8 C
Thursday, 21 January 2021
No menu items!
Home City Guide Interesting places The witch weighing house near Utrecht

The witch weighing house near Utrecht

Last updated 3 months ago by Michael Darmanin

Torture, trials, imprisonment and being burnt at the stake. Witch hunts in Europe accounted for 50,000 people during a torrid period between 1580 to 1630. Of those killed, around 80% were women, most often over 40.

The Netherlands was less affected than most countries, with only Portugal having less cases of this barbaric manifestation of fanaticism. And the low country also gained fame for becoming the first land to discontinue with the trials.
But while the blaze of witch hunt raged across Europe, some of the flickering flames did affect the Dutch. They did not remain totally unsinged by the atrocities.

Yet, it was the small town of Oudewater in the Utrecht province that led the way for the accused to save themselves. Not only the Dutch, but people from all over Europe, accused or fearing accusation, travelled to this ancient town for their literal get out of jail card.

The ancient town of Oudewater with its uncertain origins lies 31.5 km from the city of Utrecht. Today, it takes about 35 minutes to drive there from the city via A12.

Saved by the scale

The Waag of Oudewater was built in 1482 as a freight weighing house. In 1545, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V blessed Oudewater with the privilege of carrying out fair weighing process. Essentially it meant that the town’s weigh house could weigh individuals and determine whether or not he or she was actually a witch. Oudewater was the only place in Europe recognized as a place for fair weighing.

At the height of the witch trials of the 16th century, this weighing house helped many to prove their innocence. Since then it has been known as Heksenwaag (the witches weighing house)

It was in the Oudewater Waag, with tested scales that were not rigged, people could be weighed and thereby obtain certificates stating that they were too heavy to be a witch. Certificates would state “the body weight is proportional to build”. The prevailing ‘logic’ behind branding someone a witch was that the person was soul-less and hence lighter than what he/she should weight based on his/her build. This was the reason witches could supposedly whizz around on a broomstick.

How many people were thus saved in this curious way? Opinions vary.
Historical study by Kurt Baschwitz suggests that while less harmful than the deliberately rigged scales that were designed to denounce the accused as witches, Oudewater Waag also used the system for commercial purposes. The city authorities cut lucrative deals to generate certificates of innocence. It remained a source of income for the town.

The Witch Weighing scales at Heksenwaag. Photo credit: Onderwijsgek at Dutch Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5 NL, via Wikimedia Commons

Museum de Heksenwaag

Today The Waag remains open as a museum, with a red and white logo featuring the silhouette of a witch on a broomstick. At Museum de Heksenwaag, Oudewater, ‘official certificates’ are still handed out to tourists, reiterating that the person weighed is not a witch. Of course, with burning at stake out of the equation in modern times, there are facilities to dress up as witches, complete with hooked nose and broomstick, and get your pictures taken.
With Corona regulations in vogue, there are currently pictures of witches with their hooked noses hidden by face masks, and the request to keep a 1.5 m distance denoted by a the drawing of broomstick as a measure.

There are other attractions in Oudewater as well. The town hall dates from 1588 and features a stork’s nest. The city centre has more than 250 protected houses.

Museum de Heksenweg. Photo credit: Michiel1972, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Arunabha Sengupta
Arunabha Sengupta
Arun is a freelance writer, sports correspondent, statistician and a tour guide. He has lived in The Netherlands for the last 12 years and is in love with the country. He is especially fascinated by the way the country combines fascinating history with modern liberalism, the busy touristic hub with the quaint peaceful countryside.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Popular in the last 7 days

Leidsche Rijn project is creating hope for housing crisis in Utrecht

Housing shortage in Utrecht and in the Netherlands has always been a topic spoken about. This crisis particularly affects students, young people, and the...

Binge worthy movies to watch during Christmas

The final countdown has already began! Amidst strict corona rules, it is fairly difficult to travel at places. So it is perfect to enjoy...

‘Utrecht’ is the new ‘Amsterdam’ quotes CNN

Utrecht has been labelled the new 'Amsterdam' of the Netherlands for vacationers this coming year after a post on the travel section of the...

Traveling back to the medieval era: Castle de Haar

This article looks at the Castle de Haar as a tourist attraction in Utrecht city.

More from this Author

Marco van Basten, the Swan of Utrecht, turns 56

Marco van Basten, the Swan of Utrecht, was perhaps the most complete of attacking footballers. He turned 56 last week.

Sean Connery’s Netherlands connection: Diamonds are Forever

Sean Connery, who passed away on 30 Oct 2020, had shot a couple of memorable scenes in Amsterdam for the 1971 Bond movie Diamonds are Forever.

This winter Utrecht residents can tap into hidden treasures in their own houses

Residents of Utrecht can save major sums by insulating their homes this winter

Utrecht cafés and restaurants can temporarily extend their terraces till 1 April 2021

Cafés radiating conviviality, warmth, a sense of belonging; where we flock for both companionship and solitude. The soul of continental Europe is perhaps ideally...