Bergen, is as most cities, a city full of history – around every corner you will find a spot that has something to tell. In one of the parks you will find a quite large rock standing tall, telling a story of what happened at this spot in the early modern times. The inscription reads:
350 bålofre for justismord 1550-1700
The Witch stone
350 (fire)victims of miscarriage of justice 1550-1700
It is a monument in memory of all the women of the city who were burned at the stake for being a witch between 1550-1700. More or less 350 women were burned as witches in this period, all innocent of the accusations made by neighbors, family member or town people. The rock was unveiled 26th of June 2002, and serves as a reminder of the miscarriage of justice made in early modern times. Being accused of witchcraft would often lead to an investigation, accusations would pile up and a death sentence would be hard to avoid.
The rock is placed at a unique spot, this is where one of Norways most famous witches was burned, Anne Pederdotter in 1590. The burning of Anne also marks the beginning of the witch hunt in Norway, the period after is a period where several women and men faced accusations of witchcraft and a death sentence.
Between 700-800 people were accused of witchcraft in Norway, but around 300 men and women were executed for it. There are however reasons to believe that there might have been more people accused and convicted of it, but the lack of sources cannot prove this. In many cases the accusations went away due to help of friends of the family, who held high positions in the society and could apply pressure on the courts to find the accused not guilty or free the accused of all charges. Other times there were just not enough proof to convict the accused, and sometimes the courts decided there was no need for severe retribution, some of the accused where sentenced to go to church regularly and do pilgrimages to holy places outside of Norway.
In Bergen, Anne Pederdotter is the most famous witch to have been burned at the stake. Many more became victims of the accusations, but Anne is the one who has inspired many tales of the prosecution. Her story is being told through books, plays and documentaries – a part of the reason is that her case has been very well documented. We even have her defending arguments during her court case, being accused of murdering a child through witchcraft she is said to have answered: There are many children who die in this city, and I am not responsible for all of their deaths.
Sources in Norwegian, about accurate numbers and statements:
Alver, Bente: Mellem mennesker og magter: magi i hekseforfølgelsernes tid, Oslo 2008
Gilje, Nils (2010). Heksen og humanisten: Anne Pedersdatter og Absalon Pederssøn Beyer: en historie om magi og trolldom i Bergen på 1500-tallet, Bergen.
Some parts in this blogpost are also taken from what I can remember from my classes on witchcraft at the University of Bergen.