Flying to the Witches

As I write this entry, I’m sitting on a Delta flight non-stop to Madrid. Luckily the plane seems to have few small annoying children; but surprisingly it is filled with Americans (specifically high-schoolers on trips to Spain) and few Spaniards.

Anyway, as promised I will enlighten you, dear reader, with a little more background on the research I will be conducting. During the first few days, I will be reading archival material located in the Archivo Historico Nacional in Madrid. Specifically, I’ll be looking for letters between the Inquisitorial tribunal in Logrono (where my debating inquisitors are based) and the “Pentagon” on the Spanish Inquisition, the Suprema. These letters will be especially important in my understanding of the debate between the two senior inquisitors in Logrono, Becerra and Valle, and the third youngest inquisitor dubbed by historians as “the witches’ advocate,” Alonso de Salazar Frias.

It seems that Becerra and Valle disagreed heartily with the young upstart Salazar who claimed that much of the testimony collected by the former two inquisitors towards defeating the sect of the witchcraft was either false, un-provable in a court of law, or obtained through unjust and illegal means. So, as often happens when the head inquisitors of a tribunal disagree, the Suprema got involved. The Suprema maintained a correspondence with the tribunal over the certain kinds of questions to be asked and instructed the inquisitors to go on visitations and provide them with more written opinions and volumes of evidence over the rampant heresy.

One of these written opinions created by Becerra and Valle was the treasure of my Spring Break research trip (funded through the Charles Center by a QEP Mellon grant): MSS Codice L. 3 located in the Archivo General de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. This 130 page manuscript acts as a compendium of evidence for the devil’s sect in Navarra. It is a persuasive document filled with fantastic testimony, gruesome evidence of the devil’s presence, and hundreds of witches. Furthermore, it has been extraordinarily neglected by the major historians of Spanish witchcraft.

Thus, my goal for this research trip is to illuminate this text. And I start with the hundreds of letters in the AHN in less than 48 hours. On this filled plane somewhere still over the States probably, the grand archives and crumbly manuscripts seem very far away. But I know I will find myself in a familiar cramped position soon enough.

At least the dreams of future cafe con leche will comfort me on this 8 hour overnight flight…that and the knowledge that I will be reading documents well-known to historians for a novel purpose entirely!

Oh! They’re asking for drink orders. I will return again soon, dear reader. Until then, hasta!


  1. kneuhart says:

    This sounds like such an interesting topic Meredith! I can’t wait to hear more about the testimonial evidence and learn what the early modern witch looked like in Spain!

  2. ekcarey says:

    Meredith, searching for these old letters and records sounds like something out of a 19th century novel. I was just curious what it’s actually like in the Archivo Historico Nacional and any other libraries you visit to search for these documents. Do you spend many hours there, and do you enjoy being in those settings? Hope you’ve been finding what you’re looking for!