The Italian Almanac

cave of the witch

Italian News - August 3

Women accused of witchcraft by the Inquisition more than four centuries ago left behind an impressive series of graffiti in a Palermo prison as they waited to be burned at the stake, archeologists announced on Tuesday. The latest graffiti were uncovered during renovation work in the ancient complex of the Steri, the Palermo headquarters of the dreaded Inquisition, the Catholic Church's judiciary tasked with stamping out heresy.

From 1601 till 1782, the Inquisition tortured and tried countless prisoners from its still largely mysterious headquarters in the Steri. Anyone dragged there was unlikely to emerge alive as the Inquisition was notoriously ruthless with suspected heretics, soothsayers, blasphemers and friends of the Devil. "In fact, many of the victims were simply intellectuals or artists whom the Church considered a threat to its power," explained the head of restorers Domenico Policarpi.

In 1782 Viceroy Domenico Caracciolo ordered all the Inquisition's documents burned but historians say that the hundreds of graffiti which still decorate many of the former cells may shed some light on the goings-on of the Steri. The latest inscriptions were found on the first floor as workers scraped off a coating of white plaster obviously meant to cover up the curses and insults the hapless 'witches' left for the inquisitors.