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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy