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Witch trials in the arctic part of Norway


Steilneset memorial in Vardø has been erected to commemorate the 91 people who were found guilty of witchcraft and burnt at the stake here. The artist Louise Bourgeois and the architect Peter Zumthor have joined in creating evocative space, a burning chair and a 100-metre long memorial hall that communicate this gripping story.

> Vardø
Visit Vardø, the gateway to the North-east Passage and the Barents Sea – and Norway’s only town in the Arctic climate zone. Vardø has a fascinatingly varied history as the oldest town in North Norway; the oldest fishing village in Norwegian Lapland, a fortress town, the centre for the Pomor trade between North Norway and Russia, and the centre for medieval witch hunts.

> Witch Hunts: The biggest witch hunt in Norway went on in Vardø in the 17th century. In Norwegian Lapland, about 90 people were found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake, mostly in Vardø. The fires were lit at Steilneset, where the cultural trail now leads and where a monument is planned to the innocent victims of witch hunts, most of whom where women.

> Artist Louise Bourgeois and Steilneset Memorial
Louise Bourgeois was one of the most important artists in the world. She made her big breakthrough as an artist at the age of 71. Throughout her career, her area of focus was the visualisation of emotional pain and trauma. She had a rare gift of communicating this through her art, and she catered to the emotions of her audience in a very direct manner. Her last years, she became particularly known for a series of large spider sculptures in steel and bronze, of which Maman (mummy) is the largest. Her spider sculptures can be viewed at the art museums Tate Modern London and Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain.

When she was invited to participate in the Vardø project, she immediately identified herself with the victims and accepted the invitation. It was her last installation.

> Achitect Peter Zumthor and Steilneset Memorial

This history is communicated through excerpts from historical sources as well as art and architecture in an international style, realized in a unique collaboration between the artist Louise Bourgeois and the architect Peter Zumthor.

Bourgeois’ contribution includes a chair with five gas flames reflected in seven oval mirrors encircling the chair. The artwork is placed in a square building with dark glass walls and a steel ceiling designed by Zumthor. The building acts as a clear point of attraction, contrasting with its open, weather-beaten surroundings.

Zumthor’s architecture also encompasses a memorial hall 125 metres in length, with a lighted window for each of the victims who were executed in Finnmark county. The hall is formed by canvas fastened with steel wires to an external, exposed framework. The canvas has been specially manufactured to withstand the forces of nature that may threaten to sweep the entire construction into the sea at any time. Zumthor is renowned for his uncompromising approach, and here he has yet again pushed a building to the limits of its tolerance and endurance.

When you enter the memorial hall, you find yourself in an exposed position on a long and narrow wooden walkway, suspended approximately 60 cm above the textile and several metres above ground. The canvas is firmly and stably attached to the outer construction, but you would nevertheless not want to lean against it. The canvas is dyed black on the inside, and the 91 death sentences are presented on the walls, one by one. For each of the 91 verdicts, a small window has been cut into the canvas at a varying height. In front of each window, a single light bulb is suspended from a plain cord, supplying the only light in the room. The memorial hall creates an extraordinarily effective, physical experience of the narratives being communicated. Zumthor has definitely succeeded in creating an emotionally charged space. The memorial is located in the vicinity of the assumed site of the executions.


Welcome to Varanger Arctic Norway

In the far north and as far east as you can go in Norway, where the sky meets the sea, lies Varanger, bathed in the midnight sun and the northern lights of winter. Here the wild landscape meanders through bird-nesting cliffs, fishing villages, and rugged headlands – out to the end of the world.
Nature offers rivers teeming with fish, snow-clad plains, exotic king crabs, birds breeding in spring, leaping salmon, the shining sea, and dancing northern lights. People and traditions make Varanger an Arctic melting pot of communities and cultures. Varanger is a different experience. Scenery and settlements, the light, the colours, the lofty sky and wide horizon, exciting activities and the open people.


Read and learn more about Varanger Arctic Norway here: or send us an email to

Last updated: 09/01/2023

Source: Book Finnmark

Witch trials in the arctic part of Norway


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