Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and the Repercussions on the Missionary World

by Fr. Marcón Rincón Cruz, O.F.M. , Rev. Jorge López Teulón


This dossier covers the persecution of Christians in Spain which started in 1931 and coincided with the Spanish Civil War ultimately resulting in a total of 6,832 martyrs. It also explains the position of the Church on the War and the attempt of Marxists to destroy the Church and Christian religion. Some testimonials are given as an example of those who gave their lives for the Faith.

Larger Work

Fides Dossier

Publisher & Date

Agenzia Fides, March 1, 2008

General introduction


In the meantime what was happening in the missions?
The testimonial of a Claretian



Towards a Marxist revolution
Left wing press reveals the objectives of its struggle
Even the government takes sides against religion
Religious persecution in republican areas during the war
The Church speaks about the persecution
Negrín's government and minister Irujo


Blessed Narciso De Estenaga y Echevarría, Bishop of Ciudad Real
Blessed Francisco Maqueda López
The Servant of God, Mother Candida of the Heart of Jesus
Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla, first gypsy to be beatified
The Servant of God, Santiago Mosquera y Suárez de Figueroa


The number of Christians martyred during a religious persecution which, starting from 1931, raged in Spain and which, above all, coincided with regard to the period of time, the dark days of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), amounted to a total of 6,832. According to an historical investigation undertaken by Archbishop Antonio Montero Moreno, emeritus Archbishop of Mérida-Badajoz, published in 1960, of those 6,832 martyrs, 4,184 were members of the secular clergy: twelve bishops, one apostolic administrator and about thirty seminarians; 2,365 Brothers and 238 Sisters.

In view of the celebrations for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul II asked for a register to be drafted of Christian martyrs of the 20th century. Along with many other countries, Spain responded and registers drafted by the different dioceses various dioceses were forwarded to Rome for the Ecumenical Prayer to commemorate the Witnesses of the Faith presided by the Pope at the Colosseum on Rome in March 2000. Already at that stage Mgr. Vicente Cárcel Ortí, a well known historian, began to speak of more than 10.000 Spaniards murdered in that period. Their number more in detail was as follows: twelve bishops, one apostolic administrator, about 7,000 priests, men and women religious and about three thousand lay people, most of them members of Catholic Action. Work continues in the different dioceses to put the information together and make an analytic break-down of the figure.

March 29, 1987 was an historic date in the process of Spanish canonisations: Pope John Paul II raised to the honour of the altars three women religious and two priests, five witnesses of the faith and holiness which has always flourished in the land of Iberia. It was ten in the morning when the Roman Pontiff seated under Bernini's magnificent baldacchino, over the tomb of Saint Peter the Apostle, pronounced the names of the five Servants of God: Maria del Pilar de San Francisco de Borja, Teresa del Niño Jesús y de San Juan de la Cruz, Maria de los Ángeles de San José, Marcelo Spínola y Maestre y Manuel Domingo y Sol, declaring that from then on they were to be called Blessed and could be locally venerated in keeping with the Code of Canon Law. The three women religious de Carmelo de San José de Guadalajara were the first to be beatified of a host of Spanish martyrs, victims of religious persecution in 1931-1939.

The milestone is represented by the martyrs of Turón, eight La Salle Brothers and one Passionist Brother, killed in the Asturian town on 9 October 1934. To this group belongs another La Salle Brother Jaime Hilari Barbal, from Lérida shot in Tarragona on 18 January 1937. The ten men were beatified on 29 April 1990 and canonised on 21 November 1999. They were the first saints of the bitter and cruel episode of Spanish history. Lastly they were joined by Fr Pedro Poveda Castroverde, shot early in the morning on 28 July, 1936. Fr. Poveda was beatified on 10 October 1993 and canonised in Spain on 4 May 2003, by John Paul II on his last visit to our country.

In a Pastoral Letter to the faithful on the occasion of the beatification in March 1987, His Eminence Cardinal Marcelo González Martín wrote:

"Today, fifty years later, if the intention is not to write history inspired by silence, conventional dissimulation or deceit, this questioning with regard to the glaring fact of authentic religious persecution is very suspicious. That persecution happened, even though the reasons of the conflict were other. It would be an authentic anti-historic, anti-pastoral and anti-theological aberration perpetrated in the light of day, to claim to explain otherwise a perfidious death, the result of obstinacy and perpetrated with impunity in the light of day after pursuing through the city centre the three nuns who had abandoned their enclosed convent suspected of being "sisters". Of little importance the fact that the anti-Christian doggedness of those times was incarnated in gangs which ruled the streets, not formed spontaneously, but instead the sociological fruit of ideologies, pass-words and plans mainly hatched in visceral, social and political hatred of God and the Church. These facts with the programmed profusion, impunity and uniformity by which they were marked in those regions of Spain which were in the conflict at the mercy of one of the warring parties, will never have an exact historical explanation as long as people attempt to dissimulate or eliminate in the ideological and social origin, the fact of deep lying hatred for religion".

On 28 October 2007 in Rome 498 of our brothers and sisters in the faith were beatified: bishops, priests, men and women religious and lay people who gave their lives for love of Jesus Christ, in Spain during religious persecution in the 1930s. The Church solemnly recognised, once again, that they were martyrs, heroic witnesses to the Gospel. It was the most numerous beatification in the Church's history!

As on previous occasions, every case had been carefully examined separately for years. The 498 martyrs gave their lives in different places in Spain in the years 1934, 1936 and 1937. Among them, the Bishops of Cuenca and Ciudad Real, several diocesan priests, numerous religious - Augustinians and Dominicans, Salesians and Brothers of Christian Schools, Marists, different types of Carmelites, Franciscan Friars and Franciscan Sisters, Trinitarian fathers and sisters, Marianists, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Missionary Daughters of the Heart of Mary -, seminarians and laity, young people, married couples. Biographies, photographs and reports from the respective dioceses can be found in a book Quiénes son y de dónde vienen. 498 mártires del siglo XX en España (Spain's 498 martyrs of the 20th century: who they were and where they came from), published in Madrid 2007.

Before that event, 479 others had been beatified in eleven Beatifications beginning in 1987. Of those 479, 11 were already Saints. This time almost 500 martyrs were united in one Beatification.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Martyrs, open hearts so that everyone may accept and put into practice the message left by the word and life of these brothers and sisters whose names are written on the calendar of the saints.


Without a doubt, people not aware of the cruel persecution which took place in Spain in the 1930s, in 2007 were able to be briefly updated with all the information made available in no time by the media, especially the Internet. For example the web site of the Spanish Bishops' Conference gave the figures of those to be beatified on 28 October: 2 bishops (Cuenca and Ciudad Real), 24 diocesan priests, 462 religious priests, 1 deacon, 1 sub-deacon, 1 seminarian and 7 lay people.

The numbers tilted the scales in favour of the religious life: in fact 462 of those beatified were members of institutes of consecrated life:

98 O.S.A, Order of St Augustine - Augustinians,

62 O.P, Order of Preachers- Dominicans,

59 S.D.B, Salesian Society of Saint John Bosco - Salesians,

58 F.S.C, de La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools,

47 F.M.S, Marist Teaching Brothers,

31 O.C.D, Discalced Carmelites

29 O.F.M, The Order of Friars Minor - Franciscans,

23 A.A.S.C, Adoring Sisters, Servants of the Blessed Sacrament and Charity,

16 O.Carm, Order of Carmel - Carmelites,

9 O.S.D, Order San Dominic - Dominicans,

9 O.SS.T, Order of the Most Holy Trinity - Trinitarians,

4 C.M, Carmelite Missionary Sisters,

4 M.SS.CC, Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts (of Jesus and Mary)

4 S.M, Society of Mary - Marianists,

3 C.M.F, Missionary Daughters of the Heart of Mary,

2 F.H.M, Franciscan Daughters of Poverty,

1 O.P, Order of St Dominic – (enclosed nuns),

1 HH.C.a.CH, Carmelite Sisters of Charity,

1 O.SS.T Order of Trinitarian Sisters (enclosed)

1 Carmelite Sisters of the Presentation

If we examine the carefully prepared dossier, to see what happened between 1987, when there was the first beatification of a group of enclosed Carmelite nuns slain in Guadalajara, and October 2007, we would note the following: 10 of those beatified between 1987 and 2005, were canonised and they were all Religious: the first to be canonised were 9 De La Salle Brothers of Christian Schools, eight of which were martyred in Turón (Asturias), victims of religious persecution during the October Revolution 1934, and another martyred at Tarragona on 28 July 1937, plus a Passionist priest who was also martyred 1934. These ten men were beatified in Rome on 24 September 1990 and canonised in Rome on 21 November 1999, by Pope John Paul II.

The second canonisation of a martyr of religious persecution in Spain was that of diocesan priest Fr Pedro Poveda Castroverde, martyred in Madrid on 28 July 1936. The canonisation took place on 4 May 2003 in Madrid, during Pope John Paul II's first apostolic visit to Spain. During the same Liturgy four other Blessed, not martyrs, were also canonised. Saint Pedro Poveda had been beatified in Rome on 10 October 1993.

A total number of 468 were beatified, not counting the 11 saints mentioned above, who were also beatified.

The first to be beatified were three Discalced Carmelites of Guadalajara, on 29 March 1987, followed on 1 October 1989, by 26 Passionist religious of Ciudad Real. Then there was the beatification on 29 April 1990, of one Sister of the Society of di Santa Teresa from Barcelona, together with 9 De La Salle Brothers and one Passionist priest, now canonised. During the fourth Celebration, on 25 October 1992, the Pope beatified 122 martyrs: 71 St John of God Hospitaller Brothers from Madrid and Barcelona, and 51 Missionary Sons of the Heart of Mary, from Barbastro. The fifth beatification was of 10 martyrs in three different causes: those of Almeria, with the Bishops of Almeria and Guadix, and 7 Brothers of Christian Schools, diocesan priest Fr Pedro Poveda, from Madrid, now canonised, and a school teacher at the Teresiana Institute whose cause was started in Cordoba.

The fifth beatification of 1993 involved the first two bishops and the first diocesan priest. Two years later there was that of the first lay martyr.

We are speaking of more than 150 religious beatified in those years. Historiographers affirm that altogether 8,000 Spaniards were slain "out of hatred for the faith": 3.000 men religious and 296 Sisters of enclosed and active life of various congregations who served in homes for the elderly, orphanages, hospitals and schools.

It should be pointed out that religious persecution in Spain began in 1931 and not in 1936 as many think. The Republican Constitution was approved on 9 December 1931, and by 16 January 1932 a circular letter had been sent to every school in Spain with instructions to remove all religious symbols from the school. Crucifixes were banned. On 24 January the Society of Jesus was disbanded. On 6 February the state confiscated all cemeteries. On 11 March religious instruction was banned in every school. In 1932 the Society of Jesus was outlawed in Spain, the fathers were exiled and the Society's property confiscated. Jesuit Father Alejandro Rey-Stolle (who uses a penname Adro Xavier), in his Jesuit Martyrs: 1934 - 1939, says that 118 Jesuits were slain.

The martyrs resided in various convents and colleges and homes. A community of Augustinians, O.S.A, for example, priests, professed theology students, novices and seminarians, fled their monastery and were taken in by local families. They were hunted down and found; identified as religious, arrested, imprisoned and then executed: typical methods used by communist militia. Other brothers, later martyred, who taught in free schools for poor children, took refuge where their could. Their bodies were never found, and it is said of one particular case that he was thrown alive, with his hands tied to his waist and a large stone around his neck, to drown in the sea.

Another example was that of the martyrs of the St John of God Hospitaller Brothers. On the web page of the Confraternity of Paracuellos de Jarama (Madrid), locality in which 22 of them were slain, we find the following information, taken from the ecclesiastical historiographer Vicente Cárcel Ortí:

"They are a clear proof that persecution was not limited to some aspects of political and social life, its aim was total elimination of all religious significance. No exceptions were made, no consideration was given either to the specific nature of the institutions, or to the difficulties of filling the gaps left.

The St John of God Hospitaller Brothers, bound by holy vows to serve the infirm, could not leave the sick in order to save themselves without betraying the sublime ideal of their vocation, which was to dedicate their lives to poor sick persons, as their Constitutions state".

"Of the 71 martyrs beatified, 64 belonged to the 30 provinces across the geographical area of Spain; the remaining seven St John of God Hospitaller Brothers were from Colombia.

35 members of the Community were slain (including seven Colombians in Barcelona) at San José de Ciempozuelos Psychiatric Sanatorium; 54 Brothers of this House spent several months in Madrid's famous San Antón Prison, and 22 of them were slain at Paracuellos de Jarama. Five religious of the Community were slain in an isolated manner at San Rafael Paediatric Hospital Madrid, where they were serving".

With regard to the dioceses, we will present the case of Barcelona (which includes some people not of the diocese, who were just passing through), where those murdered were as follows: 12 Augustinians; 23 Benedictines, nearly all from Montserrat; 1 Camillian Brother; 27 Capuchins, most of them from Sarriá; 15 Discalced Carmelites; 4 Carmelites; 3 Tertiary Carmelite Brothers; 6 Cistercians from Tiana; 28 Jesuits; 10 Dominicans; 60 Scolapi Fathers; 7 Friars Minor O.F.M.; 6 conventual Friars Minor; 42 Brothers of Christian Schools; 46 ‘Gabrielistas’ (Brothers of Saint Gabriel); 91 Marists; 2 Mercedarians; 3 Minimum Fathers; 36 Claretians; 3 Sacred Heart Missionaries; 3 Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; 4 Missionaries of the Sacred Heart founded by Fr. Roselló of Majorca; 4 ‘operarios diocesanos’; 9 Oratorians; 3 Paulist Fathers; 4 Passionists; 17 Sons of the Holy Family; 21 Salesians; 9 Religious of San Pietro in Vincoli; 29 St John of God Brothers; 9 Brothers of Charity of the Holy Cross; 1 Trinitarian Father. A total of over 500.

Why do we present this great quantity of information? In order to formulate the thesis of our article: how did Religious Orders survive despite the holocaust of entire communities? What about Spaniards engaged in ad gentes activity in the rest of the world?

For example many of the 462 religious beatified on 28 October 2007, had worked in various countries of four different continents: in Europe: Austria, France, Ireland, Italy and Poland; in America: United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Salvador, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Argentina; in Asia: Terra Santa, China, Philippines; in Africa: Egypt and Morocco… the young men who were sacrificed were preparing to take the place of those who had returned from the missions.

And in the meantime what was happening in the missions?

The Order of Saint Augustine reports that, due to obstacles raised by the Communist government, which threatened the continuity of studies for candidates to the priesthood obliging them to fulfill their military service before ordination, the Provincial and his Council decided to send 8 theology students who were of age for military service, to Brazil accompanied by three fathers and one brother. They arrived in 1933, and there completed their studies.

At the end of the Spanish Civil War, the Augustinian Province of Madrid lost many members since it was the most affected of all the Spanish provinces by the war. The order of St Augustine lost 118 religious. A group of religious on mission in Brazil and Argentina had to return to Spain in order to continue the activity of the Madrid Province. It was necessary to close a parish in Buenos Aires which depended on that Vicaria and later to leave Santa Isabel and São Sebastião de Bento Ribeiro, Bom Sucesso and Calafate, between 1941 and 1942.

We could mention hundreds of other similar examples of Spanish missionaries on mission sometimes for centuries drawing new life from the novitiates in Spanish religious houses. By the time the war, and therefore also religious persecution, had ended, many missionaries of various Orders and Congregations - mainly of men religious - had to return to Spain …

Once again the words used by the early Church were heard: "The blood of martyrs is seed of Christians". It was in fact seed of vocations, future missionaries who were to carry the seed of the martyrs in their own vocation story. They carried on from those companions training in Novitiates, from those superiors who with the experience of missionary work trained novices and were slain out of hatred for the faith. Houses, Novitiatates, whole communities were exterminated; in some, through divine providence, a few members remained to tell the story…

The time had come to start again, yet again! And with fidelity they took up the challenge.

The testimonial of a Claretian

The present emeritus Archbishop of Pamplona (Navarra), Archbishop Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, in the prologue of Esta es nuestra sangre (This is our Blood), by Gabriel Campo (Madrid 1990) - a book on the martyrdom of 51 Claretians of Barbastro - writes:

As young Claretians we grew up nourished by the exemplary devotion and heroic fidelity of the missionaries – of our own young age - who had given their lives for the salvation of Spain and the world in the unexplainable earthquake of 1936.

In my years as a novice and seminarian in Claretian communities we breathed the spirit, devotion, fervour of the martyrs and their unswerving fidelity. A few of their superiors and formators, those who has escaped death, were still living; some in our midst were relations or neighbours of the martyrs who told stories and anecdotes. The houses in which we lived, the books we used, our conversations, the places of our excursions, were imbued with the memory of the martyrs. From the human and religious point of view they became familiar to us and their diffused spiritual presence shaped our religious and missionary personality.

There were years in which, with no pressure from anyone, the Claretian martyrs, and the young martyrs of Barbastro in particular, were for us authentic teachers of spirituality. Austerity, work, rigid discipline, radical availability, missionary enthusiasm, came naturally as a consequence of familiarity with the memory of the martyrs. I still member the profound emotion we felt when we used to sing the same hymn they sang as they went to their martyrdom: "Jesus, you know well, I am your soldier; ever at your side I will fight; with you till I die; one flag one ideal; for You my King, my blood to give". Without realising it we had become disciples, sons, of the missionaries.


On 18 July 1936 in Spain there was a military uprising against the government to protest against the situation of political and social violence, chaos and absence of authority into which the Republic had fallen. I will cite only a few sentences by Pio Moa: "The country's conservative masses rose up in 1936 against a real and imminent threat of revolution ". Later he writes: "It will be sufficient to establish, with a very small margin of doubt, that it was the leftist forces which, moved by their aspirations, broke the rules and pushed the regime to civil war, which they considered a deplorable but necessary undertaking to reach a new and supposedly luminous world; and that it was the conservatives who, anxious to avoid the conflict, maintained, at times with a majority, a moderate attitude, close to cowardice, until the threat to themselves became a question of life or death". (1) The insurrection turned to civil war, which lasted until 1 April 1939. The purpose of this exposition is not to describe in detail the causes, agents and evolution of the insurrection and conflict; however it must be made clear that Spain experienced real religious persecution and that the death of so many priests and religious cannot be attributed to the fact that they were among the combatants, or that they had joined the rebels, or had taken an active part in the conflict.

Testimony on the part of the Bishops

In a Joint Letter dated 1 July 1937, the Spanish Bishops in no half terms rejected these accusations. They wrote: we Bishops, from 1931 onwards, "in keeping with the tradition of the Church and following the norms of the Holy See, resolutely sided with the established authorities, making every effort to collaborate with them to promote the common good. Despite repeated offences to Church members, things and rights, we were steadfast in our resolve not to break the established agreement ".

"The Church did not want this war neither did she ask for it and we see no reason to avenge the accusations against her of belligerence with which some foreign newspapers have censured the Church in Spain. Certainly thousands of her sons and daughters obedient to the dictates of their conscience and their patriotism, and acting on their own personal responsibility, rose up with arms to save the principles of religion and Christian justice which for centuries had formed the life of the nation; therefore those who accuse the Church of having caused this war or conspired to start it, or not doing everything possible to avoid it, either do not know the truth or they falsify it".

“We have sided with no one - person, authority or institution -, although we are grateful for the protection received from those liberated us from an enemy which wanted us to go astray, and we are ready to collaborate as Spanish bishops and citizens, with those who are working to restore a rule of peace and justice in Spain. No political authority will be able to say that we strayed at any time from this line." (2)


There has been much discussion about the sense of the Spanish Civil war and the cause for which the two sides fought. Some saw it as a political-economic class struggle, for others it was a religious war, a crusade. It is not our task to enter into the question, already sufficiently clarified by historiographers. Taking for granted that the uprising was military, that there was no explicit reference to religion, and that the Church played no part in it, we will examine certain facts which reveal that a real attempt to destroy the Church and Christian religion did take place.

Towards a Marxist revolution

The Joint Letter issued by the Spanish Bishops on 1 July 1937 affirms that Soviet Communism was behind the war being fought by the republican alignment. Historiographers distinguish between the beginning of the war and its successive internationalisation. So, Madariaga considers the war the result of two Spanish 'pronunciamientos' or attempted coups, rather than the interest which Russia, Germany or Italy might have in it, despite the fact that once it had started, they intervened. Here, however, we are not interested in this political aspect concerning actual powers or nations. Our intention is to show that there was always a strong move to introduce Marxist Communist totalitarianism in which religion would be destroyed. In this, an important role was played by the accentuated extremism of the "Spanish Lenin", Largo Caballero, in vogue in the Communist Party following the Revolution of Asturias, and by the Frente Popular approved by the International Communist Congress in 1935 (3).

Independently from and prior to the military conspiracy, preparations were underway for an extreme leftist revolution to take power and introduce a dictatorship of the proletariat. "The year 1935 closed with the ousting of Gil Robles; with a Leftist wing creating militia and determined to win the next elections and complete the revolution of October 1934". Largo Caballero said that if the right were to win, they and their allies would declare "civil war", because the elections would not achieve the total transformation of the country, and "we have had enough of experiments with democracy ". Even before the 1936 February elections the civil war was announced with clamour. (4) Communists and anarchists proclaimed Largo Caballero without subterfuge. "The extremist insurrection could be read on every face and breathed at every corner. It was an authentic community certainty". Those who supported it defended neither republic nor democracy, but Marxist ideas and a regime identical to the Soviet model. Already in the Asturias it was called the red army (5). It is sufficient to see in Claridad e El Socialista late 1935 and early 1936 Largo Caballero's statements and declarations. Here is what he wrote on 21 December 1935: “We must accept in the party programme postulates of Marxist socialism, we must reach a dictatorship of the proletariat". 15 January 1936: "No compromises or shameful hobbling: or with Marxism or sterling socialists, that is, anti-Marxists, I am talking about revolutionary socialism". 23 January 1936: "We prefer a thousands times to receive orders from Moscow than from Rome.... I say never again will we spare the lives of our enemies as we did on 14 April. Never again!" (6)

It was these groups which in fact led the war from the beginning. The republicans of the government of 20 July, no longer counted. Of the government there remained only "dust and ashes of the state". Those groups took to the streets to fight not for the Republic, but for the Revolution. They would be the ones to arm the country and to form the government presided by Largo Caballero on 4 September 1936. (7)

The Left wing press reveals the objectives of its war

The press, from the beginning of the Republic, was a first class tool for the benefit of secularism, with a great quantity and diffusion of anticlerical and anti-religious newspapers and magazines. Many of those publications used tones of low cultural quality and even bad taste, in order to more easily incite the uneducated masses. Long before the military insurrection of 18 July 1936, religion and its ministers were ridiculed and the press was full of defamation, calumny, jokes and cartoons against clerics. La Traca published in Valenza launched an investigation: "What would you do to that cassock?”, and the answers were made public on 17 July. Among the examples of the time, immediately prior to the war, we cite El Pueblo, of Huesca. It read: "Let the rude screeching of the clerical parrot cease. Instead of fearing what is passed, let him fear what may still befall him". And after accusing clerics of being sectarian, cowardly and full of vice, concluded: "To think that because of a deplorable equivocal of the society which continues to tolerate them, ‘these savages' live among decent people! ”.(8)

When the war had started, the ABC Madrid, run by the Republicans, stated with regard to a decree confiscating church properties:

"Fortunately, the friars and nuns will soon be swept away towards innocuousness and towards death, according to where they find themselves in the conflict of the moment.... In the will and in the rifles of our revolutionary army, among countless noble ambitions, there is determination, to do away once and for all with oppressive obscurantism which represents, or used to represent confessional education in our country ".

A few days later the same paper wrote:

"Military, politicians, ancient and archaeological aristocracy and members of their outdated Church, shall fall, all together, like a heap of infamy, in the same malediction, while the Justice of the Republic, without fainting, implacable, calm, will make heard its voice and its sentence without appeal".(9)

At a meeting in Barcelona on 1 August 1936, organised by POUM, its leader Andrés Nin expressed the Party's travail with these words: “There were many problems Spain, but the bourgeois republicans never bothered to solve them. The problem of the Church has been solved without leaving even one church standing". In the same month, La Batalla, official POUM publication, wrote:

“Our Revolution is the Revolution of the global proletariat.... The proletariat never forgives an enemy ".

“It is not a question of setting fire to churches and putting to death ecclesiastics, but rather of destroying the Church as a social institution…"(10)

In the same period, an editorial in Solidaridad Obrera, the official publication of the CNT, with the title: DOWN WITH THE CHURCH! accused the Church of being reactionary and priests of not showing solidarity (never defending the "needy"), of being thieves, blackmailers and criminals. It read: "In Spain, religion has always stained its hands with the blood of innocent people.... The Church must disappear for ever.... it must be pulled out at the roots.... Religious Orders must be dissolved. Bishops and cardinals must be shot. Ecclesiastical property must be confiscated".

The same paper in May 1937, with regard to a proposal on freedom of worship presented by government minister Irujo, said:

"What does re-establishing freedom of worship mean? Permission to say Mass again? With regard to Barcelona and Madrid, we have no idea where they could hold these pantomime lessons. There is not one place of worship still standing, not one altar on which to put a chalice... ". It accused the Church of intervening in the army rebellion, of blessing it and firing guns from churches and convents. “Did we not agree that that the Church in the July insurrection was another belligerent? We all knew this and the official propaganda of the government in which Mr Irujo was minister ‘without portfolio’, said this justified the disappearance of both places of worship and the clergy". It affirms that freedom of worship would be an "imposition in those regions where people lived - and happily-. without religion! Catholic coercion. Intolerable provocation". Two days later it repeated the same accusations and affirmed that the priestly profession "is simply selling‘an opium plant’, as Lenin would say". (11)

No comment is needed. The ultimate ends of the struggle for republican troops were clear: to eradicate religion, 'opium' , according to the Marxist-Leninist version. So the troops were incited to fight, to destroy and to kill. This went much further than a fight against a clergy with little social sense and, for the greater part, marked by an ultraconservative and closed political mentality, allied with the rich and the powerful, according to the accusations made at that time, admissible but with reserve.

Even the government takes sides against religion

The government showed itself weak and passive, leaving its powers in the hands of the masses led by the leftist press. If it did anything at all, it was to accuse the Church of belligerence - as we saw in our last newspaper citation - or to launch suspicions or implicit accusations against her, as we see in a Ministry of Justice decree dated 11 August 1936, which established the closing of institutes belonging to religious orders and the dissolution of the latter if they had co-operated with the army insurrection.

The preamble to the decree affirms “since it has been noted that some religious associations have cooperated more or less directly with the insurrection movement declared on the 18 July we will proceed with the application of article 23 of the Law dated 2 June 1933" (Religious Confessions and Congregations Law. Article 23 prohibited the exercise of political activity and established special sanctions if the mentioned activities should constitute a "danger for the security of the state"). Sanctions were to be placed on Institutes which had directly or indirectly participated in the insurrection, promoting or assisting it (art. 1º). That is, if they participated in the following cases: being part of a group of combatants, services of connection, supplies, as well as in the case of quantitative contribution, cession of proper moveable or non moveable goods, provided accommodation in the same, having joined any group in some way even without active participation, prayed for victory, praised the objectives of the insurrection, possessed weapons, opened fire on troops loyal to the government from the buildings of the community's Congregation, or “carried out any other act which, although not included in the mentioned cases, may be considered direct or indirect participation or form of help mediated or immediate to the seditious movement" (Art. 2º, nn. 1-6). A Commission was to have the task of judging cases of offence and proposing to the minister of justice or to parliament the closing of the houses or dissolution of the Congregation, whose goods would be nationalised. (12)

As we see the decree left no loopholes. It condemned not only direct or indirect participation but anything which could be seen as such. The fact was that it started from an assumption: the religious orders supported the army insurrection, they fought against "soldiers" loyal to the republic and, what it worse, they were a "threat to the security of the state", and for this reason were condemned a priori. The government of the Republic cannot escape responsibility for the death of priests and religious. From the lines of the government came incitement to kill, not only as a passive attitude but with defamation and calumny, over the radio, in the press - we saw this in the cited Solidaridad Obrera - sanctioned by decrees like the one we have just mentioned. It cannot be proved with documents that the government ordered persecution against the Church, but it did allow and justify it. "In the delirium of the last days of July 1936, Manuel Azaña, President of the Spanish Republic, pronounced these famous words: ‘Only now has the Republic been truly proclaimed” (13). There can be no mistake, the aim of the Government was to be rid of religion. This was the opinion of Communist Jesús Hernández Tomás, Minister of Public Education in the two governments led by Largo Caballero and the first government led by Juan Negrín, from 4 September 1936 to May 1938. In February 1937, Hernández Tomás sent the following telegramme to the Anti-God Congress in Moscow: "Your fight against religion is also ours. It is our duty to make Spain a land of militant atheists. The struggle will not be easy because all over our country there are large masses of reactionaries, opposed to the absorption of Soviet culture. Every school in Spain will made into a communist school". The Council of the Soviet League of Atheists replied expressing gratitude to Largo Caballero for fighting religion and making him an honorary member of the League of Atheists. (14) There should be no regret that before all this, before massacres of priests and religious, destruction and sacking of churches, those who fought on the side of the army insurrection realised that they were fighting not only for public order and social peace but to defend their faith, to defend the Christian religion. The army made no mention of religion in its preliminary plans or in the first proclamations at the beginning of the conflict, but the facts clearly showed very soon that, besides political and social goals, some were fighting against religion and others were fighting for religion.

Religious persecution in republican areas during the war

When the army insurrection starts on 18 July 1936, Spain is divided as follows:

Under control of the Republic: Nueva Castiglia, Badajoz, Andalusia (except Cadice and Siviglia), east Aragona, Catalogna, Valenza, Murcia, Minorca, Bilbao, Guipuzcoa, Santander and Asturias.

Under the army rebels: Canarie, Baleari (except Minorca), Cadice, Siviglia, Caceres, Castiglia Antica, León, Galizia, Alava, Navarra and west Aragona, as well as the capital Granada and surrounding area. (15)

From the very beginning, religious persecution was present in the republican zone and, although in gradual diminution, religious freedom and normality disappeared in this zone for the whole period of the war. The high numbers of slain priests, religious and lay Catholics as well as confiscation and destruction of churches, images and sacred objects were recorded in many writings and in many causes of beatification which had already been started by dioceses and by religious orders.

We will give some facts to present a situation of religious persecution, caused by a determination to wipe out religion, not solely for socio-economic or political reasons, although the latter did exist. We will take as our source the work of A. Montero.

1. Elevated number of violent deaths among members of the clergy, religious orders and committed Catholics of all ages and social conditions, throughout the territory dominated by the Republic, perpetrated by militia, members of leftist organisms or parties and townships. Between 1 January and 18 July 1936, a total number of 17 priests and religious were slain. In the last two weeks of July another 861 were killed. In the August 2,077, including ten 10 bishops, were murdered. By mid September the victims were almost 3,400. On 1 July the following year 1937, the number of dead was 6,500. From July 1937 to the end of the year, another 332 victims were registered.

The total number of victims among the clergy, besides 13 bishops, is thus divided:

Secular clergy, including seminarians…. 4.184

Men Religious................................................... 2.365

Women Religious.....................................................283 (note 16)


To this number must be added the lay Christians sacrificed, whose number has never been accurately established, and priests, religious and lay faithful who were imprisoned and tortured but did not die. (17).

2. The swiftness with which they were slain. Arrest and then killing of priests and religious began contextually with the military insurrection, even in regions and localities where it had previously not existed or where the victims managed to express support for the rebels or escape. So, to mention only a few cases, on 20 July there was the attack - and consequent slaughter - at the Claretian Theology College in Barbastro; Passionist Fathers in Daimiel were forced to leave their house during the night of 21 July and some were shot dead in the early hours of the 22nd; five Franciscan communities in Castiglia were expelled from their Friaries on the 21 and 24 July, although none of the persons in the cases mentioned had been involved political events of any kind. Municipal notices were circulated offering rewards in money to anyone who revealed the whereabouts of priests, or handed them over to the authorities, and ‘exposures ’ were immediately celebrated in the press. (18) Expulsion from convents in the case of religious and the imprisonment of priests, religious and laity was usually ordered on behalf of the local authorities, and the executions were witnessed by mayors and municipal assessors.

3. Immediate shooting of ecclesiastics, without a real or even a simulated trial in front of the "peoples tribunal". The majority were shot without imputation, or killed actually during the assault on the convent, or when they were identified in a refuge or on the road, as in the case of the three Carmelite nuns from Guadalajara, already Beatified. (19)

4. Cases in which a reason for a death sentence or for an execution already carried out was given, in general the causes cited were not social or political, but simply priestly or religious state of the victims. There exists abundant testimony in this sense: "We kill not your brother in law but his cassock". "Soutane copped, soutane slain". "you're wearing a cassock and that's enough". A placard placed on the corpse of a priest: "For being a priest". "Our orders are to get rid of all this corn seed". "All the clergy, religious or non religious, are being persecuted simply because they are priests ". "The destruction of the Church is an act of justice.... to kill God, if He existed... would be something most natural” (20)

5. Extermination of whole religious communities, regardless of age, without asking for names or identification. The murdering of seminarians, men and women religious who on the basis of the categories of age (elderly, newly professed students such as the Passionaists at Daimiel, the Franciscan theology students at Consuegra and others), of culture and practical work in the congregation, type of life, (active or contemplative), of economic level (poor priests and religious), etc., did not influence political or social life, indeed they did good to the sick and the poor. (21)

6. Imprisonment or shooting of thousands of lay Catholics for being members of some religious association, or relatives of priests or religious, or were thought to be priests or religious, or because they defended the latter, or had been found assisting at a secret Mass or in possession of religious books, crucifixes, rosaries or medals, or other Christian symbols, or "simply because they were Catholics". (22)

7. Cruelty and types of martyrdom. Demanding that the victims commit blasphemy, trample a crucifix, pronounce apostasy or break the sacramental secret of the confessional, as well as attacks against the celibacy of consecrated persons. (23)

8. What Montero calls the martyrdom of things: confiscation of religious buildings, torching, destruction or profanation of churches, burning of sacred images and objects, decided at times by the municipality, and even cities where the insurrection never matured such as Ciudad Real, Valenza. Lerida, Jaen. An estimated 20,000 churches were partially or completely destroyed. The few left standing were used for other purposes, not for worship. (24) This cannot be attributed to the fact that the clergy had joined the rebels. Neither was the theory that the Church was allied with the rich valid here.

9. The most ridiculous and coarse calumnies were perpetrated against the clergy (poison in holy water stoups or chocolates), accusations of possessing millions of pesetas, weapons, shooting at the people from churches and convents, of being members of the rebel army etc., to justify murder. What is more, the government gave juridical foundation to these acts "allowing the practice of the Catholic religion or the fact of being a member of the clergy to be used as evidence and made public". (25)

Pio Moa says the religious persecution "reached giant proportions, greater than those of the French Revolution and probably those of the ancient Roman Empire". In his opinion, "religious persecution was driven by more than political hatred". He qualifies as false, affirmations that the persecution was justified because of the Church's political power or her anti-democratic intransigence. "The reality - he says - was the complete opposite. It was not the Church which frustrated the republic, but the Jacobins and revolutionaries of the Republic who frustrated the Church unceasingly". False also was the claim that the Church had neglected the poor and the needy, because this in any case could have been applied to only a part of the clergy and would not justify the assassination of so many priests and religious who lived a life of poverty and gave instruction to the working classes and served in homes and hospitals. "What the Church was doing, however little or much, but which was not little, no one else did ". To conclude, let us listen to these words of Moa: "The Church suffers a lethal attack which starts not on 18 July, but on 16 February; and when the conflict resumed, that wild persecution did not wait for the ecclesiastic hierarchy to take sides for this or that belligerent"(26)

The Church speaks about the persecution

1. Instruction issued by the Bishops of Vitoria and Pamplona

We noted that in the beginning the ecclesiastic hierarchy made no statement with regard to the army insurrection. We have just heard the words of Madariaga that qualify as extraneous the connivance of Basque Catholics with those who were persecuting the Church. The hierarchy's first statement was issued under particular circumstances. On 6 August the bishops of Vitoria, Mateo Múgica, and Pamplona, Marcelino Olaechea, addressed a Pastoral Instruction to the faithful. That same day the Instruction was distributed in leaflets to parish priests and then published in the September 1st issue of Church Bulletin of the diocese of Vitoria. In the document the bishops tell the faithful that Catholics may not be allied with the enemies of the religion, nor may they be divided in front of the common enemy, atheist communism; that the interests of religion must prevail over political interests, such as the aim to obtain autonomy for the Basque region. In a speech on September 8 the Bishop of Vitoria, confirms the authenticity of the Instruction and, in the face of fierce religious persecution in the republican zone, expresses support for the insurrection. At the end of September a long pastoral letter was issued by Bishop Enrique Pla y Deniel of Salamanca, who under the symbol of the two cities, stated the position of the hierarchical Church with regard to the conflict and was the first to define the military insurrection, a "crusade"(27)

2. Pope Pius XI

The first authoritative voice on the persecution was that of Pius XI in an audience to 500 Spanish Catholics, who had taken refuge in Italy, to which they were accompanied by four bishops. The audience took place on 14 September 1936. The Pope spoke of "authentic martyrs in all the sacred and glorious sense of the word ", he denounced religious persecution motivated "by real satanic hatred for God ", "repeated examples and confession of special hatred for the Catholic religion and the Catholic Church in the tragic events in Spain", unleashed violence, cruelty, massacres, the snare of collaboration with Marxism on the part of Catholics. And the Pope added:

"It would seem that satanic preparation has kindled once again, fiercer than ever, in neighbouring Spain, that fire of hatred and ferocious persecution openly reserved for the Church and the Catholic religion, as the sole obstacle to the unleashing of certain forces which have already given reason and measure of themselves, in their efforts of subversion in every order, from Russia to China, from Mexico to South America". He imparted his blessing upon Spain "which to hundreds of thousands (and you belong to the glorious pleiad) has added confessors and martyrs to the already glorious martyrology of the Church of Spain ". He also said: "Over and above any political or earthly consideration, our Blessing goes especially to those who have assumed the difficult and dangerous task of defending and restoring the rights and honour of Church and religion.".

In his Christmas radio message, on 24 December, he mentioned the war in Spain, in which enemies of the Church “have launched a supreme experiment of the dangerous forces at their service and which are found in every country. Another warning, the most grave and threatening, for the whole world and especially for Europe and her Christian civilisation".

On 19 March 1937, Pius XI published his encyclical Divini Redemptoris on atheist communism. In it he speaks of religious persecution on the part of Communism in Russia and in Mexico. At paragraph 20 he speaks of the Communist fury, unleashed in Spain with even more furious violence:

Not only this or that church or isolated monastery has been sacked, but as far as possible every church and every monastery has been destroyed. Every vestige of the Christian religion eradicated(…)The fury of Communism has not confined itself to the indiscriminate slaughter of Bishops, of thousands of priests and religious of both sexes; it searches out above all those who have been devoting their lives to the welfare of the working classes and the poor. But the majority of its victims have been laymen of all conditions and classes. Even up to the present moment, masses of them are slain almost daily for no other offence than the fact that they are good Christians or at least opposed to atheistic Communism. And this fearful destruction has been carried out with a hatred and a savage barbarity one would not have believed possible in our age"(28).

3. Spanish Bishops issue Joint Letter on the War in Spain (1 July 1937)

Several Bishops made statements with regard to the war and, especially following the encyclical Divini Redemptoris, they decided to issue a Joint Pastoral Letter on the civil war and religious persecution. Cardinal Gomá was entrusted to write the document. It bore the date 1 July 1937, practically a year after the war started, when already thousands of priests, religious and lay Catholics had been slain. Approved by Holy See before publication, it was signed by all the Spanish Bishops, except Vidal y Barraquer and Múgica both out of the country at the time, but only made public in the month of August. It was addressed to the Bishops of the world and had a great impact. The Spanish bishops received 580 messages of support from other Bishops' Conferences and from individual bishops. The under secretary of the Holy See, Cardinal Pacelli, on 5 March 1938 wrote to congratulate Cardinal Gomá for the Joint Letter and for the response it brought from the bishops of the world.

Here is a summary of the contents. The Joint Letter intended to remove speculation in other countries on facts and attitude of the ecclesiastical hierarchy also in the Catholic press. Rather than demonstrate an argument, it exposed the facts. The war was predictable from the moment the Republic began to attack the Church, in 1931. Despite those attacks the hierarchy remained subject to the regime and called on the country to do the same. The Church did not want the war and if at this point it had spoken out , this was due to its repercussions on religious order and because “it was clear from the beginning that the aim of one of the parties was to eliminate the Catholic religion in Spain, an aspect to which we as Catholic bishops, could not fail to react". The Letter speaks of plans and actions against religion in the five years previous to the war and a plan to exterminate the clergy and establish Communism, a fact which the military insurrection had in part avoided. The war was between two Spains, two tendencies: the spiritual Spain, on the side of the insurgents, and the materialist Spain. "The Church, despite her spirit of peace and the fact that she did not want the war, nor had she collaborated with it in any way, could not remain indifferent to the conflict because of her doctrine and her spirit". Only the victory of the military insurrection could ensure justice and peace. It described the Communist revolution as "ruthless", "inhuman", "barbarous", "anti-Spain" an, above all, "anti-Christian", briefly exposing the facts and characteristics of the religious persecution which in a few weeks had been worse than all other persecutions for the number of victims and demonstrations of "hatred for Jesus Christ and his holy religion".

It spoke of the characteristics of Spagna nacional and recalled the words of Pius XI, who had said that the events in Spain were a real form of martyrdom. It replied to those who accused the Church of being rich, of attacking the nation from her churches and letting herself be involved in the war. It affirmed the independence of the Church, the fact that she was not connected with any power, although she welcomed those who defended her against annihilation which was the aim of Communism. Then came these enlightened words:

"With regard to the future we cannot foresee what will happen at the end of the war. But we do assert that the war was not undertaken to impose an autocratic state on a humiliated nation, but to revive the national spirit with vigour and the Christian freedom of former times.... We would be the first to grieve of the irresponsible autocracy of a parliament were to be replaced by the most terrible dictatorship not rooted in the nation. It is our legitimate hope that this will not happen".

The Letter had a positive influence on the republican zone. The Republic had shown itself to the world. The cruel persecution which had lost considerable its consistence since the beginning in 1937, diminished further. Nonetheless, another 332 victims were sacrificed before the end of the war, most of them in 1937. (29)

Negrín's government and minister Irujo

1. Testimony and activity of Catholic government minister Manuel de Irujo

On 17 May 1937 a new government was formed and presided by socialist Juan Negrín. The minister of Justice was Manuel de Irujo, a Catholic a member of the PNV, who already since 1936 had been a member of the two governments led by Largo Caballero as Minister without portfolio (30). Irujo worked courageously although in vain in those governments to stop the religious persecution. On 9 January 1937 he presented the Consejo de Ministros with a Memorandum bearing the date of 7 January. The Memorandum described the situation of the persecution, the detention and shooting of priests and religious, the destruction and profanation or occupation of churches, destruction of religious objects, of which even private possession was prohibited and house searches in this regard. He called for the persecution to stop for the good of the Republic and continued:

"Public opinion in the civilised world watches with scorn, which turns to repulsion, the behaviour of the Republican government, which has done nothing to prevent these acts of violence and allows these things to happen in the form and content which everyone sees. The revolutionary wave may be considered blind, overwhelming and out of control since the very beginning. However, the systematic destruction of churches, altars and sacred objects is no longer uncontrolled activity. In fact the participation of official bodies in the transformation of churches and sacred objects for industrial purposes, the detention and execution in state prisons of priests and religious, the continuity of a truly Fascist system in whose name the individual consciences of believers in the intimacy of their homes is violated day after day by the official public authorities, all this, no longer has any possible explanation, and it places the government of the Republic before the dilemma of its complicity or its powerlessness".

He then demanded freedom for the priests and religious detained in prison, respect for churches, an explicit declaration which affirmed the legality of all religious practice and banned the police from hindering religious practice in private homes.

The government rejected these petitions, which obtained only the support of Irujo (31). This refusal and the accusations stated in the Memorandum were irrefutable proof that the religious persecution was not fortuitous, it was part of the Republican government's plans.

The situation did not change when Irujo was made head of the Ministry of Justice in May 1937, in the first government led by Negrín. Irujo's statement that as long as he was in charge of that Ministry, the law would be respected and killing would stop, were taken as a joke by the press. Irujo thought that the new government would back his plans, but he obtained the freedom of very few priests, the majority remained in prison. The measures taken by Irujo were virtually annulled by other decrees issued by the government and the presidency. At the end of July he presented a Bill to authorise public worship, which was rejected. "In the face of this refusal Irujo reduced his aspirations and at a meeting on 6 August urged the government to approve a bill authorising worship in private, but his plea went unheard, although many historiographers say that on 7 August a decree in this sense was approved and the next day was published in the Gaceta became public. In actual fact the decree was neither approved or published (32)". What Irujo signed on 7 August was an ordinance that anyone who made false accusations against the Republic would be punished "including those who denounced a citizen for being a Priest or a Religious or for administering Sacraments (33)

With regard to religious freedom, they merely opened two chapels in Barcelona for the private worship of Basque residents. "The rest of the Catholics were harassed as before and the Basques could only worship in a sort of semi-legal hiding, the same as the other Catholics who worshiped in tolerated hiding, in an atmosphere of semi permission, not excluding frequent raids in homes where Catholic gathered to participate in Mass or receive the Sacraments ". Negrín allowed Irujo freedom of action, but did nothing to rectify the anti-religious policies. The Minister of Justice continued to meet obstacles and in the end presented his resignation on 11 December. He had even started negotiations to establish diplomatic relations between the Republic and the Holy See, but these too were unsuccessful, and in 1937 he ended his mandate without the mentioned diplomatic relations, which would not be reached even in 1938. (34)

2. Negrín's new government and programme with thirteen points

On 5 April 1938 Negrín formed his second government, in which Irujo, already replaced following his resignation by Mariano Ansó from Navarra, continued to participate as Minister without portfolio until 17 August. The new government promised to create national unity and to lay the foundations for a democratic republic which would provide the outside world with an image of moderation. To this end on 30 April it presented a programme with 13 points. The document was widely publicised but received scarce credibility. Point 6 stated literally: "The Spanish state will guarantee all citizens full rights in civil and social life, freedom of conscience and free exercise of religious belief and practice ".

In the religious field, Negrín, more and more in the hands of the Communists, was anxious to "normalise" the situation, but copying the Soviet model, rather than that of the western democracies.

"At the religious level no progress had been made at all. When the French ambassador M. Labonne arrived in Spain the spectacle which met his eyes was one of total disappearance of religion, extinct, ‘under the pall of the oppression of silence’. Negrín himself told the Ambassador that ‘the reestablishment of religious practice had not yet been examined seriously by the government', and this he said on 30 June 1938, two months since the formulation of the 13 points" (35)

The only concessions granted were that Basque exiles were allowed to frequent two private chapels and religious could be assigned to health care service, this latter order being motivated by a petition presented by two Basque nationalists and rendered executive by Indalecio Prieto, Minister of defence, in March 1938 (36).

Like the minister of defence, Negrín issued a decree on 25 June 1938, that all who requested it should receive spiritual assistance. The Decree read: "All commanders of land, sea and air units will ensure that those who request it may receive spiritual assistance from ministers of the religion they profess". This decree was rarely put into practice because the priests had either been sentenced to death and executed, or moved to the Nacional zone, or left the country or gone into hiding (37).

3. A complaint and a belated decree

No longer as a minister, but as a member of parliament, Irujo addressed parliament at San Cugat del Vallés on 30 September 1938. Complaining that the government had not implemented the law on religion, he said:

"As a democratic liberal, and a fervent Christian, and Catholic I feel bound to tell the government of the Republic that the time has come to ensure that we Catholics have at our disposal a church which is open. I made this request many times as a minister; I do not intend here to discuss where or when, but I urge the ministers seated here in this hall and all the members of parliament who are listening, to go through Europe and see the concern of those peoples who, aware that we are fighting for a democratic republic, fail to understand how, after eighteen months, or perhaps even two years, of taking control of all the negative situation which we are living in our streets and with all the resources in the hands of the government as we have just heard from the Prime Minister, we Catholics still have to go to private chapels if we wish to fulfil the precepts of our religion" (38)

The government of the Republic failed to implement its declarations and programmes for religious freedom, except on paper. An interesting decree was issued on 8 December 1938 to create a General Commissariat for Religion. The measure showed obvious signs of self-defence, and an attempt to keep face. It attributed the excesses of the war to the country's reaction to defend its freedom in the face of certain Church leaders who had omitted their duty to promote social harmony. It announced that one of the war's goals was freedom of conscience and that “the Republic has always nurtured deep respect for religious convictions". The decree established "a General Commissariat for Religion in charge of information, procedures and proposals in matters relative to worship and religious activity in Spain"(39). Only four months later, the war would end.


They are many. Almost a thousand Blessed, another thousand whose causes are ready to be entrusted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and another 900 cases on which our archdiocese of Toledo and that of Avila have been working in recent years … However an even greater number are still missing. We have chosen the following to offer them to you as examples of life: God's saints, holy martyrs who gave everything to the very end.


Bishop of Ciudad Real

He was born at Logroño on 29 October 1882 and baptised on 1 November. While still a child he lost his mother and father and was given a home by charitable people who took him to Vitoria. Blessed Joaquín de la Madrid Arespacochaga, beatified on 28 October 2007, put little Narciso, whose vivacity and intelligence deeply impressed him, in the school for orphans and poor children which he himself had opened in Toledo.

Under the priest's wise guidance, he started ecclesiastic studies at the Seminary of Toledo, which culminated with a diploma and ordination to the priesthood in 1907. Because of his exceptional gifts he was soon appointed canon and then dean of the cathedral. On 20 November 1922 he was appointed Bishop of Ciudad Real, where he was installed on 12 August 1923.

A man of spirit, which he transmitted to others with his deeds and words, the activity of the new bishop extended to all fields.

When the situation became complicated, particularly in mid July 1936, and the members of the Church were in danger, friends tried to persuade the Bishop and his relations to leave the diocese and move to safety, but he refused. He said: “My place is here”. Later, on the 26 or 27 of July, they offered him another opportunity to escape, but his reply was the same: "This is where I must be”. On 5 August a group of armed soldiers came to the Bishops' residence and started a meticulous search.

The Bishop defended the tabernacle from imminent profanation. At one point they threatened to kill the Prelate who knelt and said: "Kill me". But they did not. On 12 August they were all told to leave the Residence. They were taken in by a friendly family, where they stayed until the 22. That day the troops attacked the house and took away the Bishop and his secretary, who made no resistance. They took them along the path for Peralvillo Bajo, towards the river and there they shot the two men dead. Bishop Narciso was 53 years old. The next day the bodies were seen and recognised by some local people. Taken to the local cemetery they were put in two wooden coffins, and then buried at Cabildo. On 10 May 1940 the body of Bishop Narciso was moved to the cathedral.


Born on 10 October, 1914 at Villacañas (Toledo). In 1925, not yet 11 years old, he entered the minor seminary of Toledo. On 5 June 1936 he was ordained sub-deacon. The life of sub-deacon Francisco Maqueda López was short; he was not even 22 when he encountered death. Despite his youth, his was a life of marked human maturity and strength of character. He also emerged for his ascetic and mystic virtues. Still a very young boy, he felt called to the spiritual life and the things of God. He wanted to learn - through reading - about the lives of the saints, to whom he felt deeply drawn and whom he wished to imitate. He always concentrated on his vocation. He distinguished himself for his sincerity, justice and fortitude.

When the war broke out, young Maqueda had already been arrested once on 23 June 1936 for teaching Christian doctrine to children. He was fined and released the next day. On 11 September he was arrested again. A few hours earlier he had asked Rev Gonzalo Zaragoza to hear his confession. It is known that the evening before he fasted, taking only bread and water. Kneeling beside his mother he said: "Mother, give me your blessing because I am going to heaven".

While those who took him away jeered at him, Francisco said goodbye to his family for the last time: "Farewell mother, we will meet again in heaven! Goodbye, goodbye everyone, we will see one other in heaven!". From his home he was taken to the Hermitage of the Mother of Sorrows, which the soldiers had made into a prison, and where they had put fifteen other people, most of them young. Francisco immediately gathered them together. His intention was to offer them spiritual assistance to face death which was imminent. He said: "Let us prepare ourselves, tonight they will send us to heaven. Will you join me in praying the rosary to Our Lady?”. The others welcomed the idea and knelt to pray with deep devotion in front of an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

About midnight the troops came. They put the prisoners in a truck and took them along the Andalusia regional road. Very close to Dosbarrios, at km. 67, between the towns of La Guardia and Ocaña, they made them descend from the truck; it was two in the morning of 12 September. The prisoners went to their death praying and singing hymns, Francisco, in their midst, with his arms uplifted. The soldiers said to him: "Your father is over there”. And, although it was actually true, because a few days earlier they had shot his father half a kilometre away, he replied: “You are mistaken, my Father is in heaven ". Indignant, they scorned him: "And you are still smiling?".

Imagining that the time was near, he asked to be the last to die so he could help his brothers in Christ to die well. The soldiers stripped the prisoners, leaving them half naked and, according to eyewitnesses, opened fire on them from the legs downwards. Then they finished them off with the knife.


Who has never heard of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe? Who - without exaggeration, in the whole world– has not heard of the testimony of true charity offered by Fr Kolbe? Who does not know that he offered his life in exchange for the life of a total stranger, a father of children, and that he was able to console and lead to a good death, a group of persons condemned to the bunker of death? And who in the end was murdered with an injection of hydrochloric acid in the square of Auschwitz concentration camp? It was 14 August 1941.

Some years earlier, on 21 May 1937, during the cruel civil war which devastated our beloved Spain, Mother Candida del Cuore di Gesù was another Kolbe of charity… The only difference was that instead of giving her life for a stranger, she offered herself as a nun to die in the place of her sister a married woman with young children. On both occasions the executioner had a chance to add a "volunteer" to those condemned; but on both occasions Mother Candida and Saint Maximilian took the place of someone else giving their life, as did Our Lord Jesus Christ: "There is no greater love than to give one's life for one's friends ".

Cándida López-Romero y Gómez del Pulgar was born at Mora de Toledo on 3 October 1895. The Society of Santa Teresa de Gesù (Teresian sisters of St Henry of Ossò) arrived in the district of Toledo in September 1920, to found, through Senorita Maria Martin Maestro, Maria Immacolata College, which opened in the month of October. Candida joined the Society on 6 June 1923, she took her habit on 12 December of the same year, made her first vows on 12 December 1925 and her perpetual profession on 15 December 1928.

The present day community of the Teresian Sisters of Mora allowed us, through the Mother House in Rome, to consult the Society's records where there is a description of the person and the martyrdom of the Servant of God. In the records we read Candida " allowed herself to be moulded, as soft as wax, in the hands of her Superiors; simple, ingenuous and always full of enthusiasm and optimism, her name Candida suited her perfectly as a symbol of her life and her death".

Monseñor Antonio Montero recalls the case of this Teresian sister in his “Historia de la persecución religiosa en España (1936-1939)”. He recalls that when the civil war started Mother Candida was destined to a school in Valenza. "She was forced to live in the modest room of the school maid, after the sad experience of being refused hospitality by some members of her family who lived in that town but were afraid of the consequences of giving shelter to a helpless nun ".

After various attempts she managed to reach her home town, but was fiercely persecuted there from the moment she arrived. First of all she was put in prison with her sisters who were hated because they taught catechism in the parish. With courage and serenity which amazed her torturers, she bore all sorts of vexation in prison, beating and cruel torments which more than once made her spit blood. She was the set target for the worst maltreatment; they denied her even the relief of a chair on which to sit or a mattress on which to lay her painful limbs.

"Imprisoned on three occasions, once they pulled her out and took her on a truck saying she was going for a tragic ‘walk’. To frighten her even more, that asked if she would prefer to be poisoned or shot. Mother Candida replied that they should decide which death was best for her, and continued calmly to pray her rosary. Long weeks of humiliation and suffering were lacking for her glory and triumph. Although that night she saw so close the palm of victory, she could not yet grasp it …".

The Curia report continues "so ingenuous in death as in life, she never once tried to hide her condition as a bride of Jesus Christ, showing holy pride with regard to her religious profession, which made her the target of those cruel tormentors. She never abandoned her pious practices, and so fervent was her devotion that one of the soldiers, obsessed with the memory of his mother whom he had seen pray in the same way, accompanied her more than once in the recitation of the rosary ".

Enrique Líster declared with impunity in the review Triunfo (19 November 1977, n. 773), in reply to a question about the death of numerous peasants and anarchists: "I had to establish a Court at Mora de Toledo and take certain severe measures… Later they accused me of having had this or that person shot. I relied, yes I had them shot and would do it again whenever necessary. Because I was not fighting a war to protect bandits or exploit farmers; I was fighting a war to give the people freedom".

It is not difficult to imagine that if he did this to his own co-religionists, what he would have done to those who had distinguished themselves for defending the Church at Mora and had not been executed in the first months of the war. As soon as Líster set foot in the town, about twenty persons were arrested.

As far as it is known, on 21 May 1937, the soldiers went to the house of the López-Romero family to arrest the two unmarried sisters (Edmunda and Carmen) and a third married sister with young children (one of whom, six years old at the time, was to become a priest). At that moment Mother Candida came out of her hiding place and offered to take the place of her sister, an exchange which the soldiers accepted.

At ten in the evening 20 people were pulled out of prison by an international firing squad. They were taken out of the town to a place near the local flour factory; they were murdered and the bodies were thrown into a pit in the open countryside. What was even worse, as it was seen when the bodies were exhumed, they had been savagely mutilated and probably before death. Mother Candida is buried with the other martyrs in the parish church at Mora. Her Cause has been at the diocesan stage since 2002.

4 BLESSED CEFERINO GIMÉNEZ MALLA - The first member of the gypsy people to be beatified

The son of Spanish gypsy parents, Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla, known as el Pelé, was born in Fraga (Huesca), probably on 26 August 1861, the feast day of Pope Saint Ceferino, after whom he was named when he was baptised on the same day. Like his family Ceferino was a gypsy who always lived as such, professing gypsy laws as he grew up and later.

As a boy he walked the hills of the region selling baskets he made himself. Still young he married with a gypsy wedding rite Teresa Giménez de Castro, a gypsy from Lerida with a strong character. The couple settled in Barbastro. In 1912 he legalised his union with Teresa with a Catholic marriage. He then began to frequent church becoming an exemplary Catholic. He had no children but adopted a niece of his wife called Pepita.

El Pelé dedicated the best years of his life to trading cattle, he was an expert in horses for the fairs in the region. He reached a good social and economic position, which he put at the disposal of people in need. Accused unjustly of theft and put in prison, he was declared innocent. The lawyer who defended him said: el Pelé is no thief, he is holy Ceferino, model for gypsies. Extremely honest, he never cheated anyone in his trading.

At the beginning of the civil war he was arrested simply for openly defending a priest who was being dragged through the streets of Barbastro on the way to the prison, and for the fact that he carried a rosary in his pocket. They offered to let him go if he promised to stop praying the rosary. He chose to remain in prison and face martyrdom. At dawn on 8 August 1936, he was shot against the wall of Barbastro cemetery. He died with his rosary in his hands as he cried out his faith: Long live Christ the King!


In a work written by the famous Benedictine Fr Justo López de Urbel, Los mártires de la Iglesia, there is a chapter dedicated to the Servant of God Santiago Mosquera. In it we read: "He was a boy of fifteen. It is difficult to see what kind of men would have sufficient courage to murder a child. Sad to say the story is not new. Since the beginning, the Church's footsteps have been marked with the blood of infants. And this, on reflection, is highly significant …".

Santiago was born on 3 February 1920 at Villanueva de Alcardete (Toledo). As his sister declares, he was extrovert, mischievous and likeable boy.... They were eight, and like the first three Santiago was a member of the Congregation of Saint Luis Gonzaga de Madrid. They were educated at Jesuit schools. Ramón aged 24, an artillery man and in his last year in Law at university, had been to the College of Nuestra Señora del Recuerdo at Chamartín de la Rosa (Madrid). José Maria and Luis, educated at Areneros (Madrid), were preparing to enter respectively the Naval Academy and the Military Academy. Santiago was educated at a school run by the Jesuits in Estremoz (Portugal).

Santiago was 16 when the war started. On 25 July 1936 the soldiers came to the home of the Mosquera family. They were looking for arms and found two hunting rifles. The father was away from home. His brothers Ramón and Luis were arrested. Santiago was indignant at the unjust arrest and cried out: "Why? If everyone in town has a gun fir hunting rabbits and partridges!". He too was arrested.

Taken to the parish church of St James the Apostle, which like many other places had been turned into a prison, they were shut behind padlocked iron gates in the side chapels. They were savagely maltreated. They were held until 15 August the solemnity of the Assumption. That day at dawn a group of twelve people was seen with the parish of Villanueva de Alcardete at the head. They were shot about three kilometres from La Villa de Don Fadrique. Ramón and Luis, the brothers of Santiago were among the twelve.

In the meantime they arrested Santiago's mother, from whom they wanted to know where her husband was hiding. The father, unaware of what was happening, was on business in Portugal for the periodical El Debate. After maltreating the mother physically and verbally they sent her home saying that her son Santiago would be held until her husband reappeared. Although the other brother, José Maria, had managed to escape through the fields during the early weeks, he too was later murdered on the road to Valenza.

Fray Justo Pérez de Urbel writes: "Santiago, an adolescent of sixteen, deserved, even before his martyrdom, to be portrayed among the images of angels in the procession of Jesus Christ the Spotless Lamb, because of his goodness, docility, angelic purity, brotherly tenderness and filial obedience ".

In the church-prison six people remained: next to Santiago was the assistant priest of Villanueva parish, the Servant of God Eugenio Rubio Pradillo. They tied Santiago to a pole. There followed the usual horrible sing-song:

- Blaspheme.

- Never. Not even if you kill me.

A blow filled his mouth with blood.

- Blaspheme.

- You can hit me again. I will not blaspheme.

Another blow drew blood on blood. Tied to the pole, for two days he was given nothing to eat or drink. By this time the boy was groaning with pain...

- If you do what we will eat and we will spare your life.

The young man closed his eyes and gave no reply.

- Open your eyes or I will shoot you.

One of the criminals stuck a pistol in the boy's stomach.

- I do not want to see.

- You don't want to see us…? Now you will see, you will see the stars!

And they struck Santiago's face with a rod again and again.

It is pointless to prolong for the reader the martyrdom of describing what they did to that young boy. Comparable with the authentic martyrdom of the early centuries, with the Roman persecutions, updated with such truthfulness that we seem almost to hear Tarcisius, Cecilia, Eulogius, Sixtus or Cornelius...

The night of 24 August 1936, the six remaining prisoners were taken to the cemetery of Villanueva de Alcardete to be shot.

It is Fray Justo who continues his narration: “They are already against the war. One round of fire, two rounds of fire and the crime was committed". Santiago did not die, he was seriously wounded by the rifle shots in both legs. The scene was Dantesque. "We want to help the reader imagine the scene. A boy with his legs were shattered by shots, lies among the corpses of his friends in a cemetery for a whole night.... and he still trusted in the pity of men …".

Every 25 August Villanueva remembers with horror the end of the story. Although he attempted to move it was impossible. He waited for dawn. Santiago heard someone coming: "It was the gravedigger. Confidence grows in the breast of Santiago, his hope increases and his heart beat quickens, he says: have pity on me, good man, have pity on me!”.

The answer is better not told. Eyewitnesses say the grave digger tried once again to make him blaspheme against God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, but Santiago said he could not, it was a sin against God. The grave digger said if he refused to blaspheme he would kill him and to this Santiago replied: "I prefer to die rather than offend God ". The cruel assassin raised a pickaxe and with one blow put an end to the boy's life.

Several witnesses tell how after the war, when no one knew where it had been buried, his body was discovered miraculously.... He had his rosary in the left hand and his face reflected the serenity of an encounter with God.

We write these few lines close to a relic of the Servant of God. A white ribbon on which is written: "In memory of my First Holy Communion". It is one of those ribbons which children used to wear on the shoulder of their 1st Communion dress. The Postulators preserve it as a precious treasure. His Cause was started in 2002. Dossier prepared by Rev. Jorge López Teulón, Postulator of the Cause for the Beatication of the martyrs of the diocese of Toledo, and by Fr. Marcón Rincón Cruz, O.F.M.

  1. Los mitos de la guerra civil, 34ª ed., Madrid December 2004, 189, 193. On the civil war in general, cf. ibid., espec. 21-77, 183-195; P. Moa, El derrumbe de la segunda república y la guerra civil (ed. Encuentro, Ensayos 173), Madrid 2001, 510-557; W. J. Callahan, La Iglesia Católica, cit., 273-286.
  2. Joint Letter, n. 3, Nuestra posición ante la guerra.
  3. Cf. MADARIAGA, ibid.
  4. C. VIDAL, Paracuellos, cit., 109, 110 y cf. 111.
  5. Cf. GARCIA ESCUDERO, o.c., III, 1316-1321, 1359-1360 (words in inverted commas taken from page 1319); MADARIAGA, o.c., 379-380.
  6. Claridad, 24 (21-12-1935) 8; 29 (15-1-1936) 1 y 7. El Socialista, 8.040 (23-1-1936) 3.
  7. Gobierno de Largo Caballero: Gaceta M, 249 (5-9-1936) 1671-1672; VOLTES, Tablas, cit., 97-98; Cf. GARCIA ESCUDERO, ibid., 1366-1368.
  8. Pellizcos y coscorrones, in El Pueblo, de Huesca, 1.014 (2-3-1936) 1. See press references in MONTERO, o.c., 34-39.
  9. La enseñanza confesional para los trabajadores de la enseñanza (signed by Gabriel García Maroto), in ABC Madrid, 10.347 (28-7-1936) 25; Serenidad de la República, ibid., 10.362 (14-8-1936) 6.
  10. La Vanguardia, 22.585 (2-8-1936) 3. La Batalla, 14 (18-8-1936) 8; 15 (19-8-1936) 1
  11. ¡ABAJO LA IGLESIA!, en Solidaridad Obrera, 1.353 (15-8-1936) 1; La Máscara y el Rostro. La libertad de cultos, (firmado por Ezequiel Endériz), ibid., 1597 (25-5-1937) 3; Un poco de demagogia, (by the same author), ibid., 1599 (27-5-1937) 3.
  12. Decreto del Ministerio de Justicia; Gaceta M, 226 (13-8-1936) 1222-1223.
  13. CARCEL ORTI, V., La persecución..., cit., 219.
  14. Cf. MONTERO, o.c., 36, con nota 51. Governments between 1936 and 1937: VOLTES, Tablas, cit., 98-100
  15. Cf. BAU, C., La persecuzione religiosa..., cit. 27-28; SALAS LARRAZABAL, Historia General de la Guerra, cit., 60-69; TAMAMES, La República. La era de Franco, cit., 236-240; TUÑON, La España del siglo XX, cit., III, 529-550.
  16. 16 G. RODRÍGUEZ FERNÁNDEZ, in his book El hábito y la cruz (Madrid 2006), estimates that 296 women religious of 62 different orders were slain.
  17. Cf. IRIBARREN, J., Doc Col, Introducción, 42-43: MONTERO, o.c., 762; en 763-768, figures of the dead by diocese and religious institutes.
  18. Cf. MONTERO, 61, 209, 301-302.
  19. Cf. ID., 62; PORSI, L., Informatio, Positio super martyrio servarum Dei Mariae Pilar a S. Francisco de Borgia duarumque sociarum, monialium Ord. Carm., Roma 1983, 33-36
  20. Cf. MONTERO, 79, nota 72; BAU, o.c., 59-61. Ver Memorandum de M. de Irujo en PALACIO ATARD, Cinco Historias de la República, cit. 82 y 86. Cf. CARCEL ORTI, V., La persecuión..., cit. 222-223.
  21. Cf. MONTERO, 209-541; AMBROGI, A.- MOCCIA, F., Informatio, Positio super martyrio servorum Dei Nicephori a Jesu et Maria et XXV sociorum, Roma 1987, 86, n. 32.
  22. Cf. MONTERO, 541-589 y 79, note 72. A case worth mentioning: "
  23. "When the legionaries of Beorlegui entered San Sebastián, the 'jelkides' had established a sort of 'holy guard' at the doors of the churches.- ¡Eh...! ¿What are you doing here? - they demanded.- we are guarding the churches -they replied-, certain that as Christians you will be grateful to us for this service. Their reply was: - ¡you are under arrest! This was the reply of those ingenuous Catholic combatants and two hours later they were shot dead unawares of thegreatness of their act." (E. ENDERIZ, La Máscara y el Rostro. La libertad de cultos, en Solidaridad Obrera, 1597 (25-5-1937) 3. Cf. CARCEL ORTI, V., La persecución..., cit., 248.
  24. Cf. MONTERO, especially 589-626.
  25. ID., 67-68 y 627-653. Pages 629-630 figures by diocese of destroyed churches.
  26. ID., 79; the same 63-66 y 69.
  27. Los mitos de la guerra civil, cit., 223, 229, 231, 233, 235-236. With regard to the words “al reanudarse la contienda”, it is necessary to keep in mind that for the author this started with the revolution of October 1934, as we explain when treating this point.
  28. See the three documents in MONTERO, o.c., 682-708.
  29. Speech by Pius XI: AAS, 28 (1936) 373-381; also in El Vaticano y España. Hitos documentales desde 1936, ed. N. LOPEZ MARTINEZ, edic. Aldecoa, Burgos 1972, 25-46. Mensaje radiofónico: AAS, 29 (1937) 6-8; El Vaticano y España, cit., 47-48. Encíclica Divini Redemptoris: AAS, 29 (1937) 65-106; Col. Enc., I, Madrid 1967, 154-177. (paragraphs relative to Russia, Mexico and Spain (19-24), pages 159-160). Pius XII, Radio message 16 April 1939, congratulations "por el don de la paz y la victoria con que Dios se ha dignado coronar el heroísmo cristiano de vuestra fe y caridad", gave a Christian sense to the victory and recalled texts cited by his predecessor. (Cf. AAS, 31 (1939) 131-154, y El Vaticano y España, cit., 69-72.
  30. Texts cited in the Joint Letter: Doc Col, 224, 230, 238. Text of the Letter, 219-242. We prescind from the political aspects of the Letter which are foreign to the finalities of our exposition. Letter from secretary of state to Cardinal Primado, Gomá, in El Vaticano y España, cit., 55-56. For historical dates at this point, cf. IRIBARREN, Doc Col, cit., Introducción, 42-44; MONTERO, o.c., 71-75; CARCEL ORTI, La Iglesia durante la II República, cit., 379-380; SALAS LARRAZABAL, Historia General de la Guerra, cit., 239-241.
  31. VOLTES, Tablas, cit., 98-100.
  32. Cf. PALACIO ATARD, Cinco Historias de la República, cit., 81-89. El Memorandum, partly reproduced by ATARD, complete text published the brother of Manuel de Irujo, Andrés, under the pseudonymom A. de LIZARRA, en "Los vascos y la República Española. Contribución a la historia de la guerra civil, Buenos Aires 1944, 201 ss.
  33. SALAS LARRAZABAL, o.c., 242. Although most books and articles (including MONTERO) say the 7 August 1937 was the date of the decree authorising Catholic worship, the affirmation of the SALAS brothers is reliable. The decree did not appear in the Gaceta de la República.
  34. Orden del Ministerio de Justicia: Gaceta R, 224 (12-8-1937) 590-591.
  35. Cf. SALAS LARRAZABAL, o.c., 242-243; PALACIO ATARD, o.c., 89-116.
  36. SALAS LARRAZABAL, ibid., 335, Cf. 334-336; TUÑON DE LARA, o.c., 744-745; VOLTES, Tablas, cit., 100. Los 13 puntos del Gobierno: DIAZ-PLAJA, F., La guerra de España en sus documentos, cit., 323-325.
  37. Orden del Ministerio de Defensa del 1 de marzo: DOMDN, Barcelona, 53 (3-3-1938) 637. Cf. SALAS LARRAZABAL, o.c., 335.
  38. Orden del 25 de junio: DOMDN, 157 (26-6-1938) 1091. Cf. también SALAS LARRAZABAL, o.c., 336.
  39. LIZARRA, A. de, Los Vascos y la República, cit., 255, cit. en PALACIO ATARD, Cinco Historias de la República, 118.
  40. Gaceta R, 343 (9-12-1938) 1004.

Dossier by P.L.R. - Agenzia Fides 19/3/2008; Editor Luca de Mata

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