Oudewater is famous for the Heksenwaag (Witches’ scales). This Weighing house, an official town building, became famous during the 16th century because people accused of witchcraft were offered an honest chance of proving their innocence. In many cities and countries such trials were usually rigged, resulting in the burning or drowning of hundreds of innocent people.
Many people accused of witchcraft from all over Europe (or at least, those who could afford the trip) made a head-over-heels trip to Oudewater to avoid being burned at a stake. After the weighing, they received an official certificate proclaiming them not a witch. Although nobody was ever found to be an actual witch in Oudewater, the weighings were still a public spectacle. Even today you can get a certificate that “your body weight is in proportion to your build.” The reasoning behind this is the old belief that a witch has no soul and therefore weighs significantly less than an ordinary person; this distinction allows the witch to fly on a broomstick.
So in medieval times when accusations of witchcraft (and resultant burnings) were prevalent, the town of Oudewater offered the accused a chance of proving his or her innocence. This was more special than it sounds. It is a sign of the growing power of a third force next to church and nobility, i.e. citizens. In a bid for total domination, the witchhunts were sanctioned by the church to break the power of the local herb doctors (especially the females). The citizens of Oudewater therefore were, simply by being honest, defying the church.
The Waag is still open as a tourist attraction, and official certificates are available.
Also visit us on: www.heksenwaag.nl