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Magical Potions of Gostanza from Libbiano
Photo © CreativeFire - Getty Images via CanvaPro
Photo © CreativeFire - Getty Images via CanvaPro

Gostanza da Libbiano: story of an alleged witch

A tale of discrimination. Living in the 16th century, Gostanza was a midwife, spinner, healer and fortune teller

This story takes place between Libbiano and San Miniato where a woman called Gostanza moved after becoming widowed.

These lands were then part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. She mainly practiced the activities of a midwife and healer, becoming so good that she was recognized as one of the best in the area.

Those who, like her, did these jobs that were halfway between white magic and natural medicine certainly didn't go unnoticed and, perhaps due to some unsuccessful healing or gossip, Gostanza was put on trial in November 1594 on charges of witchcraft. She was 59 years old.

  • 1.
    The trial against Gostanza
  • 2.
    The liberation of Gostanza
  • 3.
    The end of witch hunts

The trial against Gostanza

Witch in the woods
Witch in the woods - Credit: Kris Cole da Getty Images Pro via CanvaPro

During the trial, Gostanza da Libbiano denied any links with the world of magic, as we are told in documents that are still preserved in the bishop's archive in San Miniato.

She was imprisoned and subjected to tremendous torture. In the end, she was so exhausted that she confessed and stated she was a witch and that she had had carnal intercourse with the devil, confirming the accusations that had been leveled against her. Her words had been extorted by force.

The liberation of Gostanza

View of Chinni
View of Chinni - Credit: LukeLuke68 da Getty Images via CanaPro

The story reached as far as Florence and the inquisitor Dionigi di Castrocciaro took the situation in hand. Not believing the statements Gostanza had made about herself, he freed her by inviting her to stop practicing her profession as a healer and to change home. She then moved from San Miniato to Chianni and from that moment on we no longer know anything about her life.

The story of Gostanza is not an isolated one: like her, many people were targeted as enemies to fight. Often, single men and women on the fringes of society were those chosen.

The end of witch hunts

Perhaps Gostanza da Libbiano owes the fortune of having survived to the gradual end to "witch hunting" in those years. With the passage of time, this hunting turned into a search for other scapegoats: plague-spreaders, anti-socials, Jews, political opponents, and then homosexuals and lesbians.

The life of Gostanza da Libbiano is detailed in a film directed by Paolo Benvenuti, presented in 2000 at the Locarno Film Festival and winner of the Jury Prize, and a book titled “Gostanza, the witch of San Miniato” written by the essayist Franco Cardini.

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