After living with the name for about 1,000 years, the village of Castrillo Matajudios (Castrillo Kill the Jews) looks set for a change, with the northern Spanish village’s 60 residents set to vote this week on a proposal put forward by Castrillo Matajudios Mayor Lorenzo Rodriguez to revert to what is believed to be its original name: Castrillo Mota de Judios (Castrillo Jews Hill).
The village apparently acquired its unusual name in 1035 when Jews fleeing a pogrom in a nearby village took refuge on the hill. The name also lives on in a Castilla y Leon regional tradition of drinking matar judios (to kill Jews) — a mix of wine and lemonade — on Good Friday
Matarjudios also exists as a surname, as does the more common Matamoros (Kill the Moors). The patron saint of Spain, Saint James of Compostela, is also known as Saint James the Moorslayer.
Legend has it that his disciples brought his relics in a stone boat from the Holy Land to Galicia, in northwest Spain. This was about 100 years after the Muslims conquered Spain and Saint James became the symbol of the Christian reconquest, which lasted 800 years and ended in 1492 with the fall of Granada and the expulsion of Jews. Muslims were expelled shortly afterward.
Jews arrived in Spain 2,000 years ago and until the rise of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages, the country had one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. They were tolerated by the Romans, but persecuted by the Christian Visigoths who conquered Roman Spain.
The Visigoths introduced forced conversion as early as the seventh century.
As a result, when the Muslims invaded in 711, they were embraced by the Jews, who helped them drive out their Visigothic oppressors. A period of religious tolerance unheard of anywhere else in Europe ensued, with Muslims, Christian and Jews living in relative harmony.
However, the plague that swept across Europe in the 14th century was widely blamed on the Jews and in 1391 there were pogroms in all of Spain’s major cities, leading to an exodus and mass conversion to Christianity.
Today there are only about 12,000 Jews in Spain, compared with 290,000 in the UK and 478,000 in France. In 2008, a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center found Spain to be one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe.