Steilneset Memorial - History and Facts | History Hit

Steilneset Memorial

Vardø, Norway

Peta Stamper

02 Sep 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Steilneset Memorial

The Steilneset Memorial in Vardo, Norway’s easternmost town, is an incredible major artwork by Louise Bourgeois and architect Peter Zumthor commemorating the trail and execution of 91 people accused of witchcraft in 1621. During the 17th century, a series of witchcraft trials took place in Norway, with Vardo seeing the highest number of executions.

Steilneset Memorial history

On Christmas Eve 1621, the northern coast of Norway suffered a huge and sudden storm. At the time, a large number of the local male population were at sea and 10 boats holding 40 men were drowned.

This tragedy coincided with new laws on sorcery and witchcraft that came with the union of Denmark and Norway, although a lack of central authority in northern Norway meant local authorities could govern as they liked.

Several women were brought to the Vardohus Fortress and tortured, accused of flying to meet Satan at the witches’ sabbath. Many of them confessed after torture, and were subsequently burned at the stake.

In the winter of 1662 and 1662, Vardo in Finnmark (modern-day northern Norway) saw a peak in violent trials and executions of those accused of witchcraft. In all the trials, the men executed were indigenous Sami.

Steilneset Memorial today

Inaugurated 348 years after the most notorious trials, the Steilneset Memorial installation dominates the dramatic landscape of Vardo. The memorial was commissioned by the people of Vardo as well as several national bodies, and comprises two separate buildings.

The first is a 410 metre long wooden structure framing a fabric cocoon; the second a square smoked glass room that houses the Bourgeois artwork – a chair surrounded by flames reflected in mirrors.

Getting to Steilneset Memorial

Open 24 hours a day to visit, you can reach the remote Steilneset Memorial just off the E75 highway that links Vardo with mainland Norway.

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