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The Evangelization of Franco's ‘New Spain’

  • William J. Callahan (a1)


On 20 May 1939 General Francisco Franco attended the solemn Te Deum service held at the royal church of Santa Barbara to celebrate the triumph of nationalist over republican Spain. Surrounded by the symbols of Spain's Catholic past, including the standard used by Don Juan of Austria at Lepanto, the general presented his “sword of victory” to Cardinal Gomá, archbishop of Toledo and primate of the Spanish church.1 The ceremony symbolized the close ties between church and state formed by three years of civil war. The new regime had given proof of its commitment to the church even before the conflict had ended, and the clergy now looked forward to the implementation of a full range of measures in education, culture, and the regulation of public morality, measures that had last been seen in Spain over a century before.2



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1. Ya, 21 May 1939; Rodríguez, Teodoro, Así es España y así la antiespaña (Madrid, 1942), p. 275.

2. The abrogation of the Republic's legislation that was regarded as hostile to the church began early in the history of the regime. A decree of 22 September 1936, for example, re-established the confessionality of the public school system. Other measures, however, such as the abolition of divorce, were not taken until after the war had ended. Madrid, R. S., “La enseñanza religiosa en la nueva España,” Razórs y Fe (1938), no. 114, pp. 3839;Hermet, Guy, Les catholiques dans l'Espagne franquiste, 2 vols. (Paris, 19801981), 2: 93.

3. Ya, 9 June 1939, 19 July 1939,2 March 40.

4. Ibid., 4 March 1940.

5. An astute clerical observer remarked in 1909: “Today, there are great nuclei of workers who not only do not practice a religious life, but also hate it.” Similarly, one of the few statistical studies of religious practice carried out before the war painted a devastating picture of dechristianization in Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilbao. José de los Gutiérrez, Perales, El problema religioso en Epaña (Madrid, 1909), p. 101;Peiró, Francisco, El problema religioso-social de España, 2d ed. (Madrid, 1936), p. 14. For a general discussion of dechristianization in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Spain, see Callahan, W. J., “Was Spain Catholic?” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 2 (1984): 159182.

6. Santidrian, Pedro R., El Padre Sarabia escribe su historia (1875–1958): medio siglo de misiones en España (Madrid, 1963), p. 141.

7. Although commitment to the church was strongest in the northern countryside, the lay leaders of such groups as Catholic Action, founded after the turn of the century to promote the church's interests in a rapidly secularizing society, were drawn in the vast majority from the conservative, educated professional classes of the cities. Thus Father Ángel Ayala, who established one of the most influential groups within Catholic Action, the Asociación Católica Nacional de Jovenes Propagandistas, recruited the first members from among students of the elite Jesuit secondary school located on the calle de Areneros in Madrid. Cervera, Francisco, Ángel Ayala (Madrid, 1975), pp. 132136.

8. Ibeas, Bruno, “Nuestro Christianismo,” España y América 3(1914): 514.

9. Gafo, José D., “La situación religiosa en España,” La Ciencia Tomista 36 (1927): 381. A French Catholic journal was equally critical of the emphasis of the Spanish church on abundant popular devotions, processions, pilgrimages, and the like. It expressed “uneasiness about the future of religion” in the country if the church failed to become more vigorous. “Ò va l'Espagne, Les dossiers de l'Action Populaire 234 (1930): 4. Not all modern commentators would share this view. Josep Massot i Muntaner, who has written extensively on the church in Catalonia, refers to “a revitalization of the clergy” and “a renovation of the pastoral” in the region after the turn of the century: L'Església catalana al segle XX (Barcelona, 1975), pp. 24, 3637. There is no evidence, however, that this “renovation” had any effect on the dechristianized workers of Catalonia.

10. In 1908, for example, a national congress to reform sacred music took place in Seville; a similar group met at Valladolid in 1913 to propose measures to improve the quality of religious education. Crónica del Segundo Congreso Nacional de Musica Sagrada (Seville, 1909);Crónica oficial del primer Congreso Catequístico Nacional Español, 2 vols. (Valladolid, 1913).

11. Tarancón, Vicente Enrique y, Recuerdos de juventud (Barcelona, 1984), p. 70. In their well-documented study of the church in Galicia during the Republic, Francisco Carballo and Alfonso Magariños observed that the “organization of the cult… absorbed … all its energies practically speaking.” La Iglesia en la Galicia contemporánea: análisis histórico y teológico del período, 1931–1936, II República (Madrid, 1978), p. 321.

12. Lannon, Frances, “The Church's Crusade against the Republic,” in Revolution and War in Spain, 1931–1939, ed. Preston, Paul (London, 1984), pp. 4647.

13. El Debate, 3 April 1932. In its issue of 1 January 1933, the newspaper claimed that “a renovation of religious life as is now taking place has been seen in Spain for many years.” Gutiérrez, Eloy Montero y, El porvenir de la Iglesia de España (Madrid, 1933), p. 147.

14. El Debate, supplement, 1 January 1935. Similarly, the number of local centers of a Catholic youth group associated with Catholic Action expanded from 700 in 1928 to 1,400 by 1933. Ibid., 1 January 1933.

15. Duocastella, Rogelio, Mataró 1955: estudio de sociología religiosa sobre una ciudad industrial española (Barcelona, 1961), p. 291.

16. Lannon, , “The Church's Crusade against the Republic,” pp. 5152.

17. Santidrian, , El Padre Sarabia escribe su historia, p. 253;Flores, H.R. Romero, Perfil moral de nuestra hora (Madrid, 1935), p. 69. Even in regions traditionally known for religiosity, the church encountered difficulties. A series of missions held in the rural districts of the province of Burgos in 1933, for example, produced indifferent results and led to the conclusion: “Levels of religious practice have gone down since the advent of the Republic, especially among the young.” Boletín de la Obra de la Defensa de la Fe en España (1935), no. 94, p. 130.

18. El Debate, 17 November, 3 April 1932.

19. Sanromá, José Sanabre, Matirologio de la Iglesia en la diócesis de Barcelona durante la persecución religiosa, 1936–1939 (Barcelona, 1943), pp. 2930. The standard work on this topic is Montero, Antonio, Historia de la persecución religiosa en España, 1936–1939 (Madrid, 1961). Although generally regarded as an impressive work of scholarship, this study has been subject to Criticism for its failure to distinguish the distinct phases of anticlerical violence in republican Spain. See the perceptive review of Raguer, Hilari, Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 57 (1962): 618630.

20. Montero, , Historia de la persecución religiosa, pp. 762, 763764, 633. For the efforts of republican authorities to save priests from certain death, see Raguer, Hilari, La espada y la cruz: la Iglesia, 1936–1939 (Barcelona, 1977), pp. 170174.

21. Montero, , Historia de la persecución religiosa, p. 83.

22. Raguer, , La espada y la cruz, pp. 214215. For a detailed study of the underground church in Catalonia, see Segimon, Albert Manent i and Giralt, Josep Raventós i, L'Esglesia clandestina a Catalunya durant la guerra civil, 1936–1939 (Barcelona, 1984).

23. Tarancón, , Recuerdos de juventud, pp. 244247.

24. Razón y Fe, no. 112 (1937), p. 6.

25. Reigada, Ignacio Menéndez, Acerca de la guerra santa (Salamanca, 1938), p. 17;Ecclesia (1941), no.7, p. 2.

26. Thus provincial governors imposed fines on those accused of blasphemy, and the clergy launched periodic campaigns to improve moral conduct. Teachers who had not shown a sufficient degree of “morality and patriotism” were purged from the schools. Hermet, , Les catholiques dans l'Espagne franquiste, 2: 129;Lamadrid, , “La enseñanza religiosa,” pp. 3738.

27. Hermet, , Les catholiques dans l'Espagne franquiste, 2: 95, n. 2.

28. Tarancón, , Recuerdos de juventud, p. 249.

29. Kodasver, (pseud.), Medio siglo de vida diocesana matritense, 1913–1963 (Madrid, 1963), pp. 134135.

30. Ecclesia (1941), no. 40, pp. 56. The process of providing funds for reconstruction was ongoing. In 1943, for example, the government authorized a special loan of 40,000,000 pesetas at a subsidized interest rate for this purpose. Ecclesia (1943), no. 81, p. 18.

31. Petschen, Santiago, La Iglesia en la España de Franco (Madrid, 1977), pp. 5960. The public purse was not bottomless, however, as Franco made plain in a 1942 interview. He indicated that the state expected the faithful to contribute generously to the rebuilding of churches. When asked if he had confidence in their generous instincts, he replied: “Oh yes! Charity is never exhausted.” Ecclesia (1942), no. 28, p. 7.

32. Prior to 1931 the church depended on government funds for the creation of new parishes. Neither the constitutional monarchy (1875–1923) nor the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–1930) was prepared to provide the money necessary to increase the number of parishes in the growing cities. The result was that average population size in the parishes of Madrid and Barcelona was among the largest in Europe. Swoboda, Enrique, La cura de almas en las grandes ciudades, trans. Moragués, Joaquín (Barcelona, 1921), p. 173.

33. Ecclesia (1941), no. 8, p. 8; no. 14, pp. 13–14; no. 24, p. 7; (1944), no. 162, p. 21; no. 166, p. 11.

34. Although frequently commented upon by students of the church in Franco's Spain, the surge in late vocations did not mean any substantial increase in the number of adults seeking to enter seminaries. It referred in a technical sense to aspirants between fourteen and twenty-five who were considered late vocations in comparison with the usual age of seminary entrance of from ten to fourteen. Fernando Urbina, “Formas de vida de la Iglesia en España: 1939–1975,” in Eglesia y sociedad en España, 1939–1975 (Madrid, 1977), p. 29.

35. Ecclesia (1941), no. 14, pp. 1314; (1944), no. 162, p. 21.

36. In 1927, for example, the secular clergy numbered 32,002, priests in the religious orders,12,219. In 1967, prior to a dramatic fall in vocations, seculars numbered 25,906, priests in the orders, 9,969. Anuario estadístico de España, 1927 (Madrid, 1929), pp. 601605;Vázquez, Jesús María, La Iglesia española contemporãnea (Madrid, 1967), p. 165.

37. Ecclesia (1943), no. 89, p. 19.

38. Ya, 9 June 1939; 7 February 1940.

39. “Santas misiones en Barcelona y Sevilla,” Ecclesia (1941), no. 7, pp. 89;“Santa misión de Vigo por Padres de la Compañia de Jesús,” Sal Terrae 30 (1942): 402; “Santa misión de la Coruña,” ibid., p. 302. “Misiones generales en Salamanca,” Boletín oficial del obispado de Salamanca (1940), p. 125.

40. “Santa misión de Vigo,” pp. 403–405.

41. “Santas misiones en Barcelona y Sevilla,” p. 8.

42. Muntanyola, Ramon, Vidal i Barraquer: el cardenal de la paz, 2d ed. (Barcelona, 1974), p. 422.

43. Mestre, Miguel Benzo, “Tres etapas de Ia Acción Católica española,” Ecclesia (1964), no. 1, p. 185.

44. Ibid. (1941), no.9, p. 11; no. 21, p. 11.

45. Ibid. (1943), no. 124, p. 21.

46. Escudero, José María, “La eficacia del catolicismo español,” in Catolicismo español: aspectos actuales (Madrid, 1955), p. 113.

47. La parroquia de Chamartín en los suburbios madrileños,” Ecclesia (1942), no. 29, p. 9; no. 8, p. 8.

48. Duocastella, , Mataró: 1955, p. 290;Miguel, Amando de et al. , Informe sociológico sobre la situación social de España (Madrid, 1972), p. 106.

49. Comín, Alfredo C., España, ¿país de misión? (Barcelona, 1966), p. 80.

50. Segundo Congreso de misiones populares (Madrid, 1961), p. 199.

51. Secretariado Nacional de Liturgia, Asistencia a la misa dominical (Madrid, 1985), table 4.

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Church History
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