“Cut off the head of the little priest!”

Friar Candido Rial Moreira He defined himself as a young man from a poor family who had worked hard within the Church after being left without a livelihood. “I lost my father when he was two years old and now I only have my mother,” he told one of his captors, a Second Republic militiaman, during an interrogation. That, together with two anonymous testimonies that testified in his favour, was what saved him from being shot in the neck during the fateful days that followed the coup d’état of 1936. Although he always had the very bitter taste of knowing that, while he had survived, as many of his order brothers had been shot in the back of the head. “When I write this, I am sorry that I did not have the same end as my professional colleagues,” he left a blank envelope after the Civil war.

Rial’s story is priceless. His testimony is one of the many that corroborate the outrages perpetrated by the most radical sectors of the left against the clergy after the outbreak of the coup. On July 19, the friar saw the parish of San Francisco el Grande in Madrid, where he had lived since his arrival in the capital, burn over a slow fire. and he felt the heat of the lifeless bodies of many less fortunate friars. Days later, the militia justice fell on him and he was arrested by a 17-year-old boy who asked him for his documentation. He lied and said that he was a construction worker, but they did not believe him and took him to a makeshift jail along with dozens of Catholics.

«The spectacle had attracted several people and, in the midst of them, they led me to a militia headquarters. An individual was pointing his rifle at me. […] On the way they insulted me saying over and over again: ‘You seem to know Latin well; We are going to make you like those’, pointing to the corpses of those who had been shot at night. The women in my path shouted: ‘Chop off that band-aid’s head, kill him now’ and other such nice things. Meanwhile, my captors were discussing the militia headquarters to take me to.

The testimony, part of the friar’s diary, has been collected by the historian Francisco J. Leira Castiñeira in ‘The nobodies of the war in Spain’ (Akal). A work in which he collects the lives, as he himself explains to ABC, of ​​those forgotten characters who were obscured by the great milestones of the Civil War. Each one, by the way, more surprising than the last. Rial’s is one of them since, after being released, he decided to fight on the side of the militias for several months. So, until he deserted and went back to his job as a chaplain. «After the conflict, he maintained contact with his former colleagues in the militias. He met with them on several occasions », the author explains to this newspaper.

-Why the ‘nobodies’?

I used Galeano’s poem as a form of vindication of the people who have not had history, or who have been robbed by the great stories of both sides. He wanted to show a more complex social fresco in which there were not two or three Spains, but rather a diversity of cases. The case of the friar is the clearest. Rial criticized the Republicans and was saddened because many of his colleagues were killed when the coup broke out in Madrid, but later he himself participated in one of those militias and had a good relationship with their members. For us, from the present, it is difficult to understand, but there is no contradiction. In short distances, individuals are not part of those great discourses that speak of good and bad. It’s all much more complex.

What have these characters meant to you?

The construction of any historical phenomenon cannot be explained without understanding that there is a subjective part. In all stories there is part of me. Also, I feel identified. Being Galician it is difficult to have a voice outside of here and show your questions and your opinions in the national socio-political context.

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-A friar who ends up fighting for the republican side… The story is surprising

That’s why I chose her. The story was given to me by the Franciscan friars of the province of Santiago. He ended up seeing how the militiamen murdered some of the brothers in his order, but also how they killed other religious. What is striking is that Rial shared many hours of combat with them at the front and had a good relationship even after the war.

-Where is the germ of hatred for the clergy?

It was a host of reasons. From the Confiscation, to the Concordat of the mid-19th century, when the clergy acquired powers in education and great power at the political level by the grace of God. That caused the opposite effect, and that secularist idea, which at the time was nothing more than a political option like the clerical one, resulted in some sectors, but not all, in a more powerful anti-clericalism. The result was the burning of convents and the murder of friars. But I want to make it clear that they were not all, but very specific and radicalized sectors.

What were those sectors?

The leftmost sectors of the left. Those who had a more intense participation in social life. But also people who took advantage of the madness that began after the Coup d’état to develop indiscriminate violence. In some cases they were not politically motivated, they simply wanted to kill. In barbaric contexts, in which ethical conceptions change radically, certain groups from both sides took the opportunity to finish off their enemies. Friars, politicians, businessmen with power…

Spanish Civil War. Militiamen awaiting orders

ABC

-Are the two forms of violence comparable?

The violence cannot be compared, they are two different types of repression. But everything must be placed in context. Everything was unleashed because of the coup on July 18. And it must also be understood that the violence was no different from what occurred in the United Kingdom, the United States or the USSR throughout the 20th century.

-Was there, then, good and bad in the war?

There were no good and bad on a social level. Yes, there was a coup, a repression and an attempt to destroy a democracy that had its obvious mistakes. But, when we talk about people, we should not use terms like red and blue. All of us, before and now, are highly conditioned by our context. The first chapter deals with a soldier who was mobilized by the rebel side because he lived in Galicia. This boy had no chance to decide his fate, he just touched him. You have to understand that context, although that does not imply justifying it. With high generals and politicians it is different. In that case another terminology should be used.

Do you have a special affection for any story?

I love all of them. My thesis was very specialized and in this book I had to include history of the working world, gender issues, religious history, data on the military campaigns in Africa… It was quite a challenge. One of the issues that most caught my attention was the way in which homosexuality was treated on both sides. It was something pejorative that was used at a propaganda level to try to prevent soldiers from deserting. Although the ones that struck me the most were that of Urania Mella –daughter of an anarchist intellectual– and that of María Gómez, the first Galician mayor. The latter, despite being from the Republican Left, allowed religious ceremonies to take place in her small town. After going through jail, they ended up living together and were marginalized even by their own families despite having two different mentalities.

What is the purpose of these stories?

What I want to transfer are not conclusions, but questions and uncertainties. I want the reader, after reading the stories, to draw his own conclusions from him. The key is not to fall into presentist apriorisms, but to try to put ourselves in that context that was the past. I think that this is the most interesting contribution that the work can generate.

-Pedro Sánchez has stated that he will be remembered for exhuming Franco… Do you think that is something acceptable?

I don’t know the context of this sentence. I believe that it is never too late to talk and discuss the past. Society –the media, politics…– must be clear about a series of aspects such as criticism of violence and the coup d’état, rejection of war and support for democracy. From there you can start discussing. I want to open a space in which all opinions that are well-founded and respectful can enter. This helps us to know other realities. It’s okay to talk about the past and respect all opinions that meet the aforementioned requirements. What the Government should do is good pedagogical work so that society understands that important and necessary things are being done. That’s what’s missing.

-Was it necessary to exhume Franco and Queipo de Llano?

They had to be exhumed so that they were not in a public space, but also because they themselves, and many other characters such as Primo de Rivera, wanted to be buried with their relatives.

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