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Last Person Executed as a Witch in Europe Gets a Museum

Beheaded in 1782, Anna Göldi fell victim to a system that prized the views of powerful men over justice

A still from the 1991 film "Anna Göldi, Last Witch" (Alpha Film / Alamy)
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The last person executed for witchcraft in Europe has gained a museum in the place where she was beheaded more than two centuries ago, reports Daniel Fahey for Lonely Planet.

The museum, located in the canton of Glarus in Switzerland, is dedicated to Anna Göldi's life and legacy, as well as the culture of the witch-hunts in general, according to Fahey

As Lars Gotsch reports for swissinfo.chGöldi's life was marked by hardship long before her execution. Born into poverty in 1734, as a teenager she began working as a maid in her home village to earn money. In her 30s, she met a mercenary whom she had a baby with in 1765, but only hours after giving birth, the child died. Though the death was an accident—the infant suffocated in its sleep—Gotsch was accused of murder and was forced to flee to the nearby canton of Glarus.

Some years past, and Göldi found herself in trouble again when needles were discovered in the milk of one of her wealthy employer's daughters. Göldi lost her job. Then, weeks later, one of the daughters claimed to have vomited metallic objects. This time, though she was no longer with the family, her former employer accused her of practicing some form of witchcraft on the child. Göldi ​​was tortured until a confession could be extracted, and on June 13, 1782, she was decapitated with a sword. Göldi ​ was 48 years old.

While executions for witchcraft had long been commonplace in Europe—witchcraft became a capital offense in Britain in 1563, for example—by the late 18th century, the Middle Age hysteria was finally nearing its last gasp. When word of Göldi's execution spread through Europe, her execution was condemned as barbaric. Even the officiants of the trial seemed to have been aware of how unjust the charges appeared, notes Atlas Obscura—Göldi was not officially charged witchcraft, rather she was accused of "poisoning," a crime that rarely resulted in execution.

Like so many others who had been accused of practicing witchcraft in the past, Göldi's cruel fate had nothing to do with magic. Rather, as Imogen Foulkes reported for BBC News in 2007, it appears Göldi had been involved with her wealthy employer. After she was fired from her job, she threatened to reveal the affair, an act that would have proved damaging to the man's burgeoning political career. He put a stop to that by demanding her execution.

Two hundred years after her death, a 1982 novel helped revive interest in Göldi's life and fate. Later, a lawyer and journalist in Glarus named Walter Hauser made it his mission to clear Göldi's name, Foulkes reported, and in 2008, he used evidence of the affair to petition the Glarus government to officially exonerate Göldi, according to a swissinfo.ch article.

Hauser is also behind the new Anna Göldi Museum, which officially opened its doors August 20. The museum isn't alone in delivering long-overdue justice to Göldi's name—come September, a new Anna Göldi musical will premiere in the canton of Schaffhausen, based on research by the Anna Göldi Foundation in Glarus.

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