Confessions of a mountain
Text from the information sign by the parking lot at Käringberget.
Joy, cruelty, festivities… Much has happened in this particular place, some has faded or even fallen into oblivion.
Read these lines and understand why we need to cherish the memory of the events on this mountain and learn from history.
Today, Käringberget is known as an idyllic residential area in central Leksand. It was different just over 350 years ago. It was then that eight innocent women were beheaded and then thrown into the flames of fire on top of the mountain.
We are stepping back in history. Hysteria and cruelty characterized the witch trials that took place in our area in the 17th and 18th century. From Älvdalen, Mora and Lima, the consuming witch fire spread south and eventually reached Leksand. It was a very fragile time in Swedish history when the belief in witchcraft was strong with fictional stories about journeys to Blåkulla and visits to the devil himself. It was a time so fragile and weak that a child’s testimony could be enough to sentence a person to death.
February 6, 1671 is one of the darkest days in the history of Leksand. On this particular winter day, eight women who had ”confessed their witchcraft” were beheaded. Initially, twelve people were accused, but three were spared the death penalty and one died before execution. In order to be convicted, a confession was required. Saying no to the confession was not the easiest thing to do. It was often associated with accusations, taunts, torture and exclusion from a continued ordinary life, without acceptance and community. The choice was not obvious. In many cases, it became easier to ”confess”, to take one’s punishment, be offered the Holy Communion and thus obtain the forgiveness of sins, into the eternal rest. It was here, at the top of the mountain, that the bonfire was lit. Can you imagine the scenes that unfolded? It is likely that the flames could be seen for miles away.
New times – happier times
Thankfully, Käringberget has been a peaceful place since 1671. The mountain has made itself known as the mountain of youth and joy of life. Many people have hiked up the mountain in midsummer to follow the mighty sunrise from the rocks. Walpurgis has also had its traditions. In addition to organized Walpurgis Day celebrations in the evening, schoolchildren hiked up the mountain every year to welcome spring. In orderly ranks and with flags in their hands, they came walking, singing ”winter has ended ” and other songs. The tradition lasted until 1961.
In 1898, an observation tower was built on top of the mountain. The tower, 18 meters high, was one of several built during this time, as a direct result of tourism and people’s interest in hiking in nature. The tower was strategically well located if you wanted to see lake Siljan and the beautiful landscape. The tower was demolished in 1969 after being in poor condition. It is worth noting that the tower was located exactly where the burnings once took place. Anyone searching can find marks in the stones from the old tower.
At the top of the mountain there was also a popular cafeteria that opened in 1905, where girls in folklore costumes had busy days serving coffee with cake to all visitors. The cafeteria opened in May and stayed open all summer.
A more modern building was built in the early 1970s. When the building burned down for unknown reasons in January 2001, a new top cabin could be built and inaugurated the following year. An important player in rebuilding the house was the association Käringbergets Bystuga, which still works hard for the mountain and the people who live nearby. Popular events are the annual New Year celebration and other activities.
Short facts & curiosities:
- The road up to the top of the mountain was constructed during the years 1910–1914.
- The word käring means ”married woman” in Dalarna.
- The mountain has previously been called Kyrkberget or Predikstolsberget. In earlier times, it was a beacon and was part of a system for spreading messages about impending danger.
- There have been plans to build a large hotel on top of the mountain in the mid-1940s. The ideas were never realized, to the delight of many protesting Leksand residents. The ambitious plans included an elevator from the west side of the mountain and a posh hotel that was intended to be built in the functional style. The hotel was intended to stimulate the international flow of tourists who were expected to pour into the area after World War II.
Text: Johan Pellas
Through generous contributions, a Memorial Site has been created in memory of the victims of the witch trials in 1671.
Many thanks to: Leksands Kommun, Leksands Pastorat, Leksands Sparbank, Leksands Knäckebröd, Adam Munthe and several private donors.