The Story of Anna Göldi, the Last 'Witch' Executed in Europe

Glarus, the site of Europe's last witch hunt |© Andi_Graf/ Pixabay
Glarus, the site of Europe's last witch hunt |© Andi_Graf/ Pixabay
Anna Göldi was born in Sennwald in the canton of St. Gallen in the 1730s. She met her end in Glarus in the year 1782, sentenced to death for witchcraft. She is remembered today as the last ‘witch’ to die in Europe.

Göldi’s sentence for witchcraft wasn’t her first run in with the law. Soon after she gave birth to her first child, the baby died. She was brought to the town square and placed in a stockade as a form of public shame, after which she was sentenced to house arrest for 6 years.

She is said to have escaped and found refuge with a family nearby. In 1780, at the age of forty-two, Göldi began working with the Tschudi family. At this time, Johann Jakob Tschudi was a well-respected physician, judge and naturalist in Glarus. He had power, wealth and a good reputation. The accusations Tschudi, his wife and their five children made against Göldi would result in her death only two years later.

Two of the children, Annamaria and Susanna, began to find pins in their milk and bread. Göldi was suspected as it was her task to prepare the meals. At first she was expelled from the house after more pins appeared in the meals. But in the days after she left, Annamaria became violently ill. Once again suspicion fell upon Göldi and the townspeople began to suspect she had used supernatural means to poison the child.

Anna Göldi © Patrick Lo Giudice / Wikicommons

Her arrest was called for soon after and it took a lengthy search to find her in the small town of Degersheim, but eventually she was brought back to Glarus on 21 February 1782.

Belief reigned in the town that only the person who had poisoned Annamaria could cure her. Göldi was dragged into the presence of the sick child and ordered to cure her under the threat of torture. Miraculously, the child began to get better which would prove to be unfortunate for Göldi who was thus suspected of possessing benign powers. The child’s recovery sealed her own fate.

Over the coming weeks, she was tortured and eventually confessed that she had made a pact with the devil to seek revenge on Annamaria for past mistreatment. The sentence was duly passed and Göldi was beheaded in June, 1782.

The burning of witches in the 14th century. Between 40,000 and 100,000 people are thought to have been executed for witchcraft. Public Domain / Wikicommons

The trial and execution of Göldi provoked a scandal and plenty of mockery in Switzerland and beyond. Those who sentenced her may well have foreseen such a response as they omitted any reference to sorcery or witchcraft from their reports. The people of Glarus had fallen prey to an old superstition that was unfitting in the time of the Enlightenment and they seemed to know it.

One of the prevailing and most tragic theories is that the illustrious Jakob Tschudi had an affair with Göldi and the whole debacle was concocted to save his family from public shame. In 2008, officials in Glarus finally cleared Anna Göldi’s name and declared the affair a miscarriage of justice.

At the newly opened Anna Göldi Museum, you can discover the whole story, reconstructed using original documents from the trials and her life.

Orts- und Anna Göldi Muesum, Steinackerstrasse 4, Mollis +41 55 612 38 60