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  • Gunpowder and Incense: The Catholic Church and the Spanish Civil War
  • Raymond McCluskey
Gunpowder and Incense: The Catholic Church and the Spanish Civil War. By Hilari Raguer. (New York: Routledge. 2007. Pp. xix, 418. $170.00. ISBN 978-0-415-31889-1.)

This important book by the Catalan Benedictine scholar Hilari Raguer begins (after a short prologue by Paul Preston) with an introduction that summarizes previous studies. It is an excellent précis. Chapter 1 outlines the Church’s response to the coming of the Spanish Republic in 1931, setting firmly in parliamentary context the oft-quoted statement of Manuel Azaña in October 1931, “Spain has ceased to be Catholic” (p. 28). Chapter 2 reviews the reasons behind the military uprising of 1936, noting that a war in defense [End Page 625] of Catholicism was not at the forefront of initial reasonings for the military uprising. Chapter 3 sketches the development of a self-justifying ideology of “crusade” that would sustain many on the Nationalist side. Chapter 4 examines the initial attitudes of the Spanish bishops in the face of such events as the bombing of the great basilica of El Pilar in Zaragoza (p. 68). Chapter 5 presents some thoughts on the stance of the Vatican press during the Civil War, in particular L’Osservatore Romano, which refused to print unedited Francoist propaganda despite general sympathy for the Nationalist position. Chapter 6 provides a scholarly analysis of the famous Collective Letter of the Spanish bishops of July 1, 1937, addressed to the Catholic world, and examines the cases of the bishops whose signatures did not appear on the letter: Bishop Juan Torres Ribas (Menorca), Cardinal Pedro Segura y Sáenz (exiled in Rome), Bishop Francisco Javier de Irastorza Loinaz (Orihuela-Alicante), Bishop Mateo Múgica y Urrestarazu (Vitoria), and Cardinal Francisco de Asís Vidal i Barraquer (Tarragona). Chapters 7 and 8 tackle objectively the still simmering issue of religious persecutions. Chapter 9 deals with the impact of the arrival in Spain of Archbishop Ildebrando Antoniutti as papal representative in the Nationalist zone. Chapters 10 and 11 analyze respectively the attitudes of Catholics outside Spain (not all of whom fell into line with the Francoist cause) and those of Catholics in Spain itself who supported the Republic. Influential foreign figures like Jacques Maritain urged caution among coreligionists before offering unconditional support to the Nationalist cause. Chapter 12 relates the tragic final years of Vidal i Barraquer and the means by which some of his supporters were able to return to Spain to influence events to some degree. Finally, Chapter 13 on “The Church of Victory” allows Raguer to outline the consequences of Francisco Franco’s victory. The reader can sense the author’s indignation with the entire concept of “National-Catholicism,” and, while remaining scholarly in its composition, his depiction of the ceremony of May 20, 1939, in the Madrid church of Santa Bárbara, when Franco laid his sword at the feet of the Cristo of Lepanto in the presence of Cardinal Isidro Gomá, is positively disdainful. Benedictine liturgists from Silos drafted a ceremony fit for a medieval monarch of the Reconquista.The conscious choice of ritual and ceremony on this occasion illustrated how Spanish history under the victorious Francoists—and the perceived contribution of the Church to “national history”—had already become infected by myth and myopia.

That Raguer should wish to distance himself from an “integrist” Catholic stance throughout this book is not to say that the reader is presented with an overcompensating attempt at providing balance when discussing the Republican position or argument. The crudities of Left/Right, Republican/Nationalist polemics are not for Raguer, for he presents a reality of the Civil War that never conforms to the stereotypes of some past treatments. What Raguer does betray sensitivity about are, first, the aspirations for autonomy of peoples within Spain, particularly his fellow Catalans, and, second, the revealing gestures of key individuals. With regard to the first, the leitmotiv that runs [End Page 626] through the book is the heroism of Vidal i Barraquer, exiled by the Civil War and never allowed to return to Spain by the Francoist authorities for his...


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