Story of a Witch and her Executioner
336 pages, Euro 20,00
In his latest historical novel, Gerry Mottis tells the story of Domenica Matta: an actual woman who was tortured and sentenced to death in 1616 by the Court of Reason in Roveredo, in Italian Switzerland, as she was considered a “devilish woman” – a witch. Domenica’s case was unique, as she was tried not once, but twice: first as a child, by the Inquisitor sent by Carlo Borromeo, and then in her adult years. However, she shared her fate with many: there are archive documents in the towns of the Swiss Alps, where thousands of records of witchcraft trials are kept.
Mottis created an intense, compelling and moving story, based on the actual records of Domenica’s trial from the archives (the novel contains an Appendix where the original records are replicated). Another outstanding character is Kasper Abadeus, the Minister of Justice and the executioner of Domenica, also inspired by an actual man: the Papal executioner Mastro Titta, who throughout his life kept a diary in which he poured a sensitivity and a humanity that one would think impossible for his role.
In the words of Gerry Mottis: “I wanted to give a ‘face’ and a name to the many innocent victims of the past; I wanted to redeem their memory. The Inquisition and the Secular courts sent to death both women and men, but women were certainly the most affected, precisely because they were “females”, creatures that were considered “of lesser faith” by the credulous folk. In the Alpine valleys, pagan practices and tributes to Nature used to be very deeply rooted. Such practices have been fiercely persecuted; thousands of innocent people have been involved because they were considered satanic. Many documents recount these tragic facts. It is necessary to redeem the innocent, and make them known. This is the aim of my novel”.
Domenica Matta follows Mottis’s previous book, Terra Bruciata (“Scorched Earth”), which got the readers acquainted with the executioner Kasper: a child of his time, an official who used to torture and to kill, but also a man who, after meeting a certain woman, was shown humanity and love, and had to suffer the painful consequences of the injustice he was the arm of.
The story of Domenica and Kasper intertwines in an upsurge of tension. The story unfolds between Venice and the Comungrande of Mesolcina, in Switzerland; the writing, neat and sharp, faithfully depicts the events of the time, allowing the reader to dive into the feelings and experiences of the protagonists. In the surprising, poignant final pages, a cruel and unfair sentence falls upon Domenica: it is the moment in which Kasper will be able to fulfil his dream of love, freeing himself from the chains of the same injustice he is a link of.
Domenica stopped on the steep path.
“Have you been here before?”. Her voice was strained.
The women looked at each other. The time had come to reveal the truth to her.
“Don’t you remember?” sneered Pedrina, undoing the shawl from her shoulders and waving it in the air, as if invoking who knows what.
“What am I supposed to remember?”.
“You were there, too” said Giovannina. “With us!”
“Several times, actually” pointed out the oldest woman.
“It was real, then” stammered Domenica. “I didn’t just imagine it.”
“Imagined what?” asked Pedrina, who had knotted her shawl around her bulging belly, a mocking grin across her face. “The dances around the cauldrons? The melody of demons of nature? The unbaptized infants and foetuses, offered to the Devil? The supernatural powers you have developed? The lust of our men, who took us against nature?”
“It was the fever. I thought…”. For a minute she seemed to faint, then she pulled herself together. “It can’t be true. I don’t remember anything at all.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in 1975, he studied Italian literature and Byzantine archaeology at the University of Freiburg, receiving his Licentiate of Arts in 2001. He currently teaches History and Italian in several middle schools in Roveredo and professional schools in Giubiasco.
Since 2000 he has published six books, including Sentieri umani (“Human paths”, 2000); Un destino, una nostalgia (“A fate, a longing”, 2003); Il boia e l’arcobaleno (“The executioner and the rainbow”, 2006); Oltre il confine e altri racconti (“Beyond the line and other tales”, 2010); Altri mondi, (“Other worlds”, 2011); and his first historical novel, Fratelli neri. Storia dei primi internati africani nella Svizzera italiana (“Our black brothers. A chronicle of the early African internees in Italian Switzerland”, 2015).
Since 2005 he has also been the director of the drama company “Siparios”. Mottis also lends his linguistic expertise to the Swiss radio broadcast “La consulenza” (“Expert advice”) on Rete Uno.
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