“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” — George Orwell
Maria Bertoletti Toldini was tried and convicted of witchcraft in 1716 in the Italian village of Brentonico. Now, 300 years later, she is getting a retrial. Maria was a childless widow who had a dispute with family members over an inheritance. She was in a vulnerable societal position, so her relatives took advantage and accused her of witchcraft. She was beheaded and her body burned.
There are people now who have taken up Maria’s cause and have worked to clear her name. Some in the town think a trial is a waste of resources, but, as reported in The Guardian, local culture minister Quinto Canali believes “the effort–which he says will involve a real judge in a real court of appeals who will be familiar with the laws of the time–is an attempt to come to grips with a brutal period in European history and strip it of its folkloric romanticism.”
I applaud this effort because it’s an attempt to correct an historical wrong. While this official admission of injustice can do nothing to change the past, it can reshape the perception of that past through an enlightened view of the world that condemns a past fraught with fear, ignorance, cruelty, and the tyranny of the majority.
I find this to be particularly important to women. A careful study of the past allows all of us to reinforce our diligence in not slipping backwards in a quest for justice and equality. And with the rise of religious fundamentalism in many parts of the globe, and with that a belief that women possess a strain of evil, this is more important now than ever.