The witch Matteuccia da Todi is an important figure in the history of Todi as well as Italian and European medieval history.
Matteuccia di Francesco – this lady’s real name – was born in Ripabianca in 1388.
She was a “Domina Herbarum”, an expert of herbs and with them she prepared ointments and herbal teas – that were said to heal the ailments of body and soul – also thanks to the recitation of magic words.
It would seem that her remedies were truly effective and therefore increasing numbers of people sought her help. Most of her advice was absolutely harmless and at most could have seemed strange or extravagant, in other cases she used more mysterious and macabre potions and rituals.
Among her clients and protectors there was one Braccio Fortebracci, a renowned condottiero and lord of a vast territory which included Perugia and, for a brief period, Todi as well. Some scholars say that this friendship was what ultimately lead to her death sentence: in fact, Matteuccia was accused of witchcraft. Possibly one way of targeting Braccio da Montone who had seigniory over central Italy to the detriment of Pope Martin V.
The records of the trial conducted in Todi at the “Tribunale dei Malefici – The Court of Evildoers” are still preserved today, at the Municipal historical archives. She was charged with thirty counts, including the crime of having persuaded one of Braccio’s men to gather the flesh of a drowned man to prepare an oil to heal the wounds of a patient, of being able to turn into a cat, to have flown on a goat to the famous noce di Benevento (the walnut tree of Benevento) – legend has it, as is recorded in the trial files, that it was a place where witches met in the presence of the devil – and of having drunk the blood of many infants.
By the end of the trial Matteuccia had not produced any form of defence, nor did anyone else do so for her, and she was found guilty, probably after torturing the defendants, which was very common practice at the time.
Matteuccia was one of the first women in Europe to be tried for witchcraft and the first to be burned at the stake.
On March 20 1428, at age 40, she was burned alive in Todi, in Piazza del Montarone, very close to Piazza del Popolo.
Bernardino da Siena also pressed charges against her, and it is said that the historical monumental linden tree in front of the Montesanto Convent was planted during the priest’s visit to Todi, precisely in 1428.
To date, the story of this woman is still studied, recounted and considered symbolic of the horrific events of the Inquisition.
In her honour there have been conventions, re-enactments, plays and even the Orto della strega Matteuccia of the Todi Agrarian institute: a bona fide plot and garden full of aromatic and medicinal herbs used for visits and in-depth studies of history and botany.
If you wish to read more about witch Hunts and more about Matteuccia,here is the link of the book “Witch Hunts in Europe and America: An Encyclopedia“