The municipality of Lier in Antwerp province is about to issue an official apology for a witchcraft scare in the late 16th century which led to the execution of Belgium’s last alleged witch.
The eagle-eyed visitor to the town today, best known for its ornamental flower-clock, might spot a memorial stone on the main square, commemorating the burning at the stake of the ‘last witch of Lier’ on 20 January 1590.
Her name was Cathelyne Van den Bulcke, a woman from the small town of Nijlen between Lier and Herentals. Cathelyne had an unfortunate past: her mother had been burned as a witch before her, and rumours of witchcraft had followed here from Nijlen to Lier – a distance of less than 10km that in those days must have seemed like an emigration.
On her arrest in November 1589, her advocate had made allusion to the rumours current in the countryside where she lived of witchcraft and her involvement. Witnesses for the prosecution, including two neighbours attempting to buy off accusations against themselves, alleged she had been unable to remember her Christian prayers, and had been involved in the sudden illness of a horse and a fire that destroyed a local home.
Cathelyne was found guilty after admitting her guilt under torture, and she as burned at the stake on the main square in Lier in January 1590, after first having been granted the grace of being strangled.
In November last year a group of supporters organised on Facebook obtained from the municipal authorities a promise that the memorial stone to ‘the last witch of Lier’ would be replaced with a new description. The town will also issue a formal apology for the miscarriage of justice,
“Those trials were described in detail at the time and there is a straight line between the city council then and now,” said Rik Verwaest (N-VA), councillor for museums, heritage and tourism.
“Even though it has been so long since anyone was directly hurt by it, formal apologies are certainly still in order.”