Junius, Johannes (1573?–1628) Burgomaster, or mayor, of Bamberg, Germany, caught with other local leading citizens in one of the most vicious witch persecutions of the Inquisition. From the early 1600s to about 1630, hundreds of men and women in Bamberg were accused of witchcraft, tortured by the most barbaric means (see torture) and executed. All of the burgomasters of Bamberg fell victim to the inquisitors. The trial of Johannes Junius is of historic importance for the account of his ordeal that he managed to leave behind.
Junius was 55 years old when he was accused of witchcraft by the authorities, who were led by Vicar-General Suffragan Bishop Friedrich Forner and the prince-bishop of Bamberg, Gottfried Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim. Junius had been named by several persons, including the vice-chancellor of Bamberg, Dr. Georg Adam Haan.
On June 28, 1628, Junius was interrogated without torture. He protested his innocence, saying he had never renounced God and was wronged to be so accused. He called the inquisitors’ bluff by saying he would like evidence of a single person who had ever seen him at the witch’s sabbat (see Sabbats). The inquisitors smugly complied, producing Haan and Hapffens Elsse, who stated in the presence of Junius that they had witnessed his evil activities. Haan swore upon his life that about two years earlier, Junius had attended a witch’s sabbat in the electoral council room which he had entered by the left. There, Junius, Haan and others ate and drank. Another man, Hopffens Elsse, testified that he had seen Junius on the Hauptsmoor at a witches’ dance, where a holy wafer was desecrated.
Junius vigorously denied the testimony, but the inquisitors told him other “accomplices” had confessed. He was given time to contemplate his situation. In all, six witnesses were brought against him, including Haan’s son.
Two days later, on June 30, Junius was asked to confess, but refused. The torture began. First, he was put in thumbscrews. Still he denied renouncing God and being baptized by the Devil. The inquisitors noted that he seemed to suffer no pain in the thumbscrews. Such insensitivity to pain was often considered a sign that the Devil was aiding the witch in enduring pain.
The inquisitors then crushed his legs in legscrews. Again Junius protested his innocence, and again the inquisitors noted that he seemed to feel no pain. After the legscrews, the inquisitors had him stripped, shaved and searched for a Witch's Mark, which they believed they found in a bluish patch of skin shaped like a clover leaf, which seemed insensitive to pain when pricked three times (see Pricking).
Finally, Junius was given the strappado, a torture in which the victim’s hands are bound by a rope behind his back, which is connected to a pulley. The victim is drawn up to the ceiling and allowed to drop. Junius still protested his innocence. On July 5 the inquisitors again urged him to make a full confession. Exhausted and wracked by incredible pain, Junius gave in and made up a story that he thought would satisfy his persecutors:
He said his dealings with the Devil began in 1624. A lawsuit he had been involved in had cost him 600 florins. One day, he went out to sit in his orchard to contemplate, when a woman who looked like a grassmaid appeared and asked him why he was so sad. He replied that he wasn’t. She spoke to him seductively, then turned into a goat which said, “Now you see with whom you have to do.
You must be mine or I will forthwith break your neck.” Junius became frightened. The goat grabbed him by the throat and ordered him to renounce God. “God forbid,” Junius replied. The goat vanished but shortly reappeared accompanied by a host of people, who threatened him and demanded he renounce God. He did so by saying, “I renounce God in Heaven and his host, and will henceforth recognize the Devil as my God.”
Junius was then baptized and christened as krix, with a paramour named Vixen, an evil spirit. He was congratulated by the other witches, whom he named as residents of Bamberg, and was given a ducat, which later turned into a potsherd.
Whenever he wished to attend a sabbat, a large black dog appeared, and bore him through the air. Vixen promised to give him money.
This tale did not completely satisfy the inquisitors, who allowed Junius more time for “contemplation.” On July 7 he was asked to confess further. He obliged them by describing a sabbat and by admitting he attempted murder at the prompting of Vixen. She ordered him to kill his younger son and gave him a gray powder. He could not bring himself to do it and killed his son’s horse instead. Vixen also ordered him to kill his daughter. When he refused, she beat him.
Junius also said that the Devil appeared before him as a goat about a week before his arrest and told him he was going to be arrested, but not to worry, that he would be released.
Junius’ implication of himself was not enough. The inquisitors took him down the streets of Bamberg, ordering him to name others who were witches. He complied but was tortured again when he did not name enough people.
After this degrading ordeal, Junius was condemned to die at the stake in late July. Also condemned were those whom he falsely had named as Devil-worshipers, including Haan and the others who originally had accused him of the same. While in prison, Junius wrote a letter to his daughter, Veronica, which he managed to have smuggled out and delivered to her. It is written in a shaky hand; that he managed to write it at all is amazing, considering that his hands had been crushed in the thumbscrews and he had been subjected to other torture. Junius’ letter provides some of the most damning testimony about the evil excesses of the witch-hunters. An excerpt follows:
many hundred thousand good-nights, dearly beloved daughter Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent I must 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. . . . And then came also—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 torture [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 terribly 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 another until you say you are a witch . . .
And so I begged, since I was in wretched plight, to be given one day for thought and a priest. The priest was refused me, but the time for thought was given . . . at last there came to me a new idea. . . . I would think of something to say and say it. . . . And so I made my confession, as follows, but it was all a lie. Now follows dear child, what I confessed in order to escape the great anguish and bitter torture, which it was impossible for me longer to bear . . .
Then I had to tell what people I had seen [at the sabbat]. I said that I had not recognized them. “You old rascal, I must set the executioner at you. Say—was not the Chancellor there?” So I said yes. “Who besides?” I had not recognized anybody. So he said: “Take one street after another, begin at the market, go out on one street and back on the next. . . . And thus continuously they asked me on all the streets, though I could not and would not say more. So they gave me to the executioner, told him to strip me, shave me all over, and put me to the torture . . .
Then I had to tell what crimes I had committed. I said nothing. . . . “Draw the rascal up!” So I said that I was to kill my children, but I had killed a horse instead. It did not help . . .
Now, dear child, here you have all my confession, for which I much 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 . . .
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 . . .
Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you more. July 24, 1628.
Junius added a postscript to the margin:
Dear child, six have confessed against me at once . . . all false, through compulsion, as they have all told me, and begged my forgiveness in God’s name before they were executed. . . . They know nothing but good of me. They were forced to say it, just as I myself was . . .
- Kors, Alan C., and Edward Peters. Witchcraft in Europe, A Documentary History 1100–1700. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972.
- Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology. 1959. reprint, New York: Bonanza Books, 1981.