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Witch hunt legacy: German city still pays Church to settle debt to ‘warlock’ burned centuries ago

Witch hunt legacy: German city still pays Church to settle debt to ‘warlock’ burned centuries ago
In a somewhat bizarre tradition, the authorities of the western German city of Trier pay hundreds of euro to a local parish as interest on a centuries-old debt they owe to a man burned by the inquisition.

The custom that forces the city authorities to pay annually more than €360 (US$405) out of the municipal purse to the local parish of Liebfrauen goes back to the 16th century and is rooted in the deeds of a man named Dietrich Flade, according to Bild daily.

Flade was no ordinary townsman, as the 55-year-old was a doctor of law, a judge at the Imperial Court of Appeals, as well as Rector of Trier University. He was also responsible for levying taxes on the locals. However, his brilliant career did not shield him from accusations of witchcraft, and he was eventually strangled and burned at the stake.

The bitter irony is that as a judge, Flade himself led numerous court proceedings against suspected ‘witches’, and did not hesitate to issue condemnatory judgement. It seems that karma eventually caught up with him. Anyway, the deed of his that left a lasting effect on his home city was to grant a loan of 4,000 gulden to the city authorities.

After Flade’s infamous demise, all of his possessions, including the city authorities’ promissory note, came into the hands of Archbishop Johann VII, who happened to act as local secular ruler as well. The archbishop ruled that the interest on the debt the city owed to the “sorcerer” should be paid to the local church parishes to support them. And Trier dutifully followed this ruling – for 430 years, as it was never formally revoked. The only thing that has been adjusted through the years is the currency.

“As a legal successor to the then administration, the city of Trier has to fulfill its obligations under the contract,” city spokesman Ernst Mettlach told Bild. He said, however, the city would “gladly drop” the payment from its budget expenditures if the parish and the bishop of Trier waive it.

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The Church, however, is apparently in no hurry to cast aside the lucrative tradition. Earlier, the diocese of Trier justified the continued payments by saying the money is used to help the homeless and is important for “social purposes.” In a somewhat bizarre twist, the Church also said the payment helps preserve the memory of the victims of the witch hunts. It is not exactly clear, however, how paying the institution that once supported burning people accused of witchcraft helps the cause.

According to German media, around 3 million people were accused of witchcraft between the 13th and 18th centuries. Between 40,000 and 60,000 of them were executed. Three-quarters of the victims were women.

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