In the late 16th century, Cathelyne van den Blucke, a 40-year-old woman living in Lier, Belgium, was accused of witchcraft. The accusations came from two women who, similarly to the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the United States, tragically faced the impossible choice of naming others or possibly being executed themselves.
After being tortured at the hands of authorities, van den Blucke finally told her tormentors that she was a witch and that she had had sex with the devil. In 1590, she was strangled and then burnt at the stake just like her mother—also accused of witchcraft—before her.
According to the visitLier website, legend has it that a large stone (literally called “the witch stone”) is still standing in Lier’s central market square and marks the spot where van den Blucke was burned. She was the last recorded woman executed for witchcraft in Lier, but other executions continued to take place in the central market until 1818.
Now, more than four centuries later, the city of Lier is apologizing for the witchcraft trials that led to the deaths of multiple women.
“Even though it has been a long time since someone was directly hurt by these trials, formal apologizes are certainly in order,” said city council member Rik Verwaest in a statement to Flemish media. “This is a reminder of the danger in having a government that is guided by rumors and hysteria, but also that the courage of one person can make a difference. Cathelyne refused to name other ‘witches’ to save herself despite being tortured.”
Van den Blucke is one of an estimated 60,000 people (mostly women, but a few men and children as well) executed between 1400-1700 in Europe for witchcraft. Similarly to her, many of these often poor and singled or widowed women only ‘confessed’ after being subject to brutal torture and interrogation techniques.
While Lier is one of the only cities that have apologized for executing alleged witches, last December, the Catholic church of the German city of Eichstätt apologized for its role in 400 similar executions.
Local authorities plan to make their official apology on the 20th of January, the anniversary of van den Blucke’s execution. In honor of her death, they also plan to place a new stone that gives more context to the events that transpired there.