Repository: Placid Garcia Planas Personal Collection, Barcelona, Spain
Date Created: 1936 (year uncertain)
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Malanyanes, Spain
These 18th-century tiles adorned an exterior wall of the house of the rector of the church of Santa Agnès in the ancient village Malanyanes, about 35 kilometres from Barcelona. They were defaced, and St. Agnes’ face shot out, in one of the many acts of iconoclasm and anticlerical violence that tore through much of Republican Spain in the early months of the Civil War.
Spain has a long history of anticlericalism. Most of it has been rhetorical, expressed in writing and images, but there were some episodes of violence before the Civil War. Violence was most frequently directed against church buildings. The most spectacular was Barcelona’s Tragic Week of 1909, but there were also a number of episodes during the Second Republic. The most serious incident took place in Madrid in 1834, when 73 monks were killed, but what took place between July and September 1936 was unprecedented.
There were uncounted acts of iconoclasm. The most famous is the “execution” of the monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Cerro de los Angeles, just outside Madrid in August 1936. This iconoclasm took many forms. Images, like the tiles in Malanyes, were defaced. Statues of the Baby Jesus were dressed in militia uniforms. The bodies of monks and nuns were disinterred, supposedly demonstrating that they had been tortured, and that the nuns had been pregnant. Innumerable books and works of art were destroyed. Sometimes this was done theatrically, as in the village in Toledo where there was a kind of bullfight in which bulls were set on the images the militiamen had taken from the church. Religious buildings were burned. Others were converted into hospitals, warehouses, and garages.
There was also a huge human toll. Almost 7,000 members of the Catholic clergy – 6,770 according to the best recent calculation – including some 300 nuns, were killed. They were about 12 percent of the victims of repression in Republican Spain, in some places as much as one quarter. Some of the murders were preceded by the humiliation and even torture of the victim.
This assault on the Catholic Church took place almost everywhere in Republican Spain, but it did so with varying degrees of intensity. It was most severe in Catalonia and Aragón, where the anarchists were strongest. In Lérida more than 60 percent of the clergy were killed; in Barbastro 88 percent of the secular clergy died. But anarchists were not the only ones responsible. People from all political groups in the Republican zone, and even some who had not been politically active, were involved.
The one exception was the Basque Country, which did not share the revolutionary experience of July to September 1936 and where the conservative Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) was in power. The Basque Country was also the one place in Republican Spain where public religious services continued after 18 July. Basque troops even heard mass in the field. However, in October 1936, the Nationalists executed sixteen Basque priests.
There is no single accepted explanation for this violence. Many recent analyses connect it to the anticlericalism that formed part of the culture of the Spanish left, and especially to the political power vacuum and the revolutionary events that were triggered by the military uprising and which would not have happened without it.