The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved: the Witch Burning Memorial in Vardø

A sobering excursion on sunset to the Steilneset Memorial which faces the wild ocean and is located opposite a church and graveyard in the tiny town of Vardø.

That so many people were persecuted, during the time of Danish rule & law, over a long 95 years from the small area was truly disturbing.  All the men were Sami (indigeneous to Lapland). The guide books were in English and each person’s trial transcript and short bio was included.  Some were denounced by their husbands or neighbours with whom they had quarrelled. The last story was particularly sad…a 100  year old Sami sharman ‘confessed’ to making his own drum and using it to summon up the spirits….

The Steilneset Memorial is a monument in Vardø, Norway, commemorating the trial and execution in the seventeenth century of 91 people for witchcraft. The memorial was designed by artist Louise Bourgeois and architect Peter Zumthor and was opened in 2011. It was Bourgeois’ last major work.

In the seventeenth century, a series of witch trials occurred in Norway, of which the Vardø witch trials were among the most substantial. Over a hundred people were tried for witchcraft, with 77 women and 14 men being burned at the stake.

The northern district of Finnmark, within which Vardø lies, experienced the highest rate of accusations of witchcraft of any part of Norway, and an unusually high proportion of executions arising from the trials. The trials peaked in 1662–1663; the memorial was built 348 years later.



an eternal flame
burns in a chair



into the pod goes Margaret and Fran…
A single light bulb illuminates each randomly placed window to represent the lamps in the small curtainless windows of the houses of the region
each person is commemorated by a window and light next to scroll with name and story of their lives and alleged ‘crimes of witchcraft’


the memorial is housed in a fabric coccoon
it was poignant opportunity to reflect on life





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