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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
An Overview: XIV

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome once again to our continuing story. This week we will explore the difficult and ultimately irreconcilable relationship between the government of the Second Republic and the Spanish Church. Like the reforms we have already discussed, those instituted at the religious level penetrated into taboo territory where no Spanish government had dared to tread before. Unlike the other reforms, whose effects were limited to specific sectors of the population, those made in the realm of religion touched a raw nerve that ran through the whole of society.

By the beginning of the 20th century, public opinion in Spain had become sharply polarized on the question of ‘religion’, by which we mean Roman Catholicism, the sole avenue of spiritual expression remaining after the ravages of the Inquisition. Many Spaniards, whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, held religion to be the moral staff of life; while many others, in the same variety of conditions, held it to be the straightjacket of ignorance. The cutting edge of contemporary thought, as personified by José Ortega y Gasset* (1883-1955), prolific social commentator and a member of the republican parliament, tended toward the use of what this great thinker termed ‘vital reason’ and away from the ideological constraints of religion.

However, quite apart from the philosophical implications of faith, the objectives of the Republic’s religious reforms were strictly bureaucratic. No attempt was made, as it was in Communist Russia, to outlaw religion as it was practiced by the common man. The aim, rather, was to limit the economic and temporal power of the Church - which was great - and to reduce its overspill into non-religious aspects of society, due, in large measure, to the Church’s uncontested role as the dispenser of education in Spain.

As opposed to the Republic’s relationship to the Army, which started off on reasonably good footing but later degenerated, relations between Church and Republic were hostile from the start. To begin with, the effective separation of Church and State was seen by most ecclesiastic officials as a threat to the very existence of the Church. The passage of time, of course, has proven this not to be the case, but apparently the Church felt that its spiritual domain (which is its true domain) would diminish in proportion to the loss of its worldly domain - not exactly a faith-inspired approach to its purported mission: the saving of souls. As Barbara Tuchman eloquently puts it in her historical opus, A Distant Mirror:

“The claim of the Church to spiritual leadership could never be made wholly credible to all its communicants when it was founded in material wealth. The more riches the Church amassed, the more visible and disturbing became the flaw; nor could it ever be resolved and continued to renew doubt and dissent in every century.”

That the Church was “grounded in the things of Caesar” was no less true in 20th century Spain than it was in any other time or place. Hence, it comes as no great shock that the first surreptitious move on the part of Cardinal Segura (Archbishop of Toledo and maximum prelate in Spain) was to initiate the liquidation of all of the Church’s assets in order to smuggle its wealth outside national territory. These transactions, of course, were carried out behind the scenes with utmost stealth. The Cardinal’s first visible action was the publication of a pastoral extolling the virtues of the recently exiled monarchy and decrying the dangers of anarchy and communism. His impassioned words thundered out in response to a decree published the previous day (6th May 1931) by the Republic’s provisional government, stating that religious education was no longer compulsory in public schools.

Violence Flares

Joining forces with the Cardinal, two of Madrid’s most conservative newspapers, the monarchical ABC and the Catholic El Debate, spoke out vehemently against the new ruling, and announced the opening of a ‘monarchical club’ the following Sunday, 10th May. On the appointed day, a group of left-wing activists congregated outside the building where the club was holding its first meeting while listening to the Royal March on the gramophone. Emotions ran high on either side of the religious divide, and before long a ruckus broke out between the two factions. This incident, while not serious in itself, set off a chain reaction of nation-wide violence; for later that Sunday, another group of protesters tried to assault the offices of the ABC, which were under protection by the guardia civil. Two persons were killed in the incident, one of them a 13-year-old youth. On Monday, six convents in Madrid were burnt down by unidentified renegade groups, and on Tuesday several more religious buildings met the same fate in other cities.

On Wednesday, 13th May, Cardinal Segura embarked on his second openly anti-republican venture, which was to travel to Rome to report the unchristian goings-on in Spain, with the result that the Vatican refused to recognize the new Spanish ambassador. His mission accomplished, Segura did not return to Spain but rather set up a base of operations in a French town near the Spanish border. His plan was to subject himself to self-imposed exile while remaining near enough to Spain to be able to direct the clandestine withdrawal of ecclesiastic funds from the country.

On 11th June, the Cardinal tried to sneak back into Spain, but was discovered by the authorities and sent back to France, the rationale being that if he had chosen exile over active participation in the affairs of his homeland, he must stand by that decision for better or for worse. The Republic then initiated negotiations with other members of the ecclesiastic hierarchy in an attempt to smooth out the difficulties inherent in the so-far inimical relationship between the two entities. Not long into the negotiations, however, Segura’s scheme was discovered. Now it was the Republic’s turn to protest to the Vatican about the unethical behaviour of one as high as the Archbishop of Toledo. The following September, Segura was forced to renounce his post due to pressures from pontifical sources.

Sparks Fly in Parliament

In October, talks began in parliament to establish the constitutional articles which would define the Republic’s stance on religious matters. Article 3, guaranteeing Spaniards the right to practice any religion or none at all, passed with little difficulty. Article 26, however, produced heated dissention leading to the resignation of 42 members of parliament including Alcalá Zamora (president of the Republic and one of the key participants in the Pact of San Sebastián) and Miguel Maura (Minister of the Home Office). Because it cut to the core of the Church’s traditional and very privileged position within the Spanish state, the article was seen as heretical by many who otherwise supported the Republic.

It stipulated that priests would no long be considered civil servants, and would therefore no longer be paid by the State, following a two-year phase-out period. The bill also called for the dissolution of those religious orders which, like the Jesuits, “statutorily imposes, in addition to the three canonical vows, another special vow of obedience to an authority distinct from that of the legitimate State. Their assets will be nationalized and put to charitable and educational ends.” All other religious orders would be allowed to carry on with their activities under the proviso that they not “engage in industry, commerce or education”. Finally, religious orders would no longer enjoy exemption from taxes, but would be obliged to contribute to the upkeep of State, like any other legal enterprise.

Laws Go into Effect

In January of 1932, the above-mentioned laws went into effect, and at the same time it also became legal for Spaniards to celebrate civil marriages, get divorced, and be buried in secular cemeteries. The Jesuit order was officially disbanded, with its handsome assets - including large block of real estate and an extensive stock market portfolio - theoretically remaining at the disposal of the government. The trouble was that most of these possessions were not registered in the name of The Society of Jesus but in the names of those who managed the order’s financial affairs. Consequently, very few of the Jesuit’s great riches passed into the public domain.

Strides in Education

Education was one of the great aims and achievements of the Second Republic. During the Reformist Biennium alone, 6,750 schools were built, equipped and put into operation. To compensate for the diminished role of the priesthood in education, the government set up docent courses for student teachers, raised the salaries of those who practiced the profession, and elaborated a system of primary school inspections, among other measures. The budget for ‘Public Instruction’ was one of the largest government expenditures and rose steadily with each passing year. In 1931, 201 million pesetas was allocated for education, in 1932, 255 million and in 1933, 295 million.

One of the most interesting educational tools devised by the Republic was its famous Foundation of Pedagogical Missions. In the book, Historia de España, R. Tamames describes the activities of this innovative group of ad hoc educators:

“… it was, without a doubt, in the area of its pedagogical missions that the young Republic showed its best intentions of transforming, as quickly as possible, the pall of ignorance and obscurantism that, until then, had covered Spain. It began to operate in the summer of 1933 under the direction of Manuel Bartolomé Cossío. The missions, which reached the most hidden places in Spain, were made up of teachers and students armed with film projectors, gramophones, reproductions of famous paintings, books, etc. They would put on plays, and among the participants in this department, the most noteworthy were Alejandro Casona and Federico García Lorca (courtesy of the celebrated travelling theatre group, La Barraca). Many Spaniards from rural areas saw film and theatre and listened to classical music, talks and poetry for the first time.”


Although there is much more that could be said, this instalment will finalize our study of Azaña’s Reformist Biennium. As a quick checklist, the most important reforms instituted during these two years were the Agrarian Reform, the reorganization of Church and Army and the Statute of Catalan Autonomy. Next week we will begin our passage through the Black Biennium, a dark time, indeed, during which Franco and a group of other generals began to machinate their conspiracy against the Republic. Join us then.

Emily Kaufman