> Gostanza the Witch of San Miniato
the witch from San Miniato"
I wish to tell you about a woman who lived about 500 years ago.
A woman who was not a very young one at that, was already a
widow and 50 years old when the story took place. She wasn't
rich and she earned her living by being a midwife. She might
have even been beautiful, but this is a fact that the Court
of the Holy Inquisition never mentioned in its records.
In 1594, in the Castle of Lari, near Pisa, two women and two
men, in front of a notary and Vicar of the Bishop of Lucca,
da Libbiano of provoking the death of several infants by means
of witchcraft. Gostanza, interrogated at the proceedings that
took place in San
Miniato (located between Florence and Pisa), admitted
to using ointments and to placing a candle on the stomachs of
women in labor as a sign of good luck, but denied bringing death
to newborns. A few days later, the testimony of another woman
worsened Gostanza's position, and the inquisitor sentenced her
to the "torture of the ropes".
Hung by a rope that unmercifully stretched her arms, Gostanza
admitted to provoking witchcraft upon various people. In the
following days every time the torture was repeated, the poor
woman began to confess more and more. She even admitted to having
a relationship with various demons and to taking on the form
of a black cat and sucking childrens' blood. She also admitted
to stealing and frying the consecrate hosts to offer as a sacrifice
to "Polletto", the demon
with whom she confessed to having carnal relations.
She was about to be burned at the stake when on the 19th of
November of that same year, Dionigi da Costacciaro, a new Florentine
inquisitor, intervened. He was a person of culture and this
gave him the ability to understand that Gostanza's
confessions were nothing but lies. The images were too commonplace:
the name of the demon, the fried host, the black cat, the relations
with the devil. He realized that all of her confessions were
invented by a human mind, not the devil. So he decided to keep
Gostanza in prison for a few more days and to put an end to
The inquisitor interrogated Gostanza on different occasions
and finally on the 24th of November, he asked her if she was
willing to swear that all of her prior confessions were true.
The widow, exhausted, explained that it was all a lie and admitted
to having confessed only to bring her to her death as quickly
as possible and end the unmerciful torture. On the 28th of November,
the proceedings ended with the absolution of Gostanza and the
acknowledgment of her innocence. Dionigi did suggest that she
not use any more potions and to take residence in another town.
??It's a relief to know that at the end of Gostanza's story
common sense did prevail even in such a virulent time of "witch
History tells us of so many more cases like Gostanza in which
the accused were not so lucky. Not everyone was fortunate enough
to have Dionigi da Castacciaro as her inquisitor. In that time
torture was considered an ethical and correct method of investigation.
But this is another issue that we will touch upon another time.
I have also told you about Gostanza because last winter a movie
was made about her and her struggle of, "A Witch Against
One's Will". The title of the movie is "Gostanza da
Libbiano": It is a film that should be very intriguing.
Benvenuti shot the entire film in San Miniato, 35
Km East from Pisa, where Gostanza was originally tried and later
The film has been financed by the Italian Minister of Cultural
Heritage so don't miss it!! You can get more information about
Gostanza and her sad vicissitudes: Lombardi, Marilena and Franco
Cardini, "Gostanza, la strega di San Miniato: Processo
a una guaritrice nella Toscana medicea", Roma, Laterza,
1989. If you want more information about tuscan castles, and
in particular about the one in Lari, where Gostanza was accused
by the two couples to be a witch, take note of this Website:
This site offers beautiful photoes and a detailed english text.