The origin of the legend of el padre sin cabeza, or the headless priest can be traced to the Spanish Conquest of el Salvador. In the Salvadoran version of the legend of the headless priest, the headless priest is the spirit that died in sin and without confession. There are 2 versions of the legend, some say he is a priest who had an affair he was not supposed to have and now his spirit roams the streets, cursed for eternity.
Others say the spirit of the headless priest was killed during a revolt, he was fighting side by side with oppressed campesinos (I’m unsure of a translation for this, Google said peasants or farm workers, but they’re the people who lived in the rural areas of El Salvador). After being captured, he was decapitated by the authoritative government of the time (presumably the Spanish).
Legend tells that the spirit of the headless priest can be seen leaving the front doors of a church, on Friday nights, but especially during a New Moon. In big cities like San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, he can be seen going from church to church, as there is more than one, but in towns with only one church he wanders the streets and before the night is over, he can be seen entering the church again, through the church’s closed doors. Many claim to see him go through the doors and disappear in the bell tower of a church.
Those who have seen this spirit, say that he is very tall, but missing his head. He is always holding a rosary in his hand and it is said only those out late at night encounter him. They feel a bone-chilling cold breeze and cannot speak from fear, for a few days after seeing him.
They say he is searching for his head, and often appears at churches where priests have died in suspicious circumstances.
Another version of the legend says that for people that are out late at night, later than they should be, a door to a church appears, seemingly out of nowhere, in front of them. The late-nighter enters the church and can hear a priest singing. The person (who is assumed to be full of sins) stays and when it is time for the consecration, the priest turns around and has no head and his hands are full of blood.
Older folks tell stories of el padre sin cabeza appearing beneath leafy trees and frightening victims to the point they turn their lives around for the better.
In Mexico the legend originates in the city of Tonala in the state of Jalisco. Pedro Moreno was a Catholic priest who was lynched in the street during the Cristero war. For a quick back story for those who don’t know the Cristero War was a civil war that happened in Mexico from 1926-1929. My great grandfather fought in this civil war his name was Francisco Javier Roman Flores (if anyone ever comes across this name please send me info I don’t know much about him) now back to the story the Cristero war was a conflict between church and state. The government promoted atheism. So the president at the time Plutarco Elias Calles, did an executive order called Calles Law, which basically eliminated the power of the Catholic church and suppressed religious celebrations at the local level.
There were uprisings and Calles called the rebels Cristeros because they believed in Crist. Simple as that. Catholics were killed and persecuted. Especially what I considered leaders of the Catholic church which included nuns and priests. Public executions were not unheard of. Back to Father Pedro Moreno it is said at midnight in the vicinity in the ruins of Santiago Apostol Parish, in the path that is located between the arch and the bell tower a silhouette of a headless priest is seen walking through the arch.
There is another story in the Yucatan known as the Kulkalkin that there is a Mayan priest who was decapitated for his sin and because of his sin he lost his head and his soul and is forced to roam the earth looking for his head. And with the arrival of the Spanish this Mayan priest legend turned into a Catholic priest instead.
There is also a story from Hidalgo called el Jinete sin Cabeza, which translates to headless horse rider or headless horseman (I wonder if this is where the legend of sleepy hollow comes from or if this legend came from the story of sleepy hollow) what came first the jinete or the horseman?
In Guatemala in the catacombs of the oldest churches La Merced, Santo Domigo and San Francisco there is a headless floating transparent priest that is seen. People who see this floating priest are left feeling nauseous, with fear, chills, swollen legs as if they have gout and overall discomfort.
In Santiago de Guatemala, there is a legend of a priest who died in the San Miguel earthquake of 1717. It is said he guards and occult treasure in the convent of Santa Clara, they say this priest also gives out gold to the poor but people are shocked to realize that a headless priest gave them alms.
In Nicaragua the headless priest is directly associated with Bishop Atonio de Valdivieso who was assassinated in the city of Leon. Who is said to either have been stabbed or behaded by a machete. His head rolled as far as Lake Xolotlan. It is said now that Bishop Atonio de Valdivieso is seen roaming around the lake without his head.
Video of sighting in El Salvador: