The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was a time of great difficulty for the Church in general, and for priests and friars in particular. More than 7000 priests, friars and nun were martyred. Their crime: being a priest or religious. In addition, more than 3500 lay persons were martyred in witness to their Christian faith.
Besides Blessed Anselm Polanco, who was martyred in 1939, six groups of Augustinian friars totaling 98 men, gave their lives in witness to their Christian faith.
These six groups are:
- Sixty-five friars from the Monastery of El Escorial, Madrid
- Ten friars from the seminary at Udés, Cuenca
- Six friars from the schools in Santander
- Three friars from the Augustinian house in Gijón, Asturias
- Four friars from the Augustinian community in Málaga
- Ten mostly elderly or sick friars residing at the infirmary in Caudete, Albacete
The 98 Augustinian friars were a diverse group: young and old, professors and seminarians, preachers and manual laborers. But all were united in their unwavering faith, so strong that not even the prospect of a cruel death could move them to abandon Christ.
Monastery of El Escorial
The community of El Escorial totaled 111 friars. Some of these friars lived in a separate house nearby in the city of Madrid, where they ministered to university students.
Those who remained in the large Escorial Monastery were living almost as prisoners by July, 1936. Two schools located at the Monastery – Maria Christina University and Alfonso XII (primary and secondary) School – had been shut down. The church had been forced to close. None of the friars could leave the building.
On August 5, 1936, while the community was at prayer in the Monastery chapel, some local officials came to the door. They informed the new Prior, Angel Custodio Vega, that on the following morning, everybody would be taken to Madrid.
That evening, a special final supper was shared by the community. It was difficult not to be in a festive mood when they sat down to the meal. It was was similar to what would be served on a major feast like Christmas.
Then the former Superior, Juan Monedero, spoke to the friars in a somber tone, telling them that the situation was grave, and that they should be prepared for what was to come.
Very early the next morning, the community celebrated Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation together. Having been strengthened by the Eucharist, the friars were taken to Madrid in four buses or trucks. They were held in a school, Colegio San Antón, which had been converted into a prison.
A few days later, several more friars who had been imprisoned elsewhere were taken to the school- prison. Among them was the Prior Provincial, Avelino Rodíguez. When he arrived, he saw that the friars were supporting and encouraging each other. The youngest members of the community were well- coached especially by the older friars, and in particular Assistant General Mariano Revilla.
The prisoners remained at this prison until the end of November. This was a time of great suffering and privation. Although the jailers would curse at the prisoners and threaten them with rifles and pistols, trying to force blasphemies from their mouths, not a single friar was intimidated into denying his faith.
During the nights of November 28 and 30, 1936, the friars were “tried” and convicted by a sham court of the crime of being friars. They all affirmed that they were Augustinian friars from El Escorial Monastery, and refused to deny their Christian faith or cooperate in the atrocities of those who were persecuting the Church.
The friars were tied together, loaded onto trucks and taken to Paracuellos de Jarama, where they were shot to death. A total of 65 friars from El Escorial were martyred.
One of these martyrs, José López Piteira, a Twenty Three-year-old native of Jatibonico, Camaguey, Cuba, is the first person of Cuban origen to be beatified.
Seminary at Udés, Cuenca
This seminary had a total of 115 professed friars
and aspirants. They were expelled from from their house during the afternoon of June 24, 1936.
Eight Augustinian friars were executed immediately, without any trial at all. Two others were imprisoned in Cuenca until September 21, 1936, the date of their martyrdom.
Schools in Santander
Friars in Santander ministered at two schools:
Colegio Cántabro and another school on Ruamayor St., where 400 children of poor workers were educated at no cost to them.
Only one friar from Colegio Cántabro was martyred. His execution took place in Gijón.
Of the ten friars at the Ruamayor location, five became martyrs.
Expelled from their houses, the friars found lodging in rooming houses or in private homes. One by one they were arrested and executed for being friars or priests. The last one to be martyred was Epifanio Gómez. He was killed December 22, 1936. His body was discovered later at la Vendée, on the Atlantic coast of France.
Friary in Gijón, Asturias
Augustinians at the Friary in Gijón ministered in schools and served as sacramental ministers, preachers, confessors and chaplains. Three friars from Gijón were martyred during the persecution. Like the friars of Santander, they were expelled from their house and arrested later at the places where they had found lodging.
The Community at Málaga
Four Augustinians – two priests and two brothers – were martyred in Málaga. Forced to leave their house, they found lodging wherever they could. They secretly continued their pastoral work. While they were engaged in their ministries, they were arrested and martyred.
Infirmary in Caudete, Albacete
Sixteen friars resided at the infirmary in Caudete. Most of them were in poor health. Five were arrested during the morning of July 23, 1936. The other 11 were arrested that afternoon. One was executed immediately. The others were imprisoned until August 5, when they became martyrs near Fuente la Higuera, Valencia.
The processes of beatification and canonization of the five groups of martyrs were begun at various times between 1950 and 1964. Diocesan investigations were concluded between 1955 and 1967. The Congregation of Saints combined the causes of the five groups in 1990 and officially recognized the validity of the unified cause in 1991.
The Ordinary Historical Meeting of the Congregation of Saints approved their designation as martyrs March 11, 2005. Then, on December 19, 2006, the Plenary Meeting of Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation gave additional approval of their beatification, and sent its recommendation to Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope on June 1, 2007 confirmed their martyrdom. These Augustinian martyrs, along with some 400 others, including lay Catholics, members of other religious institutes, priests and bishops, who gave their lives in witness to Christ, were beatified October 29, 2007. Fernando Rojo Martínez, O.S.A., the Augustinian Postulator of Causes, oversees the progress of the cause for canonization.
These are the names of all 98 of these Augustinian Martyrs of Spain:
Luis Abia Melendro, Benito Alcalde, González, Pedro Alonso Fernández, Ramiro Alonso López, Florencio Alonso Ruiz, Bernardino Alvarez Melcón, Manuel Alvarez Rego, Dámaso Arconada Merino, Lorenzo Arribas Palacio, Antonio M. Arriaga Anduinza, Antolín Astorga Diez, Juan Baldajos Pérez, Felipe Barba Chamorro, Luis A. Blanco Alvarez, Bernardino Calle Franco, José A. Calleja del Hierro, Emilio Camino Noval, Pedro J. Carvajal Pereda, Miguel Cerezal Calvo, Eugenio Cernuda Febrero, Víctor Cuesta Villalba, José M. Dalmau Regas, Nemesio Diez Fernández, Anastasio Diez García, José Esnaola Urteaga, Matías Espeso Cuevas, José Agustín Fariña Castro, Manuel Formigo Giráldez, Francisco Fuentes Puebla, Víctor Gaitero González, José Gando Uña, Joaquín García Ferrero, Arturo García de la Fuente, Senén García González, Nemesio García Rubio, Claudio J. García San Román, Esteban García Suárez, Benito Garnelo Alvarez, Gerardo Gil Leal, Epifanio Gómez Alvaro, Marcos Guerrero Prieto, José Gutíerrez Arranz, Luis Gutíerrez Calvo, Diego Hompanera París, Miguel Iturrarán Laucirica, Froilán Lanereo Villadangos, Jesús Largo Manrique, Leoncio López García, José López Piteira, Constantino Malunbres Francés, Francisco Marcos del Río, Ricardo Marcos Reguero, Julio Marcos Rodríguez, Julio María Fincias, Román Martín Mata, Melchor Martínez Antuña, Jacinto Martínez Ayuela, Pedro Martínez Ramos, Isidro Mediavilla Campos, Heliodoro Merino Merino, Fortunato Merino Vegas, Nicolás de Mier Francisco, Juan Monedero Fernández, Severiano Montes Fernández, José Noriega González, Gabino Olaso Zabala, Samuel Pajares García, Gerardo Pascual Mata, José Peque Iglesias, Marcos Pérez Andrés José Antonio Pérez García, Juan Pérez Rodríguez, Angel Pérez Santos, Cipriano Polo García, Luciano Ramos Villafruela, Agustín Renedo Martino, Mariano Revilla Rico, Ubaldo Revilla Rodríguez, Sabino Rodrigo Fierro, Avelino Rodríguez Alonso, Conrado Rodríguez Gutiérrez, Benito Rodríguez González, Lucinio Ruiz Valtierra, Vidal Ruiz Vallejo, Juan Sánchez Sánchez, Macario Sánchez López, Tomás Sánchez López, Primitivo Sandín Mifiambres, Miguel San Ramón Fernández, Enrique Serra del Chorro, Pedro Simón Ferrero, Luis Suárez Valdés, Dionisio Terceño Vicente, Máximo Valle García, Pedro de la Varga Delgado, Benito Velásco Velásco, Balbino Villaroel Villaroel, Julián Zarco Cuevas.