Oudewater (Old Water) and Witches

“Water" is the word! Finally, after months of dry, hot weather there is some relief from the sky! The nearby river Lek is already impassable due to the long dry spell. Luckily we were planning to go up the Hollandse Ijssel towards Gouda where there is no water depth problem.

On our way to Gouda we stopped at the medieval town of Oudewater. We found a mooring spot on the town pier just below Saint Michael’s Church. Adjoining the church is an unusual saddle-roofed belfry tower. We were corrected when assuming it was the church tower. It actually is the old watch tower and has arrow slits for defence. Inside this protestant church is enshrined the wooden portal of a destroyed local synagogue to pay homage to the loss and suffering of the regions jewish brothers and sisters. What a touching example of Christianity! 

The citizens of Oudewater are very proud of their town. One local even suggested we rename our boat from “Freshwater” to “Oudewater”! 

The pride also extends to the painter Gerard David who was born in Oudewater in the 15th century. His mostly religious paintings are spread from the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam right up to museums in Antwerp, Vienna, Berlin and Philadelphia. Photographies of his paintings are exhibited on house walls all over town.

Unfortunately Oudewater wasn’t exempt from the witch hunts which took place all over Europe from the 15th to the early 17th century. People used to point the finger at people, males and females, for all the ills that befell them. They blamed individuals for pestilence, famine, droughts and infestations. It just so happened that poor, single, older women didn’t have the support system and means to defend themselves. There for they became the image of witches in fairy tales. Tests were applied to prove their guilt, like e.g. the" water test". If a submerged person started to float they are a witch, if they sank they were innocent by which time they were mostly dead anyway. 

The "tear test" was another method: if the accused didn't cry under some form of torture they had to be witches too.

Oudewater instead had an approved witches scale for the purpose of weighing people under suspicion. 

Witches were said to be unusually light of weight allowing them to fly or ride broom sticks. "The Museum de Heksenwaag” (The Witches Scale Museum) in Oudewater still hands out certificates 'that a person is of appropriate weight' and there for exempt from being burned at the stake. 

Just to make sure I consumed one of those nice Dutch apple pies before going for my weighing. (By the way, it says 114 Dutch pounds which is 57 kilos and not 774 pounds!)

Today the trick in Oudewater would be to stay slim, as there are very tempting delicatessen shops and cafés.

It's all together a lovely town full of historic buildings and as it is fairly unknown, it's not overrun by tourists! There are plenty of greener moorings prior to the first and after the second bridge. All are without electricity but free of charge. 

You can also visit the Rope Museum. Making ropes for the big ships of the Dutch East India Company” was one of the city’s main industries. Get "roped in” and don’t miss this city when heading to Gouda!

© Austin Robinson 2019