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Martyrs of Communism from the Spanish Civil War

There are more than two thousand martyrs of the Spanish Civil War in the Church’s current calendar, dating from 1934 to 1939.

During a 2007 beatification at the Vatican, Spanish students hold portraits of clergy killed in the Spanish Civil War. (CNS photo/Reuters); right: Main altarpiece of the Church del Salvador of Elche after it was burned on February 20, 1936 by Republicans in the time of the Spanish Second Republic. (Image: Wikipedia)

The year 1936 marks the beginning of a horrific civil war in Spain.

Perhaps you, like me, have no memory of learning about the Spanish Civil War in high school history class. After all, the number of war victims in the Spanish Civil War seems small in comparison to the millions who died in World Wars I and II, as well as the many other bloody conflicts of the twentieth century. It’s not surprising that history textbooks focus more on wars with simpler causes and larger death tolls.

What events led to the Spanish Civil War? In 1931, the king of Spain fled to England, and the government that was established soon afterward was generally described as ineffectual. Two sides formed to try to take control of the country: the Republicans and the Nationalists. The rest of the story is complicated1 but well worth understanding.2 However, for faithful Catholics in Spain, the choice was clear.

The Republican leadership was largely an alliance of socialists, communists, and anarchists. Their primary goal was not to peacefully transition their country to a better way of life for all Spaniards, but to lead a violent revolution that would overturn the existing government and establish some form of a communist state. Whatever valid complaints one might have of Nationalist leader Francisco Franco’s later reign as the fascist dictator of Spain, for Spanish Catholics at the time of the war, there was no real alternative. The Republicans were following the same playbook used in every other communist revolution, and one of the most familiar tactics in that struggle is to kill Christians.

In Spain, that meant killing Catholics. Following the obvious strategy that it is most effective to execute the leaders of those who oppose you, rather than the rank and file, the Republicans particularly sought out anyone in a cassock or religious habit.

That’s why Blessed Joan Huguet Cardona was killed. He had only been ordained a priest for a month when Republican militiamen entered his town of Ferreries. Because he was wearing a cassock, they found him quickly, arrested him, forced him to remove his cassock, and ordered him to spit on a devotional object (a kind of rosary) that he was carrying. When he refused to do so, he was shot. This occurred on July 23, 1936.

Granted, anti-Catholic persecution had been occurring throughout the country for several years, and the poor young priest might have been expected to be better prepared. But the superior of a Passionist monastery in the city of Daimiel knew very well that the situation had become dangerous on that same date of July 23. What could he do to protect the other Passionist priests, religious brothers, and young men who were studying to become Passionists, all of whom were under his care? When that superior, Blessed Nicéforo of Jesus and Mary (born Vicente Diez Tejerina), heard armed men approaching while the Passionists were at prayer together, he warned them that they were facing their own Gethsemane and gave them absolution and Communion. Some of those twenty-six men were shot immediately; the rest were allowed to leave but were followed by the Republicans and eventually tracked down and killed. Witnesses noted that they forgave their murderers before they were executed.

Also on July 23, Republican militia arrived at a monastery of Minim Nuns in Barcelona. Blessed Mother Maria Montserrat Garcia Solanas, who was their superior, along with eight other Minim nuns and a laywoman who assisted the nuns, were all shot and killed.

Late at night on the same day, Blessed Lluis Janer Riba, a diocesan priest, was awakened by Republican militiamen outside his window who ordered him to come down to the town square. When he arrived downstairs, they shot him.

On that same day in the Toledo region, Blesseds Pedro Ruiz de los Panos and Josep Sala Pico were arrested. They were both members of the Diocesan Laborer Priests, a priestly fraternity dedicated to the fostering of vocations. They too were summarily killed by Republicans.

In the Cordoba region of Spain on this date, a group of four diocesan priests, a seminarian, a husband, and a wife (all of whom are now also honored with the title of “Blessed”) were captured by Republican militiamen and executed.

Note that in all of these cases, there was never any pretense of a trial. Simply being a Catholic priest or a faithful Catholic was sufficient cause to be shot on sight. They were not executed for political activism, for any known crime—none of them were even armed—or to achieve a tactical goal in the war. They were simply hated for their faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, this makes it relatively easy for the Church to officially recognize them as martyrs.

There are more than two thousand martyrs of the Spanish Civil War in the Church’s current calendar, dating from 1934 to 1939. Unlike previous centuries where detailed personal records may be very limited, every one of those thousands of martyrs can be identified by name, birthdate, and generally even by photos. Pope Francis beatified a group of Dominicans who died as martyrs in Almagro as recently as June of 2022, and there are many other documented martyrs of the Spanish Civil War that he could beatify as well, should he choose to do so.

What does this gruesome litany of martyrs for just one day—July 23, 1936—teach us? It teaches us respect for the heroic virtue of forty-seven individuals who did not abandon their Catholic faith even in the face of death. It also reminds us that communism and our Catholic faith are always and everywhere incompatible.

But we cannot defend our Catholic faith or our martyrs if we don’t take the time to understand our history and their stories. Once we understand some of the complexities of the Spanish Civil War (which, granted, are not only hinted at here), we will be better equipped to respond to modern day propaganda against our faith and our heroes. And when we are challenged to deny our faith in numerous lesser ways than were experienced by these martyrs, we will be more likely to imitate their fortitude and their faithfulness.


1 The Republican side was externally supported by communist Russia and popularly lauded by western progressives. On the other hand, the Nationalist side was externally supported by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, but it was also internally supported by faithful Catholics who championed Spanish tradition and the monarchy.

2 Dr. Warren Carroll’s The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution and The Crisis of Christendom offer excellent explanations of the history of the Spanish Civil War.

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About Dawn Beutner 68 Articles
Dawn Beutner is the author of The Leaven of the Saints: Bringing Christ into a Fallen World (Ignatius Press, 2023), and Saints: Becoming an Image of Christ Every Day of the Year also from Ignatius Press. She blogs at


  1. A useful antidote to the widespread glorification of Republican Spain. Recall that in “Casablanca,” when Inspector Reynaud wants to let Rick know that he thinks he is an idealist, he says to Rick, “You fought on the Loyalist side on Spain.”

  2. Martyrs – they are special forces of nature. Through their heroic sacrifices, martyrs inspire others to learn to “do dignity”.

  3. Beutner concludes: “But we cannot defend our Catholic faith or our martyrs if we don’t take the time to understand our history and their stories.”

    Or, their history and our stories…The Austrian Catholic, intellectual, multilingual and well-traveled Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddhin (1909-1999; books published on five continents and twenty-one countries) helps us bridge between the necropolis excesses of the Spanish Civil War and our own post-Christian abortion culture—between defilement of cemeteries and formaldehyde display of aborted children…

    Spanish Civil War: “The vulgarity, the obscenities, the corpses torn out of their graves and assembled in obscene positions gave one a never to be forgotten impression of the fine spirit which received such enthusiastic support from the American and British left. I saw these horrors just a few days after the liberation of that cemetery [Huesca: a city under siege between September 1936 and April 1938]…. The Red counterrising […] had indeed been an orgy of rape, sadism, torture, and unspeakable obscenities perpetrated by our dear friend, the Common Man, and which has its analogies wherever leftism lifted its ugly head” (Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, 1974).

  4. When I was a boy, growing up in parochial school in a German/Irish family back in the 1950s, there was no question whose side we were on: Franco! Franco! Franco! Then, in 1970, I had the privilege of being the guest of the Franco government for a summer at San Lorenzo de el Escorial. Again: Viva El Caudillo! I deplore any attempt at “even-handed” accounts of that demonic war. As for Hitler and Mussolini: I say more power to them for boosting El Jefe. As for Rick at Casablanca, he should better be remembered by his comment: “The problems of the world are not in my department.” That’s where he and his journalistic understudy, Edward R. Murrow, should have left it back in the 1940s.

  5. In his book Modern Times, the historian Paul Johnson says “no episode in the 1930s has been more lied about than this one …” This is because British and Spanish leftist authors wrote most books about the Spanish Civil War. Johnson continues: “only in recent years have historians begun to dig out from the mountain of mendacity beneath which it was buried for a generation.” Among those new historians, I would recommend books by the American Stanley G. Payne and the Spanish Pío Moa.

  6. And then the Catholic hierarchy in Spain stood by while Spanish Fascism killed 400,000 people. Twice as many as the Republicans. That included dozens of priests in the Basque Country including the Arch priest of the province for supporting the Republic. Hope they get to be martyrs too.

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Martyrs of Communism from the Spanish Civil War – Catholic World Report – The Old Roman
  2. Martyrs of Communism from the Spanish Civil War | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  3. Martyrs of Communism from the Spanish Civil War – Via Nova Media
  4. This religious community helps impoverished children in Haiti – Catholic World Report – Haiti Beat
  5. Les martyrs du communisme durant la guerre civile espagnole

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