In the early 17th century, the state of Bamburg, Germany, experienced one of the most devastating Witch crazes of the Burning Times. From 1623 to 1633, Bamburg was ruled by Prince-Bishop Gottfried Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim -- a man called "the Witch Bishop" because of the hundreds of Witches he killed. Von Dornheim did not hesitate to attack even the wealthiest citizens of Bamburg and grew rich on the goods that he confiscated from the condemned. During his reign, no one was safe.
Johannes Junius was the mayor of the city of Bamburg at this time. At the height of the panics, Junius was accused of Witchcraft. His trial was a straight-forward affair. According to the records of the court, Junius was tortured but felt no pain. While in prison, he spontaneously confessed to Witchcraft and named several accomplices. He was convicted and burned at the stake a short time later.
But in Junius' case we have a unique opportunity to see the other side of the story. Before he died, he smuggled a letter to his daughter Veronica, warning her to flee the city before she, too, was accused. This document, preserved in Bamburg's archives, offers a chillingly different account of the trial.
Junius describes the agonies of his "painless" torture, torments that left his hands crippled for weeks. His "spontaneous" confession was made in fear of further torture. As mayor, Junius knew the torturer. The man warned him of the torments yet to come and begged him to make up a false confession that could at least spare him further agony. He did, and to his horror discovered that the court refused to accept his confession unless he named other Witches who attended the sabbat.
Junius refused to implicate anyone else, and he was tortured again. This time he broke, and when the court gave him a list of suspected Witches, Junius meekly agreed that all of them had attended a sabbat with him. Later, back in prison, Junius met the other Witches who had implicated him. He forgave them, and prayed that the people he'd condemned could find it in their hearts to forgive him as well.
The following excerpts come from Johannes Junius' letter to his daughter:
"Many hundred thousand good-nights, dearly beloved daughter Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent must I die. For whoever comes into the witch prison must become a witch or be tortured until he invents something out of his head and -- God pity him! -- bethinks him of something.
"I will tell you how it has gone with me. When I was the first time put to the torture, Dr. Braun, Dr. Kotzendorffer, and two strange doctors were there. Then Dr. Braun asks me, "Kinsman, how come you here?" I answer, "Through falsehood, through misfortune." "Hear you," he says, "you are a witch; will you confess it voluntarily? If not, we'll bring in witnesses and the executioner for you." ... I answered: "I have never renounced God, and will never do it -- God graciously keep me from it. I'll rather bear whatever I must."...
"And then came -- God in highest Heaven have mercy! -- the executioner, and put the thumb-screws on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood ran out at the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from the writing... Thereafter they first stripped me, bound my hands behind me, and drew me up in the strappado. Then I thought heaven and earth were at an end; eight times did they draw me up and let me fall again, so that I suffered terrible agony.
"When at last the executioner led me back into the prison, he said to me: "Sir, I beg you, for God's sake confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to; and, even if you bear it all, yet you will not escape, not even if you were an earl, but one torture will follow after another until you say you are a witch. Not before that," he said, "will they let you go, as you may see by all their trials, for one is just like another." ...
"Now, my dear child, see in what hazard I stood and still stand. I must say that I am a witch, though I am not. Must now renounce God, though I have never done it before. Day and night I was deeply troubled, but at last there came to me a new idea... I would myself think of something and say it. It were surely better that I just say it with mouth and words, even though I had not really done it; and afterwards I would confess it to the priest, and let those answer for it who compel me to do it... And so I made my confession, as follows; but it was all a lie...
"Now, dear child, here you have all my confession, for which I must die. And they are sheer lies and made-up things, so help me God. For all this I was forced to say through fear of the torture which was threatened beyond what I had already endured. For they never leave off with the torture till one confesses something; be he never so good, he must be a witch. Nobody escapes...
"Dear child, keep this letter secret so that people do not find it, else I shall be tortured most piteously and the jailers will be beheaded, so strictly is it forbidden... I have taken several days to write this: my hands are both lame. I am in a sad plight...
(A note, written in the margins.) "
"Good night, for you father Johannes Junius will never see you more. July 24, 1628."
On August 6th, Johannes Junius was burned at the stake.