Wicked Wessex!

Bellarmine jug

Object from: Wiltshire Museum

This might look like an innocent jug, but beer and wine weren’t the only liquids these ‘witch bottles’ carried…

Warding off evil

Salt-glazed stoneware jugs like this were common in the 1600s for carrying beer and wine. But they also had another use – as ‘witch bottles’ to ward off evil curses.

People would fill a jug with human hair, fingernails and sometimes blood or urine! Then it was sealed and hidden, usually upside-down, in the home. They were often put above fireplaces or doorways.

This jug was made in the Netherlands or Germany. It is one of a pair, thought to have been discovered by a labourer digging a road near Bath.

Who's the bearded man?

The bearded face on the jug is said to be Roberto Bellarmino, a Catholic cardinal (1600s). The name for the beer jugs was possibly coined by Protestants to make fun of Bellarmino because he disapproved of alcohol.

Mystery donor

Wiltshire Museums chose the Bellarmine jug to tell the story of Wicked Wessex. It’s an example of how suspicion – especially of witchcraft and evil spells – was rife in the 1600s and 1700s right across Europe.

This jug was left at Wiltshire Museum in 2010 by a mystery donor. Thankfully, it didn’t have any gruesome contents.

More strange facts

  • The magic only lasted while a witch bottle was hidden and sealed. 
  • Witch bottles from later periods were filled with rosemary, needles and pins, and red wine.
  • Other things that were buried in houses to repel evil included shoes and even dead cats!
Photo of a Bellarmine jar. On the front you can just see the face of a bearded man.
Bellarmine jug with bearded face on the neck.
Painting of Roberto Bellarmino in red cardinal's hat and gown.
Roberto Bellarmino, whom the jugs are said to be named after.
Photo of five old shoes found buried in houses. to ward off evil.
Shoes that were found hidden in houses to ward off evil.
Photo of a mummified cat
Mummified cat found hidden in a house, probably to repel evil spells.