Nestled in the foothills of the Macayo Mountains, in Aragon, Spain, lies a quaint village plagued by a curse so strong that only the Pope can lift it.
Trasmoz was once a bustling settlement with a population of around 10,000 people, but today it numbers only 62 inhabitants, of which only 30 live there permanently. For many, the downfall of Trasmoz has a lot to do with the curse placed on the village by the Catholic Church centuries ago and the stigma associated with witchcraft. Its history is riddled with legends of witches and pagan rituals, and even the ruined castle at its center is said to have been built in a single night by a magician called Mutamín. How many of these stories are true, and how many are simple rumors spread by the Church to justify its actions is left to interpretation.
Photo: Benjamin Clari
Lola Ruiz Diaz, the custodian of Trasmoz Castle says that the rumors of witchcraft practiced in the once prosperous village were started by the occupants of the castle as a ruse. Back in the 13th century, they had started forging fake coins, and to keep the locals from investigating the constant scraping and hammering, they started telling storied about witches and mages rattling chains and forging cauldrons to brew potions in. Their plot worked, and since then, the village of Trasmoz has been seen as a haven for witchcraft.
But while this rumor may have benefited the coin makers, it also gave the Church a reason to exact revenge. In the 13th century, Trasmoz was a thriving community full of iron and silver mines, as well as plentiful wood and water reserves. Unlike its neighbors, it was also a secular settlement, which meant it didn’t have to pay dues or taxes to the nearby Monastery of Veruela. This angered the Church, so when rumors of witches practicing pagan rituals started to spread, the bishop of Veruela seized the opportunity to punish the entire village by requesting that the that the archbishop of Tarazona excommunicate it. That meant that residents of Trasmoz were no longer allowed to go to confession or take the holy sacraments at the Catholic church.
Instead of repenting – the only way to remove the excommunication – the people of Trasmoz continued their dispute with the Monastery of Veruela, which almost ended in open war when the monastery started diverting water from the village instead of paying for it. Pedro Manuel Ximenez de Urrea, the Lord of Trasmoz, took up arms against Veruela, but before actually going to battle, the matter was settled by King Ferdinand II, who decided that Trasmoz had been wronged by the monastery.
The Church never forgot this humiliating defeat, and continued to propagate the rumors of witchcraft being practiced in Trasmoz. In 1511, the abbot of Veruela – with explicit permission from Pope Julius II – cast a powerful curse on the whole village and its descendants, by chanting psalm 108 of the Book of Psalms, the most powerful tool the Church possesses to pronounce a curse. Since the curse had been sanctioned by a Pope, it could only be lifted by one, but to this day, no Pope has done so. Trasmoz also remains the only Spanish community to be excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
Photo: Miguel Rubira Garcia
In the following years, Trasmoz fell into decline. The castle burned in 1520 and remained in ruins for centuries, and after the Jews were expelled from Spain in the 15th Century, the local population dwindled. Today, only 62 sould still live in the village, half of which are permanent residents. Most of the houses are in dire need of repairs and the streets are always empty. There are no schools or shops in the village.
The only upside to the legends of witchcraft associated with Trasmoz is the impact they have had on tourism. Every year, hundreds of tourists visit the tiny Spanish settlement to see this once bustling witch haven, attend the local festival dedicated to witchcraft, and stop by the small witch-themed museum set up in Trasmoz Castle.