'Witch' grafitti uncovered in Sicily
Revealed, the agony of the witches of Sicily
A Sicilian palazzo once used as a headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition has been discovered to contain dozens of pieces of graffiti by "witches" condemned to burn at the stake.
The anguished scribblings and drawings were found on the walls during renovation work on the Palazzo Steri in Palermo, reviving what had been a nightmare for the many women held there to await their fate centuries ago.
One of the damned wrote: "Hot and cold I am / as I be consumed by the fever of malaria / my guts do tremble / and mine heart and spirit grow weak."
A drawing on a wall shows a scene typical of an auto da fe (act of faith) in which a monk rings a bell to announce those doomed to die.
In the Sicilian capital, then under Spanish rule, the autos da fe - spectacular ceremonies where Inquisition executions were announced and held - took place at the harbour.
One drawing in the palazzo, which was used by the Inquisition from 1623 to 1782 in its mission to stamp out heresy against Roman Catholicism, shows a boat with sails, while another is of a man in chains and a ship's prow. Thousands of Inquisition victims rotted in the building until it was their turn to die violently. A total of 188 - mostly women - were burned at the stake "in the name of God" for refusing to repent.
The newspaper La Repubblica said that by scraping away the surface of the walls "with his bare hands", Giuseppe Pitre, an ethnologist, had brought to light in 1907 hundreds of examples of graffiti on the first floor, where the male prisoners were kept.
He was perplexed, however, by the lack of signs left by the many women accused of witchcraft. Now, after the careful removal of layers of plaster and paint, experts have deftly brought the female graffiti back to life on the floor below.
However, the horrors of the building had begun long before the Inquisition.
On the palazzo's façade, marks of erosion have been identified as being caused by cages holding the skulls of nobles who rebelled against Charles V of Spain in 1530. The cages were left dangling from the tower for 200 years and were only taken down when the Inquisition was supressed by an enlightened viceroy, Domenico Caracciolo, in 1782. After the palazzo's restoration is finished in the autumn of 2007 it will become a museum of the Inquisition.