The Spanish Witch Town that Turned Church Excommunication into a Tourist Draw

  • Our eternal souls have been condemned to damnation for all eternity? What a business opportunity!

On the surface, there’s nothing special about Trasmoz. But then again, what would you expect about a tiny, 96-resident town in northern Spain.

Sure, there’s the ruined castle of Castillo de Trasmoz, but that can’t explain the crowds of tourists flocking to the village. There are, after all, dozens if not hundreds similar castles in Spain.

No, what’s bringing people into Trasmoz is its soul. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

You see, Trasmoz is the only town in Spain that’s officially cursed and excommunicated by the Catholic Church. And while we couldn’t find solid numbers, we’re going to claim that it’s one of the few such places in the world.

In case you don’t know, excommunication is among the harshest penalties a religious organization can dole out. In the case of the Catholic Church, excommunication deprives the sentenced of all of the church’s blessings, essentially condemning them to live as a spiritual outcast.

The town has lived under the church’s curse for hundreds of years. But any possible divine punishment has not come — in fact, the town is doing pretty well for itself.

“So far, being excommunicated and cursed hasn’t been bad for us. It’s turned out to be a point in our favor,” Lola Ruiz Diaz, one of Trasmoz’ few year-round residents, told The Guardian.

Trasmoz has gone all in on its condemnation, and today is known for witches and sorcery. And that’s what’s bringing in the tourists.

“Hocus pocus, didgeridoo. That’ll be $20. The gift shop is to the right.”

Petty Abbots

But Trasmoz’ excommunication actually has nothing at all to do with witches. In fact, the reasons behind the church’s curse are downright petty.

The saga that led to curses and hexes began more than 700 years ago, in the mid-1200s. At the time, Trasmoz was a well-off community, home to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.

But some two miles from the village is also the Veruela Abbey. Back in the times of our story, particularly disagreeable abbots presided over the monastery.

In 1252, things came to a head between Trasmoz and the monastery. The duo got into an argument over whether the villagers could fell trees in the area to burn as firewood.

The abbot liked his trees so much that he retaliated in a completely proportional and not at all overdramatic manner. He demanded that the Catholic Church excommunicate the entire village.

“One could call it a tantrum,” Ruiz said. One would be inclined to agree.

At that time, though, the church told the abbot to sit down and take a deep breath. No, the curse wouldn’t descend upon the village until some 250 years later.

At that time, the local lord Pedro Manuel Ximenez de Urrea managed to nearly start a civil war with the Veruela Abbey. This time, the topic of the argument was who could draw irrigation water from the nearby Moncayo mountains.

It may have been almost three centuries later, but the abbot at the time decided to use some old-fashioned tricks. He petitioned Pope Julius II for Trasmoz’ excommunication, and the request was granted.

We want to believe it was an appropriately stormy night when the abbot read aloud a curse from the Book of Psalms and cast Trasmoz out from the bosom of the church.

Shrug and Carry On

Once they learned of their excommunication, the villagers were terrified. Nah, just kidding — they didn’t give a hoot or a holler about the whole thing.

“In my view, the people of Trasmoz didn’t take very seriously all that the monastery launched against them, as they were used to it,” Ruiz said.

In fact, the excommunication of the village opened up a while new business opportunity. When the Castillo de Trasmoz was abandoned in 1530, the locals started using to produce counterfeit coins.

Of course, there’s a lot of hammering and banging when you make fake coins. The monastery, still bearing a grudge, started telling everyone that villagers were engaged in infernal industry.

“The strange noises were them, of course, making false coins. The monastery took advantage of it, telling people that Trasmoz was a witches’ village,” explained Ruiz.

Over the centuries, the village’s sorcerous reputation stuck, and not always without issues. The Spanish Inquisition had a field day with witch trials in the area, and the last death sentence for witchcraft in Trasmoz came as late as 1860.

Earthly politics also took their toll on the tiny village. When Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain, Trasmoz’ population fell drastically.

The downward spiral continued until early 2000s, when the Spanish government started handing out subsidies to villages that held events celebrating their unique cultural characteristics.

“We thought, what is Trasmoz known for? Witches,” recalled Ruiz.

Not Looking for Redemption

Now officially designated as a Village of the Witches, Trasmoz holds the annual Feria de Brujería, or Witchcraft Fair. Appropriately dressed villagers read visitors’ fortunes from tarot guards, sell herbal remedies, re-enact witch trials, and crown one villager the Witch of the Year — an honor Ruiz held in 2008.

“It’s a way to recover the village’s link to witches, while also reclaiming the persecution that these women were subjected to,” Ruiz said.

Feria de Brujería has grown into one of the most popular annual events in the whole region of Aragon. It’s supposed to be all in good fun, with no actual unholy pacts whatsoever, but Ruiz says that some guests tend to take it too seriously on the occasion.

“People show up at my house asking me to get rid of the evil eye. But you’re not going to find that here,” said Ruiz.

Despite doubling down on wicked witchcraft, the village has made up with the Veruela Abbey. The two organize cultural events together, and church services are once again held in the town’s church.

Trasmoz could probably even petition the Catholic Church to lift its curse after some 700 years. But really, why would they do that?

We’re not considering it, we’re not going to do it,” said Trasmoz’ mayor, Jesús Andia.

“Getting rid of it now would be like erasing everything. I think future generations would never forgive us.”

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