The political situation
Castro Urdiales is a maritime city, founded by the Romans, and is located in the northeast province of Santander bordering the Vizcaya province.
In the years prior to the proclamation of the Republic of 1931, the social lifestyle of the city was quiet. However, certain sectors, such as the sailor were losing certain Christian customs and values. On the other hand, the young people of the region seemed to look toward the future with new prospects. The opening of the Barquín college in 1925, managed to open new horizons. In addition, there were two factions, a duplicate of institutions: two music centers, two weekly publications (Flaviobriga and The illustration of Castro), two maritime Councils,… Despite the two fronts, little was know of the left, nor of the Republic, and much less of communisms and anarchisms.
The Voice of Castro began to be published shortly after the Republic and distinguished itself as being anti-clerical. The authors were all but anonymous.
But that all changed on April 14, 1931, the day on which the Republic was proclaimed.
“On the evening of that same day fate broke resoundingly in the city of Ontón for miners, Setares…. And many were on our same side waiting for the opportunity to express to others without any fear their true feelings and resentment. We also were able to see what might be expected, the struggles that could be anticipated, liberalism and those who sought to cover up their lack of political, social and religious character.
From a reliable source, we knew that until April 14, in which the Republic was proclaimed, that the workers and sailor of Castro Urdiales didn’t exhibit any sign as a member of the Communist or Revolutionary party. Within a few weeks the membership grew rapidly and the contributors of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and the Russian Communism didn’t cease in the ranks with a devastating anarchy…
To make matters worse the third weekly newspaper The Voice of Castro, went into the streets poisoning the souls and social environment with its anti-religious campaigns, inspired in the most vile anticlericalisms.”
In 1933 the situation was explosive. Father Carrascal discribes in a letter to a few cousins in March of the same year:
“The bad times might accelerate. Currently we’re living in peace, but we have had tumultuous days. At the end of a dance on St. Joseph day, a fight in which one was killed and two seriously injured, then another was dead after a shooting. That night they tried to burn a house of a Fascist and then of a Right wing family. Those who put out the fire were taken to jail and the following day the Communist who died was hailed by all miners in the surrounding área. All the butcheries and bakeries were closed. They put a bomb in a printing press, set fire to the furniture in the Center of town… Later that day a women demonstrator was shot and killed. The Civil Guard and the Assault, no one can say what it would have been for Castro on March 20, 1936 as the mobs were crazy and able to commit the greatest atrocities even though they would have been the first to regret it later.”
In 1933, the priest who were school teachers, with the seal of secularization, had to teach classes in secular clothing.
The peaceful social coexistence soon disappeared. With the elections of February 1936, the environment was instigated by propaganda. The Left won with the sailor and mining vote and the Right was supported by everyone else. There was a deep división and the beginning of physical assaults, with negative results.
Brother Barrio was shot in Torrelavega. He described the situation in a letter dated March w, 1936, to his brother Nicolás:
“With the times that we are facing, I see little promise; but I think with these great evils, God and the Virgin will have great remedies; honestly there’s fear and tremble; but we serve a great Lord who will not lose any battle.
Here things seem a little upside down and the one that wants to go back to old ways don’t seem to realize that it is a path to hell; among these there are those who are afraid of God but seek everything for themselves and make no room for God and the Blessed Virgin.
I would not like anything wrong to happen because with such good promise, we have hope in the infinite mercy of Jesus and his Mother. I will not be left without any need.”
When the war began, the province of Santander starting with the capital came under the control of the army, such as in Asturias. This is to say, we were subjected to the Marxist regime and religious persecution by the Red’s. Catholic worship was banned in Catalonia and Valencia. Any Public demonstration was outlawed, churches were closed, looted or burned down. Ecclesiastical persons and things were the subject of special persecution by the Santander Reds. The priests were persecuted more in the towns than in cities. All the priests had to live in hiding.
According to a report by the Bishopric in January 1938, in the Diocese of Santander 76 secular priests were martyred, 57 were native of the region and 19 were from other dioceses. Many priests and brothers from from religious communities were also martyred: 6 Augustinians, 3 Capuchins, 14 Dominicans, 3 Carmelites, 5 Piarist Fathers, 8 Jesuits, 4 Franciscans, 9 Missionaries of the Heart of Mary (Claretians), 4 Marist, 2 Salesians, and 18 and Trappist. There was also 5 seminarians from the local seminary and 9 from the Seminary of Comillas. Fifty-eight churches suffered total destruction or demolition. The majority of the remaining churches altars and images, ornaments, etc., were destroyed. Countless works of art were lost.
Castro Urdiales followed the same fate. On the night of July 18, 1936, the first murder was committed. Later many others would follow. In the Vicariate of Castro Urdiales three secular priests were killed and seven religious missionaries of the Heart of Mary. On July 22, 1936, there were 300 miners armed and ready to defend the Republic. On August 26, the Town Council agreed to demolish the churches of San Francisco and Sacred Heart. Both churches had been gems as places of worship and historical significance.
The Claretian Missionaries settled in Castro Urdiales in 1924. The following year they opened a school named Barquín, for young people of all social classes. Quickly the Claretian’s could see its influence on youth. The missionaries also ran the Municipal Schools, until the Town Council of the Republic abolished the Claretian’s. These free schools had as its director the eminent Father Joaquín Gelada. These Centers produced a careful but profound transformation in the Castrena youth.
The missionaries also exerted great apostolic activity in the school chapel which is open to the public and offered Spiritual Direction.
In 1936, the community was formed by the following individuals:
Father Agustín Lazcano, Superior
Father Juan Segovia, Consultor 1º
Father Isaac Carrascal, Consultor 2º
Father Abundio de Juan, Ministro
Father Luciano Marrodán
Father Emilio Bilbao
Father Joaquín Gelada
Father Romualdo Echezárraga
Father José Gutiérrez
Father Doroteo Centeno
Father Jerónimo Carazo
Father Ángel Custodio Suena
Father José María Gómez
Father Benito Castilla
Father Matías Arroyo
Father Hilario Apodaca
Father Antimio del Cura
Father José Mª Ellacuría
Father Jesús Jaurrieta
Father José Martínez
Mr. Juan Manuel Arteaga
Brother Félix Barrio
Brother José Garriga
Brother Rufino Pérez
Brother Víctor Martín
On July 18, after the first murder in Castro Urdiales, the Claretian’s sense a bad omen. The priests understood the danger and on the 19th, asked the Mayor, Secundino Rodríguez if he would guarantee their safety. He replied: absolutely not, so the Claretian decided to move to another place. The next morning, the Mayor told the Claretian’s to leave the school because the militia needed the building. “After a very brief community meeting in the library, the Claretians decided that each would go his own way to where they would feel safe. That same day two went to Bilbao, the rest went to various houses.”
The Claretians who went to Bilbao took refuge in modest pensions and the seven who took refuge in the private homes of Castro Urdiales were discovered and arrested. They disappeared, so we believe they were killed. In the house there were six with the hope of not losing control of the college as the others left. Those who stayed in the convent were: Augustine Lazcano, Superior and Rector; Abundió de Juan, house Minister; Romualdo Echezarraga; Fernando Rodriguez Permuy, visitors; the Brother’s Felix Barrio and Domingo Vidaurreta. These had to suffer the demands, blasphemies and brutalities of the Reds. So in the early days, militia men and women burned the courtyard, the religious pictures and crucifixes from the classrooms and simulating the firing squad. They tore down the statue of Blessed Anthony Mary Claret in the courtyard. In addition to the adverse news of the fronts excited their hatred. This situation was unsustainable and lasted a few days. “Within the college they only spoke of persecution. Until we received the eviction order.”
On August 19, the Mayor and the Secretary came to tell the Claretians to leave the school. The priests warned that they owned three buildings, namely: the chapel, museum and library. On August 22nd, the priests left the college and the school became the headquarters of the Popular Front and Red police. The school was completely looted, the museum empitied as well as the library. When the priest returned a year later they found only the walls and the school was filled with 4000 prisoners of war.
Those who took refuge in private houses were arrested on different dates. On October 2, 1936, those arrested would be killed the following day: Father Jerónimo Carazo Palazuelos; Father José Martínez; and the student, Juan Manuel Arteaga.
The Father’s Joaquin Gelada, Isaac Carrascal and Brother Félix Barrio took refuge in the residence of the Sacred Heart of the Servants of Jesus of Castro, in the house of the gardener. They were able to moved freely through the streets without any danger until they were arrested. Father Carrascal wrote about his detention on October 3:
“Today Saturday, toward mid-morning we were visited by Mar(iano) to communicate this very serious news: Caraz(o), Mart(inez), Arteag(a). The three were tied to each other. They got into a car to be taken to Santander. Those who are in Castro will change their address tonight. If we can. We don’t trust our security so we intend to hide in the barn; We trust in “Providence.” We are crying for our dead brothers they tell us that they were taken to Santander. These priests walked freely by hiding the others.”
It was advised to move and hide often. According to the testimony of a woman religious who replied:
What will happen is what God wants.
Then Father Carrascal said they should offer three prayers for the brothers who were imprisoned, thinking that they were already killed, and in addition three Hail Marys to the Heart of Mary. In that moment all were kneeling. Father Carrascal pulled out a handwritten prayer and recited it aloud. With great fervour, hearing the words we offer our life, he closed the book, and continued praying from memory.
For the infidels, for our beloved Congregation, for these religious, for our enemies and for Spain.
Father Carrascal documents; they had no news of his execution because they had informed them that he was taken to Santander and locked up in a prison. So he confirms in his notes of October 6 and 8. In his last note of October 9, he gives news dealing with security: “For better camouflage when danger is imminent, we have three garments which are commonly called buzzards (“overalls”). At the same time they would write to some women on a piece of paper: we’re doing well, courage and patience.”
On October 11, Brother Jose Garriga Pujol was detained and executed.
Father’s Gelada and Carrascal and Brother Barrio continued hiding in the asylum and then were arrested on October 13, 1936, in the morning by a troop of militia.