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Useful Notes / Zugarramurdi Witch Trials

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Zugarramurdi Cave, where the witches supposedly gathered.
The witch trials of Zugarramurdi in 1610 are probably the best known case of witch-hunting scandal in Spain, as well as, contrary to popular belief, the first, last and only major case in the history of the Spanish Inquisition where supposed witches were prosecuted big time.

The Spanish Inquisition was not enthusiastic about witches, with the mainstream stance being that they didn't exist to begin with, and therefore anybody claiming to be one was lying or clinically insane. For them, witchcraft was considered a silly superstition of the underdeveloped northern Spain and the backwards Protestant countries, which meant that, ironically enough, proposing the existence of witches could take anybody to the inquisitorial dungeons on the accusation of heresy much more easily than being accused of being a witch. Even reports of black sabbaths were not taken seriously, being considered to be likely just orgies of lustful sinners spiced with rudimentary drugs. However, in 1608, the Spanish land of Navarre would be splashed by a bout of witch-hunting hysteria coming from the nearby France, a very different religious landscape where King Henry IV had started a zealous campaign to stamp out a supposed plague of thousands of Satan worshippers.

Everything started when María de Ximildegui, a girl returned from France, suddenly claimed to be a repentant witch and accused ten neighbors of Zugarramurdi of being her cronies. Those opted to go "yeah, whatever," knowing any punishment would be little and seeking to end all the harassment, and performed a public apology that at the time was enough to solve the issue. However, there is the suspicion that the accusations were motivated by political enmities between jurisdictions, and this might have something to do with the fact that the case would not be closed so easily. When the Logroño branch of the Inquisition heard about the incident, two inquisitors named Alonso de Becerra and Juan Valle Alvarado deployed to investigate it, but then, suddenly ans explicitly disobeying higher orders, they arrested and tortured the accused, who in vain explained their confession had been all a charade.

The Inquisition found the whole thing bizarre, so they asked Becerra and Alvarado to slow things down, and meanwhile sent a third inquisitor, Alonso de Salazar y Frías, to be sure. It was useless, as Alvarado had started spreading hysteria by the nearby lands, much to ire of the local bishop, and now there were hundreds of neighbors accusing each other of being witches, often by the pettiest and most mundane enmities. Amidst all the chaos, the two inquisitors arm-twisted the unexperienced Salazar into collaborating, and at the end, they hosted a monumental auto-da-fé with around thirty prisoners. Most of them declared repentance and were pardoned with some prison and penance, as it was the Inquisition's law,note  but five of them did not, possibly driven over the edge by the torture and pressure, and therefore were burned in the stake. Other six human-sized dolls were burned as well to represent six prisoners who had died in the dungeons.

In 1611, Becerra and Alvarado looked to continue their campaign of terror around Navarre, having convinced some envoys of King Philip III to support them, but this time Salazar's conscience prevailed and led him to complain about his colleagues, crying out the already too obvious fact that they were batshit crazy. The Inquisition finally reacted in proportion and issued an Edict of Grace, a general amnesty for all the accused of witchcraft, also ordering that no prisoner would be declared guilty without proof. This started to quell the madness, which had reached respectable proportions, and in 1614, after reading Salazar's meticulous report, the Inquisition proclaimed officially the Zugarramurdi affair had been a tragic fuckup not to be ever repeated. The lands soon returned to normality, although the two loons and the bitch who started it all went sadly unpunished aside from light amonestations.

The case's repercussions in history were deep, even today. Due to its high publicity, it colored the understanding of many people about the witch hunts in Spain, giving the impression that, one one hand, there were real Satanic enclaves in the north of the peninsula, and on the other hand, the Spanish Inquisition was violently repressing them - even although, in this case, the Spanish Inquisition only acted to stop such repression and saved the lifes of potentially hundreds, if not thousands of people. Modern historians believe only 59 witches were burned in all of the Spanish Inquisition's history,note  in contrast with the five-figure numbers of executions found in countries like Germany or Switzerland, and it could be safely said that this could only be prevented thanks to the experience of the Zugarramurdi incident.

Ironically, this incident echoed one very similar happened in the Indies back in 1539, where Carlos Ometochtzin, a Christian native, was burnt in the stake for polygamy and pagan sympathies in a process actually moved by indigenous enmities and an overzealous bishop in charge. Even King Charles V and his churchmen found this an overreaction, which was the cause that the indigenous would be ruled out of inquisitorial jurisdiction when the Spanish Inquisition was later established in America.

In present day, Spain has a mixed opinion of the Zugarramurdi case. Since The '90s, Zugarramurdi is a popular turistic location, visited by tons of people who want to take a pic on the supposed "cave of the witches" and attend the fun coven-themed festivals hosted by the locals, while Neo-Pagans, ecofeminists and other various pseudo-history buffs also consider it an iconic place for their particular ideas. Historians are not so thrilled, often considering the topic a part of the Spanish Black Legend and lamenting how it influenced the historical portrayal of the country and its traditions, especially to the opposite direction of how history actually developed. It's not a debate that will end anytime soon - and for the moment, the akelarrenote  will not either.

In fiction:



  • 1984 Spanish film Akelarre addresses the incident.
  • The aptly named Witching & Bitching is a semi-comedic take on all the incident.


  • The 2023 historical novel Las brujas y el inquisidor by Elvira Roca Barea is set in the trials.

Live-Action TV

  • The Big Bad in the fourth season of True Blood is a witch that was burned by the Spanish Inquisition in Logroño in 1610.


  • Spanish Folk band Trobar de Morte has a song named "Zugarramurdi" in the album Witchcraft, that deals with the incident.