chapter  I
The night battles
Pages 32

On 21 March 1575, in the monastery of San Francesco di Cividale in the Friuli, there appeared before the vicar general, Monsignor Jacopo Maracco, and Fra Giulio dlAssisi of the Order of the Minor Conventual~, inquisitor in the dioceses of Aquileia and Concordia, a witness, Don Bartolomeo Sgabarizza, who was a priest in the neighbouring village of Brazzano.' He reported a strange occurrence of the week before. He had heard from a miller of Brazzano, a certain Pietro Rotaro, whose son was dying from a mysterious ailment, that in an adjacent village, Iassico, there lived a man named Paolo Gasparutto who cured bewitched people and said that 'he roamed about at night with witches and goblins'.' His curiosity aroused, the priest, Sgabarizza, had summoned the fellow. Gasparutto admitted that he had told the father of the sick child that 'this little boy had been possessed by witches, but at the time of the witchery, the vagabonds were about and they snatched him from the witches' hands, and if they had not done so he would have died.' And afterwards he had given the parent a secret charm which could cure the boy. Pressed by Sgabarizza's questioning, Gasparutto said that 'on Thursdays during the Ember Days of the year they were forced to go with these witches to many places, such as Cormons, in front of the church at Iassico, and even into the countryside about Verona,' where 'they fought, played, leaped about, and rode various animals, and did different things among themselves; and . . . the women beat the men who were with them with sorghum stalks, while the men had only bunches of fennel. l3

Disconcerted by these strange tales, the good priest immediately went to Cividale to consult with the inquisitor and the patriarch's vicar; and chancing upon Gasparutto again, conducted him to the

monastery of San Francesco. In the presence of the father inquisitor, Gasparutto readily confirmed his account and furnished new details about the mysterious nocturnal meetings: 'when the witches, warlocks, and vagabonds return from these games all hot and tired, as they pass in front of houses, when they find clear, clean water in pails they drink it, if not they also go into the cellars and overturn all the wine'; therefore, warned Gasparutto, addressing Sgabarizza, one must always have clean water on hand in the house. And since the priest did not believe him, Gasparutto offered to include him, along with the father inquisitor, in the mysterious gatherings: there were to be two before Easter, and 'having promised, one was then obliged to go.' And he declared that there were others who attended these reunions at Brazzano, Iassico, Cormons, Gorizia, and Cividale, but their names could not be revealed, because 'he had been badly beaten by the witches for having spoken about these things.' Trying confusedly to make some sense out of Gasparutto's tales, Sgabarizza concluded that there existed, or so it appeared, witches like Gasparutto himself, 'who are good, called vagabonds and in their own words benandanti . . . who prevent evil' while other witches 'commit

A few days went by. On 7 April, the priest of Brazzano reappeared before the Holy Office and reported that he had gone to Iassico to say Mass the Monday after Easter, and that he had run into Gasparutto there. After the Mass, as was customary, the priest had gone to a feast prepared in his honour. 'During the meal,' said Sgabarizza, 'I spoke about matters appropriate to the season, that is, guarding against sin and pursuing good and holy works.' But Gasparutto, who was present in his capacity as commissario (he must have been well-off: elsewhere there is a possible reference to his servants6), interrupted him to describe exploits of the usual company the night before: 'They crossed several great bodies of water in a boat, and . . . at the river Iudris one of his companions became afraid because a fierce wind had come up, and the waters were rough, and he remained behind the others . . .; and . . . they were in the countryside not far away, and they jousted and busied themselves with their usual pastimes.' The priest, his curiosity greatly aroused, had not been able to contain himself: 'I brought him home with me, and treated him kindly so as to draw other details out of him, if I could.' But this was to no avail.'