The first witch trial in Pressburg

Superstitions played an important role in human life since the dawn of civilization. But to torture a person on the rack and beheaded him because he cut a part of the hangman’s clothes and genitals, so he can use them for a potion to heal sweating mares and bloated cows? Or bury alive a scared seduced maid, who strangled her child out of fear to be judged by society? Records of these horrible deeds from the past are a bridge created from human tragedies leading to judgments of our ancestors. I think that reading about trials is not going to be any easier, even when we consider an argument that physical punishments were applied only to criminals – which is not entirely true. One of these proofs is the witch trials in Bratislava, telling us the story of unfortunate women who felt like victims of the past era.

Although today we may shake our heads in disbelief when we are reading about witchcraft accusations, they were a synonym of fear in the 17th century. People in those times also acted under their negative characteristics and motivations such as anger, jealousy, lie, malevolence, material gain, or mammon. This side of human nature influenced the trial with a tragic outcome for three women, guilty of being targeted by people with the features listed above.

Perhaps unrequired “attention” was the reason why officer Vít Szabó accused Agatha Tóott-Borlobaschin, a thirty-year-old beauty from Podunajske Biskupice (nowadays part of Bratislava). In may 1602, Agatha was accused by Szabó and butcher Mezarosch of witchcraft. She was supposed to work with another witch to cause stomach pain and constant coughing to Szabó's father. Agatha supposedly gathered herbs and helped people with various remedies, but Szabó argued that If she knew which herbs and healing, she must know which can cause pain and sickness. Mezarosch claimed that she charmed his shop bankrupt, together with her sister-in-law.

Agatha was summoned before the jury, but refused to confess – so she was submitted to cruel trials. In the first one, she was supposed to cry on command (it was believed that witches cannot cry) but failed. For the second trial, she was drowned in a large cask but since she emerged, it was another sign of witchcraft. But Agatha was strong-headed and refused to bow down – therefore they moved towards torture. They burned her flash under her armpits, made her sit naked on a wooden goat, and smashed her fingers.  Finally, torturers broke her by burning her hips area. Since Agatha was smart and knew who caused her this suffering, she took a chance for revenge. So she admitted that she is a witch together with the wives of her accusers.

Scripter Michal Loben wrote down into the book of forced confessions – Urgichtbuch, words that Agatha said in the torture room. There were details about recipes, their victims, flying on brooms, turning into animals, and various disgusting ingredients (such as human skull, fetus, or frog). It also includes “classics” such as the young and handsome devil, the bewitching of cattle, and the destruction of crops.

“Pressburg witch” Agatha Tóott-Borlobaschin was executed at Michal gate on 24th May in 1602.

Page 105 begins with an inscription:

Anno 1602. Undecima et decima tertia May

11th and 13th May 1602 was Agatha Tóott-Borlobaschin questioned by good means and torture and her answers were written as follows: (a list of forced confessions follows).

The executioner receipt with a red seal had been attached to the protocol, as a confirmation of performed execution for 200 denari. We have another record of this receipt from a town archivist Ovidius Faust in his book “From old record books of Bratislava”. Unfortunately, the document is lost.

 Just a few days after the execution, another woman was burned at the same place. Her name was Elizabeth Nagysányi and after a similar trial she admitted to being the devil’s mistress – his name was Killann. She had admitted to committing similar deeds that Agatha and also blamed two other women from Muckensdor, supposedly even more powerful witches.

This whole charade was led by Johann Hart with doctor Apolinaris. Their “audience” was comprised of honorable townsmen Jodokus Muller, Paul Kirsch, Martin Folrat, the priest, and numerous onlookers of this humiliating “theatre”.

Pain and desperation could provoke the fantasy of tortured women to the breaking point, so they were able to confess unbelievable sins. The means of torture were so effective that they worked on both men and women.

We may find it strange to read that adult people were able to believe such nonsense and on basis of these “tales” even condemned people to be burned alive. What we can do is uncover facts and comment on events witnessed (and executed) by people who lived in Pressburg. Fortunately, we have numerous records at our disposal so we can learn from an era controlled by fear, suspicion, and revenge.