TLocated in the foothills of northern Spain, the village of Trasmoz attracts thousands of tourists every year. For many, the attraction is not the half-ruined castle or the breathtaking mountain scenery, but a curious peculiarity of history: Trasmoz is Spain’s only excommunicated and cursed village.
“So far it has not been bad for us to be excommunicated and cursed,” says Lola Ruiz Diaz, one of the 47 people who live all year round in Trasmoz, around 80 kilometers northwest of Zaragoza. “It turned out to be a point in our favor.”
In summer, up to 6,000 tourists can come to the village for the Witches Festival in July and explore its tiny magic Museum and stages the curse that was thrown on the village. Few villagers ever expected Trasmoz’s unique status to become a tourist magnet. But two decades ago, when locals began to regain the stories that had changed and shaped Trasmoz over the years, a steady trickle of fascinated visitors emerged.
Its unorthodox past can be traced back to a series of quarrels that began more than 700 years ago. Trasmoz was then a wealthy community of Christians, Jews and Arabs with a powerful opponent: the neighboring Veruela monastery.
A dispute between the two over whether the villagers in the area were allowed to cut trees for firewood came to a head in 1252, which led to the abbot of the monastery demanding the excommunication of Trasmoz from the Catholic Church. “You could call it a tantrum,” said Ruiz.
The second row came more than 250 years later, this time via access to the waterways that meander through the nearby Moncayo Mountains. After the nobles of the country sided with Trasmoz, the monastery took revenge. With the permission of the then Pope Julius II, the abbot recited a curse from the Psalms on Trasmoz. To hear Ruiz talk about it, the villagers shrugged and life went on as usual. “In my opinion, the people of Trasmoz did not take everything the monastery brought against them very seriously because they were used to it,” she said.
Some even tried to use the status of the village to their advantage. Decades after Trasmoz was excommunicated, the castle’s administrators began covertly using the site to produce counterfeit coins. To explain the hammering, beating, and other noises that came from the castle in the middle of the night, they told people that witches roamed the area.
“The strange noises were of course the wrong coins,” said Ruiz. “The monastery took advantage of it and told the people that Trasmoz was a witch village.”
The reputation stayed. Trasmoz became known as the village of sorcery, with sometimes fatal consequences. The last local indicted for witchcraft was Joaquina Bona Sánchez, known as Tía Casca, who was thrown into a steep gorge in 1860 after being blamed for a spate of deaths in the village.
Over time, Trasmoz fell into decline, whether as a curse or simply as an echo of the events that were taking place across Spain. The castle was abandoned and the estimated population of 700 began to decline after Spain ordered the expulsion of Jews – followed by Muslims – in 1492 and, more recently, urbanization.
However, the downward spiral was halted after local officials announced subsidies for villages to host events celebrating their unique characteristics. One village maintained its ceramic tradition, another decided to work with wood.
“We thought what Trasmoz is known for?” Said Ruiz. The answer came immediately. “Witches.”
So the annual one Feria de Brujería – or Witches Festival – was born, filled with tarot card readings, lotions made from local herbs and crowned with the coronation of a villager as “Witch” of the year. “It is a way to reconnect the village with witches while regaining the persecution these women have faced,” said Ruiz.
It’s a light-hearted take on Trasmoz’s dark history, though some tourists take it more seriously. “People show up at my house and ask me to get rid of the evil eye,” says Ruiz, who was named Witch of the Year in 2008. “But you won’t find that here.”
The festival has become one of the best attended in the northern region of Aragón, said Jesús Andia, the mayor of Trasmoz. “In the beginning it was symbolic for the village,” he said. “But we quickly noticed that people really like it.”
Most of the villagers were open to the idea of promoting his long-standing feud with the church. “There are a few – very few – who take it personally and don’t like it,” said Andia. “But the rest of the community knows that the villages have to cling to something these days or they risk disappearing.”
Almost eight centuries after the excommunication of Trasmoz, relations with Veruela Monastery have smoothed out, with the two temporarily joining forces to organize cultural events.
Even so, the villagers are not interested in turning to the Pope to see if the excommunication or the curse can be lifted. “We don’t think about it, we won’t do it,” said Andia. “Getting rid of it now would be like erasing everything – I think future generations would never forgive us.”