Journeys to the Bizarre: the Basilica of Palmar de Troya by Nick Rider

Gregorio XVIII, durante su pontificado en El Palmar

Nick gives the reader a very well written and researched insight into what would normally be a dense undergrowth of confusion. He has written an update due to the bizarre and comical developments of the marriage of a pope and his move from a strict dress code to a jeans culture.

Nieves Triviño, novia del expapa

Here is the original article as we presented it:

Here is his revised article:



Essential Update, April 2016 – 

The Palmarian Church, one has to admit, has always been full of surprises. And none bigger than last week, when, on 22 April, Pope Gregory XVIII, aka Sergio María Ginés, left Palmar de Troya without saying goodbye to his followers and leaving only a ‘letter of resignation’ stating that he had ‘lost his faith’. It was also reported that he had gone to start a new life in Monachil, a small town near Granada, where he had moved in with a woman called Nieves Triviño, who is separated from her former husband, has two children and is very popular in the locality since she organises the annual fiestas, and with whom the ex-Pope has a ‘sentimental relationship’.

And yesterday, 27 April, the newspaper ABC de Sevilla published an interview with Gregory/Sergio María which has to count among the most extraordinary declarations ever made by any claimant to the Throne of St Peter, complete with a photo captioned ‘Nieves, the ex-Pope’s girlfriend’. He had left the Palmarians freely and voluntarily, he said, after 32 years in the Church, because ‘ya no creo en aquello en absoluto’ – ‘I no longer believe in that at all’. He didn’t wish to discuss his relationship with Nieves, but made it clear that he had declared his loss of faith and his reasons for leaving the Church openly ‘before a notary’.

Re the controversial issue of his management of the Church and its finances, around which rumours have been circulating at rocket speed, he declared emphatically that he had left everything in order, even with a ‘financial surplus, and accounts… I have extracts from the accounts to show how they were left – no one can accuse me of anything’, while as for himself, ‘I have no wish to throw any shit about anyone or anything’.

On one special matter about which he has been particularly questioned, the fate of a top of the line BMW X7, approximate value €70,000, known to local wags as ‘the Popemobile’, and in which he drove away from El Palmar last week, he said equally pugnaciously, ‘that car is mine… it came from a donation in my name’. He’s not interested in arguing with people who had previously been expelled from Palmar de Troya, and just wanted to ‘stir up rubbish’.

The ex-pontiff only wanted to ‘turn a page, and begin a new life’. He felt calm, he told ABC, ‘having breakfast and sunbathing… I have nothing to fear, because I’m just another ordinary citizen.’

Not for the first time the Palmarians give the impression that for all their ferocious austerity they were mainly set up to provide an off the wall, otherwise much too far-fetched movie script. There had apparently been vague reports in the last few months that Gregory XVIII had gone a little softer, but otherwise, before this bombshell, he had been known as one of the most intense devotees of Palmarian hair-shirt severity, not quiet sunbathing on a leafy terrace. Some say that this could be a final crisis for the Church, but meanwhile they have chosen a new Pope – curiously, one proposed by Gregory before he left – another long-term resident of El Palmar called Joseph Odermatt, originally Swiss, as Peter III.

Further Update, May 2016 – 

After all its years in the shadows, the Palmarian Church has continued its slide into becoming one long script for a modern Spanish knockabout comedy, an adventure in the bizarre, if one didn’t remember all the people on whom it has inflicted real pain over the years. For, after his own years of silent eminence, the former Pope Gregory XVIII won’t shut up. On 1 May a more extensive interview appeared on the digital newspaper El Español with the ex-pontiff, appearing not as Gregory XVIII or his previous Palmarian name of Sergio María but under his apparent real name of Ginés Jesús Hernández, together with his future bride Nieves Triviño. The full interview with photos is here,, but for anyone who doesn’t read Spanish here is a summary.

They were interviewed in Nieves’ home town of Monachil, in the Sierra Nevada 250km from Palmar de Troya, where they intend to set up home, both of them holding hands and cooing at the camera like playful teenagers. Asked whether he had renounced his pontificate ‘for love’, the ex-Pope replied simply, ‘I lost my faith. After months of investigations I discovered that all that had been a sham for financial purposes (un montaje económico)… There were apparitions in El Palmar, yes, but it all developed into opulence for the bosses of the place…’

Not a word about how he had failed to be aware of this during all the 32 years he lived in the hothouse compound of El Palmar, including the five years he was head of the church.

Asked then about what part Nieves had played in his loss of faith, he said, ‘I’d been without a woman for 32 years and I could have been for the same time again’, but that it had been Nieves who ‘had begun to reveal to me what was happening there’, and warned him that there was a ‘hidden group’ who had been expelled in 2000 but who were going to come back and beat him up (darme una paliza). It was because of this that he ‘began to look into things, which I later confirmed from other sources. And there are some aberrations. In every sense, financial and sexual’ – though at this point he denied accusations of paedophilia among the Church.

This, again, he claims to have only discovered recently, after 32 years.

Drinking a beer and chain-smoking, according to the interviewer, Ginés Hernández refused to answer a question on who these aberrations involved, but said ‘The investigations refer to part of the order. Peter III (the new Pope) knows about them. Although they’ll deny it’s a sham’.

Asked about stories that when he left El Palmar he took millions of euros with him, he says, with the ordinary-feller style that’s now become familiar, ‘But there was never that sort of money around there, kid!’ He said he himself had donated a moderate inheritance left him by his parents to the Palmarians but wasn’t going to ask for it back. He did say he had taken the famous BMW, an X6 not an X7, because he needed it to get around, and ‘I worked for that car, and it’s mine – the same way he (Peter III) has another one’. Both top-range cars were bought three years ago. ‘There used to be more cars, but we cut down on the fleet because maintenance was difficult and we didn’t use them’.

Asked in what state he thinks he has left the Palmarian Church, he says ‘cleaned up fiscally and in its accounts, without the least debt’, even though it has less income than it once had. He often asks himself, he says, what happened to all the money that used to flow in, and with a shrug and a ‘more or less’ he agrees with the suggestion that these funds have been ‘bled off’ by the Church hierarchy (though not, presumably, by himself).

As to the sources of the Palmarians’ wealth, he claimed it all came from ‘the donations of the faithful, as always. We had no other source of income’, and denied that the Church was being used for tax evasion. The property it had once owned in Seville had all had to be sold around 2000, when ‘there was a group that exploited the Church… and that began a terrible decline’.

As to his own life, he says he’s looking for a job, and that before joining the Church he had worked as an electrician (also, contrary to reports that had always portrayed Sergio María as a Spanish army officer before becoming a Palmarian, it seems he had just done his military service as an ordinary soldier, a paratrooper). It’s clear, though, that the upcoming wedding is the centre of attention (Nieves says he’s El Papa Enamorado, the Pope in Love, and calls him Mi Lovito). It will have to be a civil wedding, since she is divorced, though this is something the ex-Pope is still not happy with.

He does explain a little how he managed to develop his relationship with Nieves while supposedly being the Pope of an ultra-traditionalist Church. Her mother was a Palmarian believer, and she herself lived at El Palmar between the ages of 7 and 23 and became a novice nun. Somehow or other they kept in touch after she left, 20 or so years ago – they don’t explain how, although he does say his phone at El Palmar was bugged by his enemies in the order.

On his own role in the order, and the impression held by most Palmar-observers that he had ruled the Church ‘with an iron hand’, the ex-Pope claims that ‘That’s got nothing to do with reality. I’ve always been a very open-minded person and never let my office go to my head. I do have a strong character and I don’t like it when I’m obliged to do things I don’t want to do. In these situations I lose control due to a problem I have with adrenaline, which in me is generally about 70 times above normal. If I get nervous, I explode. I try to ensure this doesn’t happen.’

The people who opposed him (and spied on his relations with Nieves) were the same mysterious group of Palmarian dissidents. ‘Just before my appointment (as Pope in 2011), I discovered that there were people who were working for us who had been embezzling on a tremendous scale. It was terrible. I had little support and that taught me to tread very carefully. In 2000, I’d discovered that a group of friars and monks were trying to launch a coup d’état [his phrase], and they were expelled’. It was this same group who were planning to return and beat the Pope up, until Nieves got wind of it, in ways unexplained.

Even so, the former Pope still says ‘there’s nothing bad’ hidden inside El Palmar, makes a joke of the idea that they are financed by the mafia or have a stash of weapons. He denies that they ever wished to make a saint of Hitler but defends their continuing reverence for Franco, declaring that he himself is still a Francoist. He declares himself ‘in favour of individual liberty’ but opposed to homosexuality, although when asked about the stories that Clemente himself, founder of the Palmarians, had been a prominent face in gay life in Seville in the 1960s, Hernández flatly acknowledges, ‘That’s true. Well, it was something that emerged in out investigations. A whole lot is known about that…’ (with an obvious wink to the interviewer).

He denies that the Palmarians force people to leave their families, and states that ‘No one is retained there against their will. If anyone wants to leave, they’re given money to pay for their travel home and no one places any obstructions. We’ve even paid air tickets to Australia costing over 3,000 euros. I myself softened the rules a lot regarding contact with families.’

He concluded the interview with a few contemptuous words for Pope Francis, as an untrustworthy Argentinian (a crude Spanish prejudice). And though he repeats, regarding El Palmar, that ‘I feel deceived, because everything turned out to be a sham (montaje),  he also says, regarding the Church’s prospects, that ‘I hope the new Pope does things well, and that there’s a future for them. But, looking at the men who have joined the hierarchy, it seems to me that things will end badly’.

And one other thing, in this interview and his other appearances since he left El Palmar, it’s very visible that ex-Gregory XVIII is wearing denim jeans.

Beyond all the ramblings and inconsistencies in Hernández account, what is most extraordinary is the sheer contrast between the casual, flippant, often coarse way he presents himself and the fierce intensity of customary Palmarian behaviour and language. He seems to want us all to believe that he floated through everything as just an ordinary joe (or José), not doing anything to bother anyone…


Plus – the sudden apparent disintegration of the Palmarians’  hermetic isolation, and the utter weirdness of Ginés Hernández and his emergence into the world, has attracted attention from media outside the local area – who had largely ignored the sect since the 1990s – and on Monday (23 May) Spain’s leading newspaper El País carried yet another interview with the ex-Pope, with more goofy photos with Nieves, who clearly cannot keep her hands off the former pontiff ( This time Hernández is even more emphatic on the failings of the Palmarians, asserting clearly that ‘It was all a sham from the beginning’ (Desde el principio fue todo un montaje).

Nice to hear for anyone who has been terrorized by Palmarian teachings.

Beyond this, the article also quotes other ex-Palmarians – some of whom did not wish to be identified, but have perhaps decided to come forward following the ex-Pope’s revelations – one of whom categorically contradicts Hernández claims on the financially above-board nature of the Church and its non-involvement in tax evasion or money laundering, saying that ‘Only a year and a half ago a missionary brought back 500,000 euros in notes stuck to his body from Augsburg, from the sale of a house that had belonged to the Church. I drove the car from Germany, I was a direct witness.’ Sales of properties abroad without paying tax have served to make up for a recent decline in individual donations. Another, José Carrasco (formerly ‘Father Dámaso), who now lives in Ireland, says that there was ‘a mafia for laundering money’ at El Palmar, which held secret meetings with consultants in Seville carrying suitcases of cash.

Ginés Hernández, meanwhile, has made it clear that when he left El Palmar he took away not just his BMW – which he once again wishes to make clear is entirely his – but also compromising documents that he threatens to reveal if the Palmarians ever pursue him in the courts. ‘So long as they don’t get up my nose, I’m not bothered about El Palmar’, the ex-Pope is quoted as saying, with his customary papal gravitas. And on the same day, Monday 23rd, he even gave a TV interview on the national Spanish network Telecinco (, headlined ‘The Great Swindle of Palmar de Troya that has lasted 40 Years’, in which among other things he acknowledges that many members of the Church have been seriously harmed by sexual abuse, something he himself had not admitted previously (as far as one can tell from the way he talks, often passing off problems with jokes).

Pope Peter III and his colleagues inside El Palmar de Troya, meanwhile, still refuse all requests for interviews. However, a minor media storm is building up around the Palmarians in Spain, which, with the new revelations, will almost certainly lead to new official investigations into its finances, so it seems possible that, finally, the Palmarian Church could be on its last legs… Although, they’ve shown amazing resilience so far…


One Response

  1. I´m sorry to say Gines the top of the range car is not yours by right it actually belongs to the the Palmarians who with their donations funded it. Legally it is yours but by fraud, about a week or more before you left the church you signed it over to yourself as legal representative of the Palmarian church and stated it was a donation so as to pay less tax. What an example of moral conduct to be followed hum… you who were so obsessed with the moral behaviour of your faithful!!!!!
    How clever of you to leave the car in Nieves garage and return on the bus to Palmar and then leave on the bus the day you left apparently with nothing, you dirty liar!!!!!

    You say Eliseo had your phone bugged yet he nor anyone else inside knew a thing about what you were up to until you said you were leaving, you know they trusted you sooooooo much!

    Now you say you left with “your car” valued at about € 70.000 and a €1000 how nice, yet everybody else who left your order were put on the street with just a ticket home and a few bob and the clothes they had on, what a filthy hypocrite you are!

    Don’t think you are codding everyone with your tv interviews you are
    a Narcissistic of the worse possible kind!

    Liked by 1 person

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