| Questions to Consider
A Witch on Trial
The Magistrates of Florence
The fifteenth century marks a transitional phase in the attitude of Western Christians toward the supernatural. Medieval people had maintained many pagan customs and practices, particularly in association with such day-to-day needs as herbal remedies, love potions, and talismans thought to bring good fortune. "Wise women" and "cunning men" could be found in any rural community or urban neighborhood, combining fanciful supernatural claims with some real knowledge of herbal medicine. Yet by the late Middle Ages, such customs came under increasing suspicion as theologians began to equate supernatural practices with heresy. Authorities particularly scrutinized women who made claims to special powers as healers or diviners. A successful accusation that a woman's gifts came from demonic sources ensured her death.
Questions to Consider
After stripping away the supernatural features from the story, what actually took place here? If the authorities were not accusing Giovanna of witchcraft, how would this affect the status of her lover, Giovanni?
How do these court records attempt to tie supernatural practices with crimes against Christianity?
We condemn...Giovanna called Caterina, daughter of Francesco called El Toso, a resident of the parish of S. Ambrogio of Florence...who is a magician, witch, and sorceress, and a practitioner of the black arts.... It happened that Giovanni Ceresani of the parish of S. Jacopo tra le Fosse was passing by her door and stared at her fixedly. She thought that she would draw the chaste spirit of Giovanni to her for carnal purposes by means of the black arts.... She went to the shop of Monna Gilia, the druggist, and purchased from her a small amount of lead...and then she took a bowl and placed the lead in it and put it on the fire so that the lead would melt. With this melted lead she made a small chain and spoke certain words which have significance for this magical and diabolical art (and which, lest the people learn about them, shall not be recorded).... All this which was done and spoken against Giovanni's safety by Giovanna was so powerful that his chaste spirit was deflected to lust after her, so that willynilly he went several times to her house and there he fulfilled her perfidious desire....
In the time when Giovanna was menstruating, she took a little of her menses, that quantity which is required by the diabolical ceremonies, and placed it in a small beaker...and then poured it into another flask filled with wine...and gave it to Giovanni to drink. And on account of this and other things described above, Giovanni no longer has time for his affairs as he did in the past, and he has left his home and his wife and son...and does only what pleases Giovanna....
Several years ago, Giovanna was the concubine of Niccolò di Ser Casciotto of the parish of S. Giorgio, and she had three children by him. Having a great affection for Niccolò, who was then in Hungary, she wanted him to return to her in Florence.... So she planned a diabolical experiment by invoking a demon, to the detriment of Niccolò's health.... She went to someone who shall not be identified...and asked him to go to another diabolical woman, a sorceress (whose name shall not be publicized, for the public good), and asked her to make for Giovanna a wax image in the form of a woman, and also some pins and other items required by this diabolical experiment.... Giovanna took that image and placed it in a chest in her house. When, a few days later, she had to leave that house and move to another, she left the image in the chest. Later it was discovered by the residents of the house, who burned it....
She collected nine beans, a piece of cloth, some charcoal, several olive leaves which had been blessed and which stood before the image of the Virgin Mary, a coin with a cross, and a grain of salt. With these in her hand she genuflected...[before the image] and recited three times the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria, spurning the divine prayers composed for the worship of God and his mother the Virigin Mary. Having done this, she placed these items on a piece of linen cloth and slept over them for three nights. And afterwards, she took them in her hand and thrice repeated the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria.... And thus Giovanna knew that her future husband would not love her. And so it happened, for after the celebration and the consummation of the marriage, her husband Giovanni stayed with her for a few days, and then left her and has not yet returned. [Giovanna confessed to these crimes and was beheaded.]
Gene Brucker, ed., The Society of Renaissance Florence (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 270-273.