Publicador de contenidos

Back to 2023_10_18_FYL_Henningsen

Henningsen and the witch hunt


Published in

Diario de Navarra

Jesús M. Usunáriz

Full Professor of Modern History and author of the book "Maleficium".

In 1964, Gustav Henningsen, anthropologist of the Dansk Folkemindesamling (Danish Folklore Institute), specialist in popular beliefs, and his wife, Marisa Rey, traveled to Spain, from Copenhagen, to take the first steps in the elaboration of a thesis on witchcraft in Galicia, advised by Julio Caro Baroja, of whom Gustav would always consider himself a disciple. From that moment on, he began a research centered on the collections of the file Histórico Nacional de Madrid, where he would become known among the civil servants with the endearing nickname of "the dangerous Dane".

There, in the Inquisition Section, as a result of his perseverance, his methodical good work and with the constant support, financial aid and committee of his beloved Marisa, researcher, translator and writer, whom he had married in 1957, he found, in 1967, the reports of the Inquisitor Salazar y Frias: thousands of pages that gathered first-hand information on the process against the witches of Zugarramurdi, which would become the definitive topic of his doctoral thesis . The result of that tireless work was his work The Witches' Advocate, published in 1980 (republished by the City Council of Logroño in 2010). That book has become an essential reference letter to understand, not only the witch hunts in 17th century Spain, but the phenomenon throughout Europe, as it was a review and a reflection that put an end to many of the current clichés about that terrible manhunt.

From that moment on, Gustav undertook an inexhaustible work of research working, for example, with the financial aid of the historian Jaime Contreras, with the thousands of processes gathered in the inquisitorial "relations of causes". For this and other works he undertook a work of dissemination in numerous congresses, conferences and publications (more than a dozen monographs, more than a hundred scientific articles), such as another book, an essential complement to his thesis , The Salazar documents: inquisitor Alonso de Salazar Frías and others on the basque witch persecution (published in 2004 and translated into Spanish in 2021 by the UPNA), or his participation, of which he was particularly proud, in the symposium organized by the Vatican, in 1998, on the Inquisition. There he had a meeting with John Paul II, who, as he said, "although I am a Lutheran, left a deep impression on me".

Fortunately, and contrary to tradition, his work was recognized during his lifetime with the tributes that, for example, took place in Logroño, Pamplona and Zugarramurdi in 2010 (published by the International Journal of the Basque programs of study , in the volume graduate Akelarre), or in the recent monograph of the magazine Príncipe de Viana, coordinated by Ignacio Panizo (2020), coinciding with the donation he made of his documentary and bibliographic collection to the Public University of Navarra, which has undertaken to preserve and disseminate his bequest.

On October 17 of this year 2023, Gustav Henningsen, Gustav, left this world to embark on a new journey, this time to the Father's house and, there, surely, to start a new research that will never end.