Sunday, 14 November 2010

Valle de los Caidos



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.

6 comments:

B flat said...

Is this not a breach of the rights of conscience? What is the basis of Spain's membership of the European Community, if the goverment can prevent access to a public church for religious services?

Why are the people of Spain not bringing an action against their government in the Courts, appealing to the European Court in Strasbourg if necessary? There is Article nine of the european convention on Human Rights. Is this only to be enforced against Christian symbols of Faith?

As to destroying the pieta statue, it is an empty gesture of hate, but shows at Whom the hate is directed. It puts Zapatero in the same class as the mullahs who destroyed the ancient statues of the Buddha in 2001. (http://tinyurl.com/2b7pue9)

Ttony said...

For good or ill, the Valle de los Caídos became a monument to the Nationalist triumph in the Civil War, whatever words were said about reconciliation. The fact that first José Antonio Primo de Rivera, then Franco himself, were buried there effectively made the Church a monument for one of the two sides. Now that the heirs of the other side have taken power, their revenge on all symbols of the Nationalist era is natural, and to be expected. The most surprising thing is that the pact sealed in the late 70s effectively to be amnesiac about the causes, conduct, and effects of the Civil War lasted as long as it did.

All of the same tensions as were there in Spain in the 20s and early 30s are mutatis mutandis still there. And while people worry about the decline of support for the Church, the Diocese of Toledo (with a territorial, not a practising, population of 700,000) is producing an average of 16 new priests a year since 2002.

Mike Cliffson said...

One thing is those few remaining Spanish families who have transmitted bitterness, or sore points , over the generations. Like any of us when Our gang run things and the church owes us , conduct could be appalling, and church-linked : to give an idea, a deceased friend, , miraculously, came back to the same only different, church in middle age 40 odd years after the parish lady muck of T* hall prevented him from receiving Holy communion because he was respectably dressed in a clean working class suit, not the completely new ones mostly sailors and admirals, of the RIGHT people. If it'd been just that one parish, it was nearly all, and lady muck was the wife of.., and she could get your family arrested, etc.The PP was her servant(many PPs rebelled at this, sooner or later,) The gang ran things, for many people, the church was part of the gang. 70 yrs ago.

But this above includes very few socialists: on the contrary , most of them come from a family background on franco's side of the civil war, lady mucks' sons and grandsons, and have to make up a fighting bloodred image, church-bashing is an easy way thither.
otherwise the present government and governing party are a bogstandard nasty meanminded proabortion proeuthenasia secularist lot, whom Brits might find familiar.They have gone for the valley of the fallen NOT because it still means much politically to anyone, but because it DOESNT any more - people just went there, especially on retreat in the benedictine monastery on the other side of the rugged rock. They want to revive the memory of the immediate Postfranco years when the far right DID go to Franco's tomb often enough for newspaper pictures, and anything whatever church bashy with the slightest excuse gives them some sort of lefty kudos, trendy street cred, or, more crudely in Spanish terms provides them with groin area bulge.
Also they had the capital, but lost it including its red circle of working class satellite towns, and that stings. They've taken plenty of farmore shortsighted revenge on madrid voters, out of uncontrollable spite. Saruman/sharky in the shire is about the mental level.It goes down well outside Madrid, too, so its not pur loss.
They 've got little enough else going for them, but they're good at selling what they have.
Incidentally, for bflat
go to http://www.hazteoir.org/node/30410
and
http://www.hazteoir.org/node/30410
to sign local and EU level petitions on the matter

Woody said...

My wife and I were fortunate to vacation in Spain last year and we were able to visit the Valle de los Caidos before Zap shut it down. On reflection from the whole trip, I have a somewhat different outlook than Fr. Sean, although sharing the dismay at the closure.

We were able to visit many of the famous churches in Barcelona, Montserrat, Madrid, El Escorial, Toledo, Cordova (the cathedral in the mosque: priceless), Sevilla and Granada. Invariably the churches were filled with tourists, many young, scantily clad couples (not a wedding ring to be seen), all gazing at the religious art as if in museums. There were adoration chapels in the larger churches, but these were for the most part empty, or nearly so. I was the only visitor to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in la Almudena, the Madrid cathedral, at the time. One could not avoid the impression that the churches, and perhaps even the Faith itself, in Spain had become more of a museum than a living thing, worth struggling, and even dying for.

Then one came to the basilica of Santa Cruz del Valle. Yes, the structure is like a tunnel, and dark in places, but the side chapels to Our Lady, each representing an element of the Spanish armed forces under Her patronage, were exceedingly well done and inspiring, as was the tapestry, of the Apocalypse, lining the walls. At the Altar Mayor, huge angels stood watch over the altar and the tombs of Franco and Jose Antonio. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, nearby, had the largest number of people praying of any that I saw in Spain.

On the whole, my impression of the basilica, then, was that here, at last, was the Faith shown in its masculine dimension, as a Faith worth struggling for, worth even dying for, as so many had done. In other words, a live Faith, a Faith for men, not a museum piece.

Maybe that is the devil's reason for causing Zap's own unhappy family memories of the Civil War (yes, I would call it the Crusade for God and for Spain), and, no doubt,those of his colleagues, to prevail and close it down. One can only hope that some day it will again be open. May Our Lady present such petitions to Her Son.

Auricularis said...

The Communists in Spain, would regularly put the Blessed Sacrament up against the firing squad. I know, which side, I would gladly take without blinking an eye.

Mike Cliffson said...

Dear Woody and Auriculi
Please write to Mr Zapatero, firmly but regarding modern issues, it all helps. Or follow the online petitions at Hazteoir.
30-odd % here vote socialist, enough for a parliamentary majority.Same as anywhere. For most of these voters the civil war is history, and everyone's sons and daughters have intermarried anyway. But the party apparatus and and a radical party-hopping leftietrendy base would, for different reasons, like to make it a live issue again, for the advantages of polarization, secularist idolatry, they can't forgive the fact "their side" lost.Fr's com.box isn't the place to expand my own opinions , or insert a 70.000 word resume of Spanish history, but it might help for reaction outside Spain to come in on NOW: the wanton destruction of Christian art and the closing of a -profitable- publicly owned place of Christian worship and christian retreats by the custudians of public money in a country that has had a lot, but a lot, of UK gravy coming in via the EU. You could also write to your MEP, or Hannan, on the same basis, even if this monument hasn't had EU money, enough have. You might try to demand an investigation of EU money spent in Spain.(Some politicians and some political parties have more to fear from that than others, but don't say so)
Who won and lost the Spanish civil war, and how and why, is what they WANT to bog you down in.