Castrillo Matajudios: Name-change helps village to forget its links with Spanish persecution

The phrase ‘kill the Jews’ did not correspond to  the way this village thinks or acts these days

A referendum in the northern Spanish village of Castrillo Matajudios, which translates as “Fort Kill the Jews”, has seen a majority of its inhabitants vote in favour of changing its controversial name.

A 93 per cent turnout saw the village’s 57 inhabitants cast 29 votes in favour of changing the name, which has stood since 1623, and 19 votes against.

Founded in 1035 when Jews fleeing from a nearby pogrom settled there, the village will now revert to its former name, Castrillo Mota de Judios, or “Fort Hill of the Jews”, although the process will take up to a year.

Castrillo Matajudios, in the north-western province of Castile and León, almost certainly lost some, if not all, of its Jewish inhabitants in 1492, when the Jews were expelled en masse from Spain, with many of those remaining forcibly converted to Christianity.

One theory says the change of spelling from “Mota”, or “Hill”, to “Mata” – “Kill” – could well have come about in a bid to disassociate the village’s strong links with a persecuted culture. Half a millennium on, however, the soon-to-be-renamed Castrillo Mota de Judios is returning to its roots.

“We are very happy because a majority were in favour of the change,” said the mayor, Lorenzo Rodriguez, who had warned he would resign if the referendum was lost. “The phrase ‘Matajudios’ did not correspond to the way this village thinks or acts these days, nor with our village flag, which has the Star of David on it.”

Mr Rodriguez also aims to restore the village’s old Jewish quarter,  a project which reflects a growing interest across Spain in its ancient Jewish culture. Early last year, a website was set up by Spain’s Sefarad Centre for Jewish history which offers virtual tours of 523 locations in 24 cities, revealing the lingering Jewish heritage in the country. And early this spring, the government made an offer of Spanish nationality to descendants of those Jews expelled in 1492.

“Is it right to change the [Matajudios] name? Yes. Am I personally insulted [by the name]? Not really,” Dr David Levey, a lecturer in language and linguistics at Cadiz University, and a Jew who has lived most of his life in Spain, told The Independent.

Dr Levey argued that Spanish words such as Matamoros (literally, “kill the Moors”) – the historic word used to describe the Muslims who once ruled a large part of Spain and which, back in 2006, some 3,200 Spaniards were reported to have as a surname – “are so strongly ingrained that most Spanish people aren’t really aware of the connotation”.

“If they say the word Matamoros, they don’t make any association with killing Arab people,” Dr Levey added. “And I’d imagine the same with Matajudios.”

The town of Valle de Matamoros (“the Valley for killing the Moors”) in western Spain announced last month that it had no intention of changing its name. “We have never thought of altering it,” a local official told the ABC newspaper. “It is a historic name here – you are born with it and you live with it.”

Questions are periodically raised, too, about the handful of  Spanish villages still partly bearing the dictator Francisco Franco’s epithet of “Caudillo”  –or “leader” – and whether these references should be wiped. Most villages have opted to stay as they are, sometimes for practical reasons. The village of Bembezar del Caudillo, in the southern province of Cordoba, briefly became plain “Bembezar” a few years ago, but the idea was soon abandoned because, according to a town hall official, “it created a lot of confusion with the post”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks