The witches of Épila: the last executions for witchcraft in Spain

Between the years 1629 and 1651, the then Count of Aranda, Antonio Ximénez de Urrea, undertook a brutal witch hunt in the Aragonese towns of Épila and Almonacid de la Sierra (north), which resulted in the torture, ridicule and execution of several women designated as servants of the devil by different signs interpreted as diabolical by their judges.

A story that was submerged in the waters of oblivion and that the historian and researcher Carlos Garcés recovered in his book “The witches and the countess. Hunting for women in Épila and Almonacid, and the witches of Trasmoz”, an exciting story, which is It is based on a meticulous search of the documents that are still preserved on these processes in archives of Bordeaux (France) and in the Spanish archives of Lérida, Zaragoza and Huesca.

As the author explains in an interview with EFE, it is a history book about women on both sides of the board: those falsely accused of being witches due to comments, rumors or evidence prepared on the one hand, and on the other, the Countess of Aranda, Luisa de Padilla, wife of the promoter of these bloody trials and one of the most important writers of the 17th century.

In her new book, Garcés talks about some women who they carried on their backs the fears and superstitions of a society who undressed them in search of the sign of the devil, who systematically tortured their bodies to force confessions and who finally executed them by hanging or burning.

Although some of these alleged witches were acquitted or simply banished, many others they paid with their lives after countless hours of torment.

One of them was Ana Marco, tried and executed in 1634 at the behest of a Capuchin friar, who simulated a “vomiting of spells” in the exorcism to which he was subjected to get rid of the supposed diabolical influence of this woman, who was blamed. In addition, damage to fruits and crops and the deaths of people and animals.

“So they wouldn’t torture her again, Ana Marco began to attribute curses to herself and to denounce other women as witches,” says Garcés in his book, who indicated that this type of behavior had already started three years earlier, with another supposed demoniac named Luisa Nuella, a great witch hunt in the area.

The woman died in 1634 with a garrote, a fate similar to that experienced in 1629 by Isabel Alcaide, whose mistake was to speak to some co-workers about the damage that the counts of Aranda had caused her when they expelled her from Épila.

Isabel Alcaide died without confessing, despite some torture that, according to the accusers, should have served for the accused “to say, declare and confess the deaths, evils and damages that she has done with her witchcraft and spells in the town of Épila and other places and parts of the present kingdom, as well in people as in animals and crops”.

Torture and death were also received in these trials by Luisa Nuella, Gracia Gascón and María Vizcarreta, hanged in Épila in 1651 and referred to by the author as “the last woman executed in Aragon and Spain for a witch”.

Forty years after the famous episode of the Salem witches (USA) and at a time when the witch hunt in Europe was coming to an end, María Vizcarreta, a midwife by trade, was accused of being a witch and of having killed a child of almost two years and a newborn son of the Justicia de Lumpiaque.

Despite the fact that the minutes of the process have not been preserved, a document prepared by a lawyer from Zaragoza at the request of the Count of Aranda reveals some of the keys to the trial.

“Valgate the devil, how beautiful you are”, These are the words that, according to the father of a 19-month-old boy, Vizcarreta said of his son as he lifted him up and gave him various parties.

The death of the child a little later and other spells that were imputed to him finally sealed the fate of this woman, on whose back the judges found, after washing him with holy water, a mark similar to a claw or claw, which according to the accusers was the devil mark. María Vizcarreta was publicly hanged in Épila in April 1651.

“One of the factors on which the interest that the book has aroused lies is that witches continue to form part of popular culture,” says Garcés, for whom “a good number of clichés, if not falsehoods, continue to be in force about these characters. , which history books like mine should try to dispel as far as possible”.