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  Slow Tuscany > Tuscany > Pisa > Gostanza the Witch of San Miniato
"Gostanza, the ‘witch’ from San Miniato"

Damiano Andreini


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, accused Gostanza 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 torturing.

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 hunting".

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. Paolo Benvenuti shot the entire film in San Miniato, 35 Km East from Pisa, where Gostanza was originally tried and later acquitted.

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: http://www.castellitoscani.com/lari.htm. This site offers beautiful photoes and a detailed english text.

Damiano Andreini

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