Sunday, 28th October 2007 is remembered as the date of the beatification of 498 people who gave their lives in witness to their Christian faith during the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936.
Of those martyrs, ninety-eight were Augustinian friars: priests, brothers and seminarians. The majority of them belonged to the various Augustinian communities of The Escorial, the royal palace monastery near near Madrid.
In the long history of the Order of St Augustine in Spain, since 1885 Augustinian friars have occupied the monastery in The Escorial where they staff its educational facilities and its church. In 1936 the community there included about thirty Augustinian students for religious life, training to be Augustinians. Some of them were aged only in their twenties, and others still in their late teens.
On 18th July 1936, the day after the Civil War began, the police took up guard at each entrance to The Escorial. There were well over one hundred Augustinians of various ages, occupations and stages of training within the building. For almost three weeks the timetable and activities of the community were carried on as usual while the friars waited for the next move by the police.
That move came on 5th August 1936. The police ordered the friars to prepare to be moved to Madrid the following morning. The significance of that move and its possible outcome were not lost on anyone in the community.
The members encouraged each other and an extraordinary atmosphere of almost joyful anticipation developed among young and old alike.
Responding to that mood, and knowing the value of a festive meal in promoting a feeling of friendship and solidarity in a community, the Prior decided to give everybody a treat. When they gathered together in the dining room for supper, they found the tables prepared for a great feast.
For fifty-three of those who sat down to enjoy that meal, it was their last supper together. Next morning the friars attended Mass and received Holy Communion.
Three old buses, with armed communist militiamen in each of them, took them to the State Security Office in Madrid, where they were individually interviewed for a police identity card.
Each Augustinian had resolved beforehand to state clearly that he was an Augustinian friar. When the issuing of identity cards was completed, the friars were placed in the police lock-up for the rest of the day.
(Continued on the next page.)
Photos (at right):
Picture 1: One of the four sides of the Escorial.
Picture 2: A community room in the monastery section of the Escorial.
Picture 3: An internal section of the Escorial.