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A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of June, Solar Year 2018

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On June 19, 1603, Merga Bien, a citizen of the town of Fulda, Germany, was arrested and accused of witchcraft.

Merga Bien was a German woman born in the town of Fulda Germany. She was married three times and was the heiress of her first two husbands upon their deaths. In 1588, she married Blasius Bien and moved from the city; but they returned to Fulda after a conflict with her husband’s employers.

At that time, Prince Abbot Balthasar von Dembach, a Benedictine monk born into a family of knights, returned to power in 1602 after a long exile. Twenty six years earlier he had been forced to abdicate by an alliance of magistrates and knights against his religious prosecutions of the Protestant movement. Upon his return, Balthasar continued his policy of counter-reformation and achieved a complete restoration of Catholicism in the city and the principality.

Starting in 1602, Balthasar von Dembach ordered an investigation of witchcraft in the city and started trials which were presided over by Balthasar Nuss, who had attached himself to the abbot during his exile and was now appointed judge. In March 1603, the first arrests of  suspected witchcraft practitioners occurred in the city. On 19 June of that year, Merga Bien was arrested and put in jail.

Her husband protested before the High Judge in Speyer, a city at the center of the Reformation movement, and pointed out that she was pregnant; but Merga Bien was not released. In jail, Merga Bien was forced by coercion to confess to the murder of her second husband and her children with him and one member of the family of her husband’s employers, and that she had taken part in a sabbath of Satan.

Merga Bien’s pregnancy was considered an aggravating circumstance; she and her husband had had no children although they had been married for fourteen years. She was forced to confess that her current pregnancy was the result of intercourse with the Devil.

Merga Bien was judged guilty of witchcraft and was burned alive at the stake in Fulda in the autumn of 1603. The Fulda witch trials continued from 1603 until 1605, resulting in the deaths of approximately 250 people. After Balthasar von Dembach’s death in 1606, the presiding judge Nuss was arrested by the new Prince-Abbot and spent 12 years in prison before being beheaded in 1618.

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