Considering that my field of academic expertise is Pagan Religions and Medieval Rites, the study of animal mutilation by unknown sources has come across my investigative career as an uninvited and certainly unexpected guest. What I have seen in my journey throughout this controversial ground of research has changed my life and the fashion in which I perceive the universe about.
It has been a journey indeed. The cases presented in this book, have not only taken me all over the world, but they have continually challenged and attacked my entire belief system from every possible scientific and philosophical angle.
El Moncayo is considered the ceiling of the Cordillera Ibérica in Spain. With 2.316 m. of altitude, this singular mountain displays an endless assortment of exotic landscapes that change radically each season. This lonely and majestic peak offers one of the most breathtaking views of the Península Ibérica. The crest of El Moncayo, visible from an ample territory, is the natural border between Castilla and León (province of Soria) and Aragón (province of Zaragoza). Like the rest of Spain’s ridge of mountains, El Moncayo and its adjacent wastelands, are oriented from NW to SE.
The climatic characteristics of El Moncayo are very different from those of the surrounding lower mountains. Summers are mild and short. Winters are long and freezing. Autumn and spring are seasons of heavy rainfalls. The very top of the mountain is dominated by strong winds, thunderstorms, and masses of clouds that remain for long periods of time due to the altitude and the Atlantic influence.
The rich fauna diversity and hunting prohibition laws, allow El Moncayo to cradle an abundant and varied number of animal species like wild boars, badgers, foxes, rabbits, and partridges. There are also lizards and reptiles. Among the birds there are vultures, goshawks, robin-redbreasts, blackbirds, jays, larks, and several other rapacious and predatory birds.
Hidden in this wilderness, are villages, farms and other constructions; all of them gradually abandoned in the decades that followed the end of WWII. Among these, rises Iglesia El Moncayo, a small catholic church built in 1889 by a community of young Jesuits. Iglesia El Moncayo served as the obliged worship destination for the villagers and farmers that inhabited the highest part of the mountain during most of the twentieth century. For many years it also functioned as a clandestine shelter for civilians persecuted by Franco’s regime during the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi regime subsequently.
By the mid 1980’s, the population in the highest parts of El Moncayo was null. Not many people living at the foot of the mountain were able to travel the kilometers that separated their homes from the church, and instead they chose the new Iglesia de San Vicente located in the heart of the town. The Vatican decided to close Iglesia El Moncayo to the general public exactly ninety years after its creation. The decision was based on the lack of visitors. There were simply no residents left on the mountain, and the dioceses didn’t want to confine any priest to take care of what was becoming a ghost church.
Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo was the last representative of the Spanish Catholic Church in Iglesia El Moncayo. He resided in the church from 1966 to 1989, when the church stopped operating and Padre Alfonso Orlindo was relocated to a different church in the city of Badajoz.
Don Alfonso Orlindo was born in a small town on the outskirts of Salamanca. A devoted catholic since he had use of memory, Don Alfonso’s passion for his faith took him on a life-time journey around the world to spread his faith and to learn from other creeds as well. In 1965, he visited Iglesia El Moncayo and fell in love with it and with the astounding mountain where the church was built. A year later, he was the caretaker of Iglesia El Moncayo.
I met Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo in 1999 in Malaga, during a seminar about South American Jesuit Art. A friendly and rather overwhelming man, Don Alfonso Orlindo was an artist himself. “I have been painting since I was seven,” he said. “I’m still trying to get it right.” We talked a lot about art, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and the renaissance artists. I told him about my interest in religious expressionism and my project of writing a book on pagan rituals associated with the phenomenon of animal abduction and cattle mutilation. I never expected to find in this amiable priest, such a rich source of information for what then was a mere book-project. “Maybe I can help you with this strange book of yours,” he offered smiling nervously. “If what you need are strange stories.”
On the morning of February 9, 1987, Padre Alfonso Orlindo came out of the church and went to the cemetery adjacent to clear up the snow in the graveyard. It was a freezing morning with a temperature below zero. The previous night it had been snowing steadily but by now the storm had stopped and the clouds were parting away rapidly. After twenty minutes of shoveling snow, he dug out a dead vulture. Padre Alfonso Orlindo had unearthed and buried all sorts of wild creatures in the years past, mostly killed by stronger predators. What he had never seen before was the corpse of an animal in the conditions that this vulture was. The bird appeared completely scorched. It wasn’t the typical burn caused by a forest fire (the last forest fire in El Moncayo had occurred in 1958). Even its entrails were carbonized. That vulture had been submitted to a tremendously hot temperature that simply did not exist at this altitude. And judging by the smell and the state of the vulture, this had happened recently.
For the next hour and a half, Don Alfonso Orlindo excavated over forty dead vultures, all burnt inside-out in the exact same fashion. Being a man of strong religious convictions but also a pragmatic thinker, Don Alfonso Orlindo, didn’t rush to any conclusion. If this was some kind of sign sent by God, he was willing to accept it without forcing an interpretation that should come to him naturally instead. By mid morning, he had collected all the dead vultures, incinerated them and disposed of the ashes outside the premises of Iglesia El Moncayo.
Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo was about to go back inside the church when he noticed that even though the clouds in the sky were departing rapidly, the one over the graveyard remained utterly stationary. The size and shape of a football field, this cloud was different in texture and color from all the others around.
Nevertheless, the priest wasn’t the only one troubled by that climatic peculiarity; a lonely goshawk had darted from a tree canopy to the clearing sky and was now circling around the edge of the cloud somewhat agitatedly but unwilling to venture into it. The erratic behavior of the bird was as strange as the presence of the cloud itself. Finally, the goshawk flew into the cloud at high speed. A few seconds later, the lifeless bird fell into the graveyard. Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo approached it. The goshawk’s chest was split open and the internal organs were as blackened as the carcass and feathers. The yellow of its feet and legs were reduced to thin charcoal sticks. Beak and head had turned into a formless mass that still expelled volutes of smoke.
Without daring to touch the consumed piece of charcoal that a minute ago had been a beautiful goshawk, Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo rushed inside the church to get his Bible and some holy water.
When he came out again a few minutes later, Don Alfonso Orlindo stood upright beneath that strange cloud and started to recite form the gospels while sprinkling holy water on the deceased animal. If in all this was a sign sent by God, the priest needed to be out there to receive it and embrace it without trying to know or understand. He thought of the cloud in the Book of Ezekiel. But unlike the one encountered by the prophet, this cloud didn’t have fire flashing back and forth, brilliant lights all around it or glowing metal in the midst of the fire. There were no figures resembling living beings descending in motionless wheels from within the cloud. No voice was spoken by the Lord to Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo. On the contrary, the cloud remained silent and inert above his head, casting an even darker shadow over the entire churchyard.
And it is here that Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo’s account of the events that took place that day, takes a startling detour.
Praying to God for clemency and absolution in the freezing cold with his knees buried in the snow, was what the priest did for the next two hours. Interestingly, what he saw as an unmistakable sign of God’s almightiness wasn’t the cloud, or the burnt birds, or what came next; but an inner peace that invaded him wholesomely. In his account, Don Alfonso Orlindo, assures that suddenly his numbed body stopped shivering, and that “a different type of silence” was created inside and outside of his heart and mind.
It was in that silence that he believed hearing God’s voice telling him no more and no less than to look up. Just that: look up.
Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo did look up, and what he saw, floating halfway between the cloud and his head, was a cow.
Don Alfonso stood up with his eyes fixed on the animal. He felt exhilarated, like a child watching an impossible magic trick. The cow didn’t seem to be alive, but unlike the birds, it wasn’t burnt in the least. Except for the soft beam of light that came from inside the cloud and seized the animal, there were no strings, ropes or harnesses that could explain (scientifically) how that cow was suspended in the air. If it was dead, the animal did not look injured at all. A gelatinous, transparent substance covered the entire body of the bovine, and dripped off in long slimy strings.
Always entrapped in the beam of light, the dead weight of the mammal shifted positions awkwardly, shooting the viscous substance in every direction. The cow’s pattern of movements (if there was a pattern) lacked all significance to the priest. After a few minutes of (quoting Don Alfonso Orlindo) “playing with the cow,” the beam of light abruptly retreated into the cloud and then the bovid beast lurched down to the ground in a perfect free fall. Don Alfonso Orlindo ran to the doorstep of the church to avoid being hit by the cow and the splatter of guts and blood that followed once the massive animal hit the ground and exploded in all different directions. From the entrance of the church he offered the beast an improvised Extreme Unction. He did not approach the graveyard and whatever was left of the cow. Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo was a man of religious faith, shaped by the principles of the Bible, and he considered self-indulging curiosity to be a form of transgression. Instead he locked all the church’s doors and used the rest of that day to pray and submit himself to confession and proper penance.
“The next morning, I started the day as I always did. And when I went out of the church to offer the customary prayer to the buried in the cemetery, I discovered that the dead goshawk was still there, all blackened and emaciated. So was the cow . . . or what was left of it; disseminated all over the graveyard. The dark massive cloud was no longer there though. I never appreciated the sight of a blue sky as much as that day. My eyes were filled with tears and my heart with relief. I never doubted that the Lord was going to protect me, but I will not deny that I spent the most terrifying night in all the years that I lived up in El Moncayo.”
Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo proceeded to clean up the churchyard; he incinerated the goshawk and the remains of the cow. Their ashes were blessed and buried along with those of the vultures.
The cloud never came back. There were no further sequels or consequences related to the incident. Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo left El Moncayo for good, two years later.
Even though I heard this story in 1999, from Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo himself, I did not visit El Moncayo until four years later, when I was well into the preparation of this book. Getting up there wasn’t an easy task. Half of the trip was done in a van. The other half had to be done hiking in a trip that took about five hours. The flow of oxygen is overwhelming at the top of El Moncayo, but once I got used to it, I was rewarded with the most magnificent view. It was spring and nature was blossoming spectacularly. Iglesia El Moncayo was as intact as it had been left almost fifteen years before. As I understood, some people from the village came regularly to mow the lawn, clean up and make sure wild animals did not enter the premises. The church was smaller than I thought and all built in stones. It was a classic western European construction from the late ninetieth century, somewhat charming and eerie. I took some pictures and tested for radiation, but did not encounter signs of environmental or biochemical anomalies. I stood up in the cemetery where more than a decade ago Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo found himself being stared down by a dark cloud the size of a football field. The clean, cloudless sky didn’t reveal any secrets to me. I guess the only other witnesses of that incident were those crosses and tombstones that had been there for over a hundred years.
The case of El Moncayo remains among the most puzzling ones to me. There are three basic options to deconstruct this case: 1) Environmental fact. 2) Paranormal phenomenon. 3) Hallucination caused by extreme temperate exposure. In the case of Don Alfonso Orlindo’s description of the events that occurred in 1987, none of the aforementioned options offset the others. After all, where there’s no proof, all is left is nothing but endless rationalizations and interpretations of a man’s description.
Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo’s account is one told by a man of deep convictions. He didn’t care to interpret or rationalize what happened that day. He didn’t care to convince anybody of the veracity of his story either. The inner epiphany triggered by the entire experience is what measured and established its value and significance to him. Myself, I am a man of science; I do have theories, hypotheses and rationalizations. But when it comes to El Moncayo, what I don’t have is what Padre Don Alfonso Orlindo never needed: proof. So as he did, I shall move on from this case on that note. At least until someone else, somewhere, reports coming face to face with a dark, motionless cloud, and hopefully, with what hides behind it.
Originally published in UFO Digest: 2011-11-19 12:19:27 -0500