Vardø II – The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved

July 5, 2018

On a desolate windswept clifftop in Vardo lies the Steilneset Memorial, a commemoration of the 91 people tried and executed for witchcraft in 1621.

There are in fact two monuments. The first is what turned out to be Louise Bourgeois last piece before her death in 2010. Housed in a translucent structure, the piece comprises a chair surrounded by seven oval mirrors which represent the judges that condemned the women. A constant flame laps at the foot of the chair. It’s very simple and utterly powerful. It sends shivers down my spine. 

Alongside Bourgeois’s piece is a 400-foot-long wooden structure designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Inside the cocoon are 91 tiny windows, some facing the cliffs, some the church grounds. Each window is stark and undecorated, save a single lightbulb and a wooden plaque.

These witch trials took place all over the world, from Salem Massachusetts to the Basque region in Spain, Fulda in Germany, and North Berwick in the UK. The preponderance of  such trials on the cusp of the medieval period and the enlightenment seem to mark a transition from one age to another.

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