The Camino and the Spanish Civil War (part 1)

General map of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39)

You might not notice it, but the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) is a conflict still alive in Spain.  Any Spanish person you meet of 60 years or older (e.g. some of the hospitalero who run the albergues you stay in) will not simply be old enough to have lived under the dictatorship, but will have started to become politically/socially conscious at that time (Franco died in 1975).  Almost every family will have memories, every community semi-repressed memories, and both inherited hatreds.  Political parties have inherited stances and in some cases are direct descendants of older groupings (e.g. the PP – last in government 2018 is the direct heir of the Francoists, though Vox is perhaps a closer ideological heir).  And yet for most of us pilgrims, we are aware of the conflict mainly through the tragic artistic masterpieces it inspired – Picasso’s Guernica, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Sender’s Réquiem por un Campesino Español (‘Requiem for a Spanish Peasant’) to name but a few.  But what has this to do with the Camino?  Perhaps more than you think.

Firstly, the outbreak of rebellion by right-wing elements in the Spanish army (led by Generals Sanjurjo, Mola and Franco) in 1936 was followed by rapid territorial gains in parts of Spain.  Some areas declared for the rebels with hardly a shot fired, and those areas along the Camino Francés — parts of modern Navarra, La Rioja, Castille y León, and Galicia — went with the rebels almost instantly (the dark brown areas on the map).  This is not to say that they were spared the horrors of war.  Oh no.  The rule of terror began and continued for a long time, with even the possession of a labour union membership card enough to put you in danger of being shot.  But those areas were spared the damage to churches and ecclesiastical property that happened in other areas, either through military action or the over-flowing frustration of many ordinary Spaniards by whom the Church was viewed as an institution of the elite and an organ of oppression.  Consequently, many of the riches of the Camino that you visit may well owe their survival to being on the ‘right’ side of the line when the Francoists rebelled.  I will provocatively propose that the modern ecumenical Camino is an unwitting legacy of Spanish fascism.

In a series of blogposts, I want to explore the Civil War on the ground, following the route of the Camino Francés, beginning in Navarra, by looking at things like events that happened at individual Camino locations, placenames, and execution and burial sites.  These posts will be broken up by others, but the civil war posts will be numbered, and you can use the labels to follow them.  For those of you who are interested in reading more about the war in general, I recommend the works of Paul Preston, perhaps the greatest historian of modern Spain in the English language, in particular his The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution and Revenge (2006).  We’ll begin in a future post in Navarra, and the reminders embedded in the streets of Pamplona.

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