Political situaltion and persecution of the Religious in Lerida
The City of Lerida, located to the west of Catalonia, had 39,000 inhabitants in the year 1936. Despite a small population before the outbreak of the Revolution and religious persecution, there were quite a few political parties such as: Catalan Esquerra Republicana (Youth), the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia, Radical Socialist, called Petera in this capital, the Communist Party, Action Republican Catalan, Spanish Socialist Party Estat Catala; and trade union, P.O.U.M., C.N.T., F.A.I., Rabasaires U.G.T. and Union. There all seemed to have a right-wing philosophy.
The main political party was Republicana-Izquierda which was involved in preparing the Revolution of 1934 in Catalonia. The result was said at the beginning, but the revolution was latent, because to take action against the rioters, they felt more encouraged to continue their work of revolutionary propaganda. With the elections of February 1936, they were incorporated into the Popular Front, which also won the elections.
The social climate, disorder and incitement to murder remained unpunished. The situation became disturbing. Father Miguel Baixeras, of the community of Lleida and returning from Barcelona after the vote of February describes the sentiments:
“On Monday, I went to Mallorca, since there was a panic so large and so much influx of BBB & outsiders not knowing how to go down the street I went back to the house. Soon there were alarmist coming but as the Guardia Civil barked out severe orders, we moved from our house.
Since then, the spirit have been calming and now we are concerned about the assaults of the Revolutionaries. What preoccupies us is the Constitution make life impossible.
Domingo (Marcellin) has already begun teaching which will be a mortal blow for us. Below it looks very dark, but we are very calm because we know that God will not abandon us.”
But the calm was not going to last or was apparent. It was enough for the occasion. Father Miguel Baixeras writes on March 17, to his brother Joseph:
“Last Sunday in Lleida the Communists wanted to impliment a general slaughter and burning of all aristocratic neighborhoods, but the Civil Guard was hovering all night with armored trucks and machine guns and they dare not say the PIO.
I don’t see when it is going to stop.”
The military and public order, almost in its entirety were in favor of the military rebellion or National Uprising. On July 19, 1936, martial law was proclaimed but didn’t maintain normalcy or took the necessary precautions. Then there was the agreement to prohibit rail traffic. This led to July 20, with everything under control and with nothing to fear since the enemy was within their ranks. The Colonel of the infantry regiment and military commander Don Rafael Sanz Gracia clearly showed a lacking military spirit, enthusiasm and a betrayed by the Lieutenant Colonel José Martínez Vallespi (Leftist and mason), his partner in the Academy, ready for a state of war, resigned from his duties. Then the Lieutenant Colonel Martinez Vallespi signed to lift the state of war and secondly to inform Barcelona of the military failure, thus hoisting the republican flag on the balcony and in his speech finished shouting “Long Live Communism!”
After these proclamations began the persecution. The socialist union, communists and anarchists began the agitation and threats. The Lieutenant Colonel Martinez Vallespi completed the work: he licensed the troops and ordered the Marxists to be armed and the shooting started. Thus was formed the people’s army.
From that moment Lerida became a Red city. Militia groups and armed workers day and night would enter into public and private domiciles; arresting, looting and murdering in the streets and outside of town. The committee began the Constitution with orders of arrests and shootings. The committees were formed by the parties and organizations of the Leftists. The villages were organized in the same manner as in the capital.
It is not possible to determine accurately the number of murders committed by the Popular Front, but after the Religious, there were many of the middle class, military profession, landlords, merchants, industrialists, people with University degrees, employees, farmers and students. Their ideology was unaffected by the dominant regime. The majority of the murders happened during July and August 1936.
Those most responsible for the murders were the FAI and the POUM, which attacked in a dark, without concern for any victims, forced out of their homes and killed on site. This made it difficult for identification of those murdered. The procedure of execution was normally firearm or cremation but in some cases with bats.
Death was the plan of the Military Commander Sanz Grace, shortly after taking over for his friend Vallespi. Those martyred in greater proportion were members of the clergy. Those involved with Religion were the subject of special persecution in Lleida. The clergy killed within the limits of the province were 290, starting with the Bishop, Don Silvio Huix Mialpeix, the Vicar General, the Archdeacon of the Cathedral, teachers, Pastors, Men and Women Religious, and Seminarians.
In the early days of the Revolution, the Reds burned the Episcopal Palace and the Churches of San Martin, San Lorenzo, San Pedro, del Carmen and San Juan, within the urban limits, and on August 25, 1936, the Aguiluchos of Barcelona set the Cathedral ablaze.
The Churches in the whole province were looted and set afire with the images, altars, pictures, clothes and ornaments. The same fate befell convents, rectories, etc and parish archives.
The community of Claretian Missionaries
The community of the Claretian Missionaries of Lleida which was founded in 1885, and through these years many missionaries had exercised their apostolic ministry in the city as well as in other places near and far and had left a strong impact with the people.
In 1936, they served in the church of St. Paul. The community was formed by the following individuals:
Fr. Federico Codina Picassó, Superior
Fr. Juan Busquet Lluciá, Consultor
Fr. Agustín Lloses Trullols, House Minister
Fr. Manuel Tores Nicolau
Fr. Miguel Baixeras Berenguer
Fr. Luis Albi Aguilar
Fr. Arturo Tamarit Piñol
Fr. Javier Morell Cabiscol
Br. Juan Garriga Pagés
Br. Luis Grau Nasfré
Br. Mariano Bergua Ibáñez
In spite of the turbulent atmosphere that was created after the elections in February 1936, they felt calm and safe. Father Miguel Baixeras wrote to his family shortly after the elections:
“You want to know what we do here in Lleida. Up to now the tranquillity has been absolute. I bought a mechanic outfit that hides much and passes like anyone here in Cervera and with John, I went to Castellterçol.
The Franciscans and Mercedarians since election day sleep outside the convent, but we have not moved for a moment. While the Guardia Civil have their orders, there is no fear. Now, when the Guardia Civil tells us that they have orders to move, then we will have to leave the convent.
In the case of the assault… Although surely nothing will happen. I have indicated if there is danger, I will sleep in the house of our doctor…
Am I afraid? I have it on my mind. What we want is to go to heaven and I think that if we are killed, we will go directly to heaven, as quickly as posible, thank you very much.”
For this reason they didn’t take the necessary precautions, like the Franciscans and Mercedarians and when they did, it was too late. All members of the community suffered martyrdom with the exception of the last two. But there were two other martyrs who came from other houses, such as Br. Angel Dolcet Agustí, from Vic, and Father Jose Surribas Dot, from La Selva del Campo.
On July 18, 1936, the community was celebrating because it was Father Superior’s birthday. Dr. Andres Arrugaeta, a military medical personnel was invited. He mentioned the military uprising, that the priests already knew from earlier that day because the wife of a civilian guard went to the sacristy to congratulate Fr. Superior for his birthday. This caused unrest, while Br. Garriga the cook, doubted if they would eat the chicken that had been prepared for the celebration. In the afternoon Father’s Codina and Lloses visited a family friend, where Fr. Codina commented:
“The situation is extremely bad and tomorrow we will see our heads roll through the streets.”
On July 18 and 19, they celebrated Masses as usual but mid-morning with advice from people in the parish, they closed the doors as a precaution. After Fr. Superior ordered everyone to dressed in civilian clothes and in the afternoon gave them the freedom so that those who were afraid of remaining in the community to seek shelter in the houses that had been offered. The only one who left was Br. Grau.
On July 21, almost all participated in the first Mass except Fr. Baixeras and Fr. Superior. At eight, Fr. Superior was celebrating Mass and had to stop at the Gospel, because a lady was knocking at the door of the Sacristy that was in the alley St. Paul. This lady, who had attended one of the first Masses, heard in the street: We are going to burn St. Peter, and after the church of St Paul, belonging to the Claretian Missionaries. The Lady told them to be safe.
Then Fr. Superior said:
Where are we to go?
The Lady told them to go to go home through the back door. Then Fr. Superior ordered Fr. Albi who was in the sacristy:
Go upstairs and tell everyone to dressed in civilian clothes and go to the casa Jaques (Paloma Street, 18), in which the house had been offered as a refuge.
Although it seems incredible to take the cassock and sash, with his case and “escaped” to the street. They went out through the back door to Santo Domingo Street, where the rear door the house was located. In the house they took off the cassock and sash. Father Lloses the house Minister before leaving, gave a few envelopes with money to Br. Bergua the Porter, who would be the last to leave and close the door. Father Lloses was the last to arrive at the house of the Sra Jaques, around 9 am. But Br. Bergua before leaving, found Br. Garriga who was preparing the breakfast and was unaware of the order to leave the house. Shortly after leaving to the street, he were taken directly to the prison. Then Br. Bergua returned quickly to the house and closed the door. Outside they were shouting:
Open the door or we’ll set it on fire!
Br. Bergua went to the terrace to escape and was met with a few shots, which fortunately was not hit. He hid himself. He hid the envelopes under a tile, and during the night was able to escape to tell the tale.
At nine in the morning, the militia knocked on the door of Sra Jaques home with shouts and blows of rifle butts looking for the missionaries. In order to allow time to hide, the landlady replied that she was afraid to open the door. When she realized that the priests were gone, she opened the door. When the militia entered, she told them that the priests had gone through the other door, and went their way. Then the priests went up to the second floor to Mrs. Rosa Puig home, where all received the blessing of Fr. Codina and went up to the loft. But the militia said the people on the street hadn’t seen the friars, returned enraged to make another investigation and went to the attic, where the caught all the priests, making them come down the stairs between shouting and shoving. They formed two groups. Father’s Codina and Busquet were taken to the first floor and asked the lady if they had been there. Then they were to the Palace of the Generalitat where the Red Government had its headquarters and the others were taken directly to prison. Father Busquet, considered harmless because he was very old, poor sighted, obvious in pains. They let him go free and caught the last refugee of where he had gone.
On July 20, Br. Grau took refuge in the home of a friend and was captured on July 24. He was jailed for 6 months because he was a Religious. He was released from prison, apparently due to the intervention of his brother before the People’s Court of Barcelona. He would be an exceptional witness to describe the life of the martyrs in the jail.
The ups and downs of the Revolution carried out have the dates of several missionaries from other houses, such as the student Marcellin Bertolin from La Selva de Campo; Br. Angel Dolcet, from Vic, and Br. Hermenegildo Clotas from Cervera.
Life in prison
The prison of Lleida has a capacity for 100 prisoners or 150 at the most and in those days it housed 650 with all the discomfort that you can imagine. It goes without saying that the militia also is responsible for increasing the suffering of the detained with threats and even physical assaults of blows with bayonets. After dinner the cells were closed cells and not opened for the most basic physiological needs. But the night was accentuated with piety and prayers, and many who had led a Christian life as a routine discovered the mercy of God.
The Cell # 7, called by the prisoners “death row,” because those sentenced to capital punishment were there. A true miracle took place there: The Stations of the Cross, painted and covered its walls, which gave strength to so many people in the last days of thier life. In that cell they spent the day praying without worry about nothing of the earth. According to the Prisons Director, Marcelino Sallan, they sang and prayed at all hours. They would start at 7 in the morning with the Rosary and Spiritual Communion and at 11 the Rosary and acceptance of death; at 12, the Angelus and Spiritual Communion; at 3, the Rosary and acceptance of death; at 5, prayers and ejaculations, the Way of the Cross, and novena of the Father Pignatelli; at 6.30, the Trisagion and Act of Contrition; at 8, the Rosary, Spiritual Communion and acceptance of death. The official of prisons received from many prisoners small meaningful writings.