Witches and the Inquisition. Two recent articles in The Guardian have considered both subjects, the witches in rather greater depth than the Inquisition, the paper having reported research which shows current income levels in parts of Spain which had little Inquisition activity to on average be eight per cent higher than those which did.
The point being made is that engaging with new ideas and communicating these with others can be considered important for economic development. Offering new ideas is far less likely if a charge of heresy, followed by torture and execution is what results (not nowadays in Spain, but as was the case for some 350 years).
Not having seen this research, I can’t comment on its merits, but it acts as a neat link to the other article, which tells the tale of Trasmoz, a small village in Aragon; small being the operative word, as the population is only around 60. It has a rare claim to fame - two in fact. It is Spain’s only cursed village and the only one to have been excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
The curse, the chanting of Psalm 108, was pronounced in 1511, the excommunication having been commanded some time before - this had basically stemmed from a dispute with the monastery in a neighbouring village. Since the sixteenth century, generations of Trasmoz villagers have had little desire to have the curse lifted or to be readmitted to the fold. Nowadays, some 6,000 visitors turn up each July for the village’s witchcraft festival, this being a current-day benefit for the way in which, centuries ago, the curse was turned to the village’s advantage.
The castle in Trasmoz had been abandoned, and it became a factory for making fake coins. All the hammering and banging this entailed, it was explained, was the noise of witches who haunted the area - witches and sorcerers were rattling chains and forging cauldrons to boil magic potions at night. Trasmoz thus became known as a witches’ village, the Church having cursed the village and its people for being blinded by witchcraft.
Two men were sentenced to death in the late sixteenth century for forging fake coins. In 1860, Tia Casca was thrown down a deep well from which she didn’t escape. There had been an epidemic, and she was blamed - the last witch in Trasmoz to be killed and quite possibly the last in Spain.
Neither of these events owed anything to the Inquisition. King Felipe II ordered the deaths of the forgers; by 1860 there was no Inquisition. The odd thing about Trasmoz, from all I’ve been able to ascertain beyond what’s in The Guardian article, is that there is no mention of the Inquisition. Yet here was a village that had been excommunicated, was under a curse, had certainly once been a mix of Christian, Arab and Jew, and was also a haven for witches. Where, therefore, was the Inquisition?
The excommunication wouldn’t explain a lack of Inquisition activity. Exclusion from the sacraments and services of the Church didn’t mean that there was no obligation to canon law. Perhaps it was more the case that there were few if any rich pickings for the Inquisition in Trasmoz. Hard to say.
The Inquisition, and this may well have had something to do with where it was and how active it was, didn’t have a coherent approach to witches. It certainly took an interest, poring over the contents of Heinrich Kramer’s “Malleus Maleficarum” (”The “Hammer of Witches”, as it was translated), which first appeared in 1487, nine years after the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, had been responsible for the establishment of The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
In general terms, though, the Inquisition looked upon witchcraft as no more than superstition, a remarkably rational conclusion for an institution that history suggests wasn’t entirely rational. The Inquisition had cautioned against accepting everything that was contained in the Malleus. Of course, and being the Inquisition, it had its terrifying moments. The most infamous case was in Zugarramurdi, Navarre.
In November 1610, eighteen women were brought before the Inquisition. Six were burned at the stake and five others were burned in effigy; they were already dead. The other seven confessed and did penance.
In Mallorca, the most complex investigations concerned a Catalina Font in 1697. The charges related to demons, exorcisms, the telling of the future and so on. Her incantations included cries to Satan and her spells would usually require a lamb’s heart.
Catalina wasn’t burned at the stake. Instead she was sent into exile having received 100 lashes. She was portrayed as having been far more than a mere fortune-teller. She was known to have been a prostitute - “a worldly woman and a harlot” - and had apparently threatened other women and families with incantations.
Rather like curses, therefore, which they know all about in Trasmoz.