(A white building that has seen much worse days …)
If we compare the town square of a Spanish town, such as Nerja – where I stayed in October – with its English equivalent we see that they have several features in common : the bars and restaurants, perhaps a market, and, of course, the parish church. In the case of Nerja this is the church of El Salvador, completed in 1697 on the site of several predecessors.
What you won’t see in a Spanish town square is a war memorial. The Spanish, of course, had no involvement in either World War, so have no folk memory of the mass self-sacrifice and futility of the first, or the collective triumph of the second. What they do have a collective memory of is the Civil War, which has left no shared and uncontested legacy.
There is a national monument to the dead of the Civil War – the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), north of Madrid.
This contains the bodies of between 30 and 60 thousand war dead, an abbey, a basilica and the world’s largest memorial cross. It also houses the graves of General Franco and Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, or Fascist party, who were Franco’s chief supporters during the Civil War. It is claimed (by the political right) that more Republican than Nationalist bodies are buried in the Valley. The left claim that this is only because there weren’t enough Nationalist dead to fill it, and are campaigning to have the leftist bodies exhumed and removed. They also claim that the monument was built with the unwilling labour of Republican politcal prisoners. In 2009 the (mildly) Socialist government closed the basilica to the public, citing Health and Safety concerns.
Few Spanish churches have much in the way of treasures, artworks or decorations that predate the Civil War. The fashion for burning and looting churches began before the war – there was a significant outbreak in 1931 – but reached its peak in its early days, particularly in regions – such as Catalonia and Andalucia – where the Anarchists were in the ascendant.
The artist Edward Burra, for instance, reminiscing about his experiences in Madrid in 1936, recalled –
“Smoke kept blowing by the window. I asked where it came from. “Oh, its nothing” someone answered with a gesture of impatience, “it’s only a church being burnt”. That made me feel sick. It was terrifying, churches on fire, and pent-up hatred everywhere. Everybody knew that something appalling was about to happen”.
What Spanish churches do very often have, in the way of memorials, are these (from Nerja) – memorials to priests who were killed during the war. Estimates vary of the total number of the Religious who died, but a generally accepted figure is in the region of 7,000. In the province of Malaga (which includes Nerja) about half the priests died, including these three –
Fathers Hieronymus Bueno, Franciscus Rios Martin and Placidus Galvez Rosado, who died “for the fatherland and the law” between July and September 1936.
Miserere Domine …