Yesterday my program took us on an excursion to Mt. Larrun/ La Rhûne in the Pays Basque and the caves of Zugarramurdi. Both are considered mystic places but for completely different reasons. Larrun is a sacred mountain for the Basque people. From it you can see from San Sebastián to Biarritz and the entire Nivelle River valley. We took the petit cog train up to summit. The view is worth the biting cold and winds that are strong enough to knock you around. I'm pretty sure I took a hundred pictures just there. Sheep, goats and that breed of tiny fuzzy horses freely graze its slopes. The mountain itself is in France but you can see large amounts of the Basque Country. It is incredibly beautiful country, especially in its autumn colors. I just wanted to stay there and absorb the immensity of it all. I almost felt like this incredible beauty was the reason why the Basques fight for their identity.
For all the majesty of the Basque Country, it was not immune to the European witch hunt. Zugarramurdi is as much tied to witch hunts in Spain as Salem is in the US. Witch hunting in the Basque Country was done by the Spanish Inquisition so it's not quite the classic mass hysteria we think of. This was more systematic persecution. To put this in context of Spanish history, Spain had just become a unified country and the Reconquista and all that followed attempted to make Spain a more homogenously Catholic country. And thus, the Inquistion arrived in the Basque Country, a place where women worked the fields and cared for their families alone while the men were away hunting whales off of Newfoundland, Canada, a place where women's head coverings were just a bit too phallic for the Inquisition's liking, and a place where preChristian practices persisted despite widespread acceptance of Catholicism. All of that was a bit too strange for the Inquisition's liking. Add in the symbolism of being apple growing country (Original Sin) and male goats (Satan) being the most important animal for the farm houses (neither of which was common in the rest of Spain) with the fact that the women gathered in caves and actually enjoyed themselves after a hard days work and you have all the evidence needed to start looking for witches.
These Basque "witches", or sorguiñas, were often midwifes and herbalists. People who had knowledge. People who were defenseless but were potentially dangerous. They often held life and death in their hands. They were taken to Logroño, in La Rioja, to be tried. In Latin, no less. When they only spoke euskara... But here's the funny thing: the youngest of the three Inquisitors stopped the witch hunt. He believed that there needed to be more rational, concrete evidence. Talk about forward thinking. Columbus has just discovered America and this guy believes in rationalism. Crazy to think.
The cave itself is quite beautiful and a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be. There is a tiny stream that runs through the cave. If you believe in witches, you might believe that the stream is home to Basque lamiak (lamia singular), which are like the darker version of mermaids but in freshwater. All these mystical beings and places were quite magical and made for a lovely day.