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Bewitched - 1484

Pope Innocent VIII as imagined by an artist.


During the Middle Ages, many Europeans believed in the power of witchcraft. Pope Innocent VIII gave voice to the common superstitions and expressed the difficulty of rooting them out when, on this day, 5 December 1484, he issued his bull Summis desiderantes, from which we take today’s quote. 


“Innocent, bishop, servant of the servants of  God….

“It has recently come to our ears, not without great pain to us, that in some parts of upper Germany, as well as in . . .  Mainz, Ko1n, Trier, Salzburg, and Bremen, many persons of both sexes, heedless of their own salvation and forsaking the catholic faith, give themselves over to devils male and female, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurings, and by other abominable superstitions and sortileges, offences, crimes, and misdeeds, ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals, the products of the earth, the grapes of vines, and the fruits of trees, as well as men and women, cattle and flocks and herds and animals of every kind, vineyards also and orchards, meadows, pastures, harvests, grains and other fruits of the earth; that they afflict and torture with dire pains and anguish, both internal and external, these men, women, cattle, flocks, herds, and animals, and hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving, and prevent all consummation of marriage; that, moreover, they deny with sacrilegious lips the faith they received in holy baptism. . . .

[He complains that his inquisitors are hindered by local clergy from investigating alleged cases of witchcraft]

“We therefore, desiring . . . to remove all impediments by which in any way the said inquisitors are hindered in the exercise of their office, and to prevent the taint of heretical pravity and of other like evils from spreading their infection to the ruin of others who are innocent . . . . do hereby decree, by virtue of our  apostolic authority, that it shall be permitted to the said inquisitors in these regions to exercise their office of inquisition and to proceed to the  correction, imprisonment, and punishment of the aforesaid persons for their said offences and crimes, in all respects and altogether precisely as if the . . . places, persons, and offences aforesaid were expressly named in the said letter.  And [with assistants] . . . . may exercise against all persons, of whatsoever condition and rank, the said office of inquisition, correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising . . . those persons whom they shall find guilty as aforesaid.

“And they shall also have full and entire liberty to propound and preach to the faithful word of God, as often as it shall seem to them fitting and proper, in each and all of the parish churches in the said provinces. . . .”


Medieval Sourcebook.

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