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  • Witches’ Brooms and Magic OintmentsTwenty Years of Witchcraft Research at the University of Lausanne (1989–2009)
  • Kathrin Utz Tremp

With the retirement of Professor Agostino Paravicini Bagliani at the beginning of 2009, an era came to an end at the University of Lausanne—an era in which a coterie of scholars under his direction had focused intensively on religious and cultural history, on the history of the canton of Vaud and the Savoy states, and of course on late medieval witch hunts.1 This article concerns itself only with the last theme, the persecution of witches in western Switzerland, which was among the earliest such waves of persecution in Europe (major witch-hunting occurred earlier only in Dauphiné). This theme was predestined, in a way, since the cantonal archives of Vaud (Archives cantonales vaudoises, hereafter ACV) contain a register that records twenty-seven of the earliest witch trials. The register itself did not originate in the Middle Ages, but was assembled at the beginning of the twentieth century, probably by Maxime Reymond, archivist of the canton of Vaud from 1915 until 1942. He also published the first studies about these cases: an initial, general study in 1908 about all the witch trials in the register and a second study in 1909 about the trials that had taken place in the later territory of Fribourg.2 This meant, however, that information about the trials in Register [End Page 173] ACV, Ac 29, came too late to be included in Joseph Hansen’s great collection of material on medieval witchcraft, published in 1901.3 They therefore remained largely unknown until 1976, when Richard Kieckhefer included those trials that occurred before 1500 in his “Calendar of Witch Trials.”4 In the late 1970s, Register ACV, Ac 29, also came to the attention of the chair of medieval history at the University of Lausanne, then occupied by Peter Rück, the predecessor of Agostino Paravicini Bagliani.5 In 1980, Françoise Le Saux wrote a mémoire de licence that dealt extensively with the register.6 This work remains unpublished, although it was frequently consulted in the following years, even though—or perhaps because—the copy in the Medieval Institute of the university had been hand-labeled “private text, do not photocopy.” In 1981, Agostino Paravicini Bagliani succeeded Peter Rück to the chair for medieval history at the University of Lausanne, and by the late 1980s he had come across Register ACV, Ac 29. The first mémoires de licence that he supervised, those of François Félix and Pierre-Han Choffat, would concern themselves with the last trials in the register, those that took place in 1498 and 1524–28 in the village of Dommartin, northeast of Lausanne.7 While Félix’s thesis remained unpublished—and was later superseded by that of Laurence Pfister (see below)—Choffat’s became the first volume in the series Cahiers Lausannois d’Histoire Médiévale, founded in 1989 and edited by Paravicini Bagliani, in which many other works on late medieval witch trials in western Switzerland would appear.

In the same year as the first Cahier Lausannois d’Histoire Médiévale, Andreas Blauert’s dissertation Frühe Hexenverfolgung also appeared.8 In this work, Blauert revealed to historians in western Switzerland the richness of their sources, and sought to overcome a narrow “cantonal” perspective and [End Page 174] really engage with the rich source materials. In particular, he regretted that Ulric de Torrenté, the first true inquisitor in western Switzerland (1423–42), had not yet received any real biographical treatment, and he presented an outline for one himself. Subsequently, research into western Swiss witch trials was again taken up at the University of Lausanne, and in the academic year 1990/1991 a seminar on “heresy and witchcraft” was conducted by Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Bernard Andenmatten, and myself. One of the results of this seminar was the biography of Ulric de Torrenté proposed by Andreas Blauert, along with an initial study of the origins of the Dominican Inquisition in western Switzerland.9 For the first time we clearly posited the Inquisition as the primary element that led to all others (heretic and...


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