On the Trail of Witches

photo of Jorge Abril Sanchez

excerpted/edited from a longer piece by Jennifer Saunders

Goblins, ghosts, werewolves, witches. At this time of year, those words conjure images of Halloween and favorite scary stories.

For one member of the UNH faculty, however, research into the folklore and fears of the past has attracted the attention of Smithsonian.com. Jorge Abril Sánchez, a lecturer in Spanish in the department of languages, literatures, and cultures, was contacted over the summer by a Smithsonian reporter to share his expertise for an article on the Basque country in Spain, the site of the largest witch trial in world history.

In Spain over a five-year period in the early 1600s, more than 7,000 people were accused of witchcraft, at least 2,000 were “examined” — with many of those investigations involving torture — and 11 lost their lives.

Abril Sánchez confirms there are some similarities between what happened in the Salem, Mass. witch trials and what happened in Spain. In both instances, children played a key role, with many manipulated to retaliate against familial enemies. And, in Spain and Salem, anyone who did not fit the mold of the ruling religion or government was at risk for persecution.

There were differences, however.  In Spain, he notes, there were defenders within the church who were skeptical about the accusations. Of the more than 7,000 accused, six were killed while five died in jail before all 11 were eventually pardoned — compared to Salem, where 20 people of the 200 accused were killed.

Read the full story in UNH Today.

 

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