The Spanish Church & The Civil War
By Sandra Reid
On Sunday, 17th November 2002 approximately 90 people welcomed The Reverend Robert Hallam from St. George’s Church, Malaga as Guest Lecturer on Spanish Church and the Civil War. Word of mouth about the event must have travelled particular fast because John Melin’s original intention had been to invite a few potentially interested people to his home for a casual fireside discussion! Instead, the lecture was held at the Hotel Bisset in Aldosa.
Robert Hallam started with a quick but fascinating historical survey of the Church as the basis of Spanish identity. He took us back to the time of the Visigoths through Islam, the inquisition, the rise of Liberalism and the 19th century anticlericalism. He went on to discuss the Church’s enemies and friends in the early 20th century. On the one hand, was the Left, considering of various factions such as Anarcho-Syndicalists, Socialists and Communists. On the other, stood the Right orNationalists who included in their group Fascists and, in an effort to protect itself, the Spanish Church. As such, the Church was seen as a barrier to progress and came under considerable attack. It was not uncommon to see churches left in ruins and priests hounded out of villages by the Leftists.
Robert then took us through the Civil War, the Franco years including the Second World War and up to Franco’s death in 1975. During this period the Spanish Church continued to favour Nationalism, thus further alienating itself from the general populace. We learned that the Spanish Church was forced to reconsider some of its previously held values as it moved through the Transition and found itself in a democracy, secular state.
From the outset, Robert made it clear that we were likely to find his views favoured the Republican over the Nationalist perspective. In addition, he made some interesting observations about the Spanish Church. Historically the Spanish Church had revealed itself as an institution to be preserved rather than as a means to promote the values of the Christian Gospel. As a result, it still suffers today from a feeling of estrangement among many Spaniards. He neatly summed up this sense of betrayal in his anecdote of a dying Anarchist who called a priest and a notary to his bedside. Not so that he could confess or draw up a will but so that he could die as Jesus Christ had done, between two thieves!
Most of us were in awe at the obvious intimacy Robert had with the subject matter. I, for one, learned an incredible amount in a very short period about some confusing issues. The discussion helped me put in perspective the political climate of the time that fanned the flames of the Republican movement. It also answered some questions about the roles of Russia and Nazi Germany in the movement’s subsequent downfall. Comments made by the audience included mention of Andorra’s role in events and whether or not World War Two could have been avoided had Republicans succeeded. We hope to invite Robert Hallam back sometime later this year to continue his discussion.
Ken Loach’s excellent film: ‘Land and Freedom’ followed. For those who have not seen the film, it gives a very accurate account of individuals from several foreign countries who willingly participated in the war. It also depicts the various Leftist factions who ended up fighting each other in the confusion.
Published in the Inter-Comm Spring 2003