and the rampant misogyny of the time.

In his latest book Legends and Mysteries of the Basque Country, published by Monhelios, it also evokes the case of a witch named Soubadine de Subiette who terrified the crowd while she was on the scaffold. “Near her head a large number of toads appeared and the people began to beat her so hard with sticks and stones that she was stoned to death,” he wrote. But in spite of the power of this attack it was not possible to kill a black toad which escaped and which it was impossible to find thereafter. »

A young girl from Ascain named Dojartzabal also reports that a witch locked up in prison on the orders of Pierre de Lancre, managed to escape. Having come to meet her after transforming into a cat, she invited her to the Sabbath.

Accused of controlling the waves and causing drownings

Legends around evil creatures in petticoats are rife in the Basque Country. “In the 18th century, it was said in Biarritz that they turned into waves and chased sailors,” writes Jacques Dubourg. They climbed, it seems, on the mast of ships and cast a curse on men by means of their magic powders. They also caused storms that caused shipwrecks. »

It is also said that the Hendaye beach, frequented by witches until the 19th century for the Sabbath which was organized around menhirs, is now haunted… Furious at the removal of the megaliths, they have since taken revenge on the bathers, going so far as to cause a few drownings.

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Basque women burned for witchcraft by a “fanatic” magistrate

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