Tamar Herzig, Hebrew University

Witches, Saints and Heretics at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century



, -


The witchcraft manual written by the infamous witch-hunter Heinrich Kramer (alias Institoris), Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches Hammer, c. 1487), has often been regarded in modern historiography as the ultimate manifestation of premodern misogyny. Moreover, Kramers infamous diatribe on the female sex in the Malleus has recently been explained as resulting from his acute fear of the remarkable ascendancy of saintly female mystics during the last centuries of the Middle Ages. Drawing on several hitherto-overlooked manuscripts and printed sources concerning the latter part of Kramers inquisitorial career (1487-1505), which attest to his expressed admiration for contemporary Italian sante vive (living saints), this paper challenges the accepted historiographical view. As I show in the first part of the paper, the holy women that Kramer supported Lucia Brocadelli, Colomba Guadagnoli, Stefana Quinzani and Osanna Andreasi were all renowned for their somatic experiences, namely stigmatization, ascetic fasts, and ecstatic raptures. Such experiences had traditionally characterized womens mystical sanctity in the late Middle Ages, but they became increasingly suspect in the course of the fifteenth century. I argue that Kramer consciously attempted to mobilize these central features of medieval female spirituality in his campaign against the supposedly heretical sect of the Unitas fratrum (the Bohemian Brethren) in Moravia at the turn of the sixteenth century. Consequently, the much-reviled misogynist contributed significantly to spreading the reputations for sanctity of four Italian female mystics throughout Europe. In the second part of the paper, I propose that Kramers eulogy of the Italian holy women went hand-in-hand with his earlier insistence on womens inherent propensity toward witchcraft, and suggest a reappraisal of his attitude toward women, witchcraft, heresy and female sanctity.



Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), chap. 6 ("Testing Spirits in the Effeminate Age"), pp. 274-319.
Call no. BR253.C33 2003
Ga'bor Klaniczay, "Miraculum and Maleficium: Reflections Concerning Late Medieval Female Sainthood," in Problems in the Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Europe, ed. Ronnie Po-Chia Hsia and Robert W. Scribner (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997), pp. 49-73.
Call no. GN17.3.E85P76 1997


Back to program