Sunday, 14 November 2010
The Valle de los Caidos ('The Valley of the Fallen') is a strange monument; I have been there a couple of times (out of curiosity, mostly) and latterly because I was the guest of some Madrid-based friends who have a holiday cottage not far away. From the little garden of the cottage, one can easily see the vast cross that indicates the Valle which itself is situated not far from the Escorial, the heart, in some ways, of the Spanish Monarchy. Not to visit it would be strange, though I am no Fascist. And, according to Wikipedia, it was the third most-visited monument in Spain in 2009.
As a church, that of the Valle de los Caidos isn't exactly heart-warming. There is a certain air of James Bond about it. The approach is up a long (highly defensible) road winding uphill through a forest which terminates in a large car-park with a ghastly cafeteria-style restaurant. From there one approaches on foot up some large concrete stairs. The church is not so much built as tunnelled into the mountain-side, and at the sesquipedalian entrance one must be searched and pass through those metal-detecting arches such as one finds at airports.
Inside, the gloom deepens. There is a long concrete tunnel of a church (which might have been by Goodhart Rendall) with no natural light, and side altars with tapestries behind them. The focus, through the unremitting grey gloom, is the large high altar with the graves of Franco and Primo de la Rivera at its foot.
The church, a Benedictine Abbey Church, is supposed to be a monument to all those (of both sides) who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. Inevitably, since it was the losing Socialists who, as prisoners of war, were made to do some of the work (they could halve their sentence by agreeing to participate), as well as the personalities buried there, it has come to be seen as a memorial to Franco and Spanish Fascism. Those workers are now called the 'esclavos de Franco'; Franco's slaves.
And now the church has been closed by order of Zapatero's government, and policemen posted to turn everybody away.
Let us not trample in where angels fear to tread. The whole issue of the Civil War is still a very painful one in Spain. There had been for many decades a general agreement simply not to talk about it, for the common good. This uneasy peace Pope John Paul was held to have broken by his raising to the altars many of those who were killed by the left wing anticlericals. Consequently, say some, now it is open season.
As Catholics, it would be hard not to see those Catholics who were killed as in some sense real martyrs. But the acknowledgment at a time when people can still remember that Franco and his army also committed atrocities has raised very painful memories and also the temperature of the debate.
Added to this is the fact that Franco has been judged by history as the villain of the piece. During my first visit to Spain, my companion lamented that the Church had supported 'the wrong side' during the Civil War. My jaw dropped; such is the forgetfulness of time, that nobody now remembers those thousands of priests and religious gratuitously killed by the left wing in and before that terrible war, and the dreadful oppression. They only remember Franco's fascism and his refusal to fight against Hitler and Mussolini.
King Juan Carlos owes his throne, at least in some degree, and perhaps mostly, to Franco. But he demonstrated his preference for a more democratic rule in facing down personally a pro-Fascist attempted coup not long after his accession. Consequently, the Spanish often speak of themselves as being not Monarquistas, but Juan Carlistas—attached not so much to the monarchy per se as to the person of Juan Carlos. Whether a similar reverence will be accorded the Prince of the Asturias when he succeeds, remains to be seen.
But to return to the Valle de los Caidos. Clearly, it was a thorn in the side of Zapatero and his mates. Not only was it a memorial to the fallen, it was also Franco's burial place, and therefore a focus of attention, even pilgrimage, to people that Zapatero pathologically hates. The closure is an act of defiance from a man who feels that finally he has put Fascist Spain to rest. The Guardia Civil are posted to prevent people from attending Mass there.
Not that long ago, guide books warned visitors to the Valle that the Guardia Civíl were still very much pro-Franco, and kept a proud watch on his tomb. Consequently, we were warned, 'behave yourselves!'. On my first visit, my companion (the same person who had lamented the Church's bad choices in the Civil War) raised his right arm and goose-stepped his way out of the church.
I was mortified; I thought we'd be arrested for mocking the Caudillo.
The chances are now that we'd be arrested for the opposite reason.
I was deeply saddened to read that the latest casualty of this business was a Pietá statue at the Valle which this year has officially been attacked with jack hammers in order to destroy it.
Whatever one's politics, this vandalism doesn't seem to be the right way to go about things.
Posted by Pastor in Valle Emeritus at 16:41