Anthony Arriaga, a young Augustinian student, suffered an epileptic seizure and was taken to a hospital. There he was befriended by a Marianist Brother with whom he began to meet at night for prayer and mutual support.
On 30th August, Anthony was taken away with four other persons and all five were shot. The Marianist Brother survived the persecution. He later testified to Anthony’s martyrdom, stating how some men who were present at the shooting told him how the five died bravely, proclaiming, “Long live Christ the King!”
Late in the afternoon the Augustinians were taken from the police lock-up to a school building which had been commandeered for use as a prison. There they were housed together in a large study hall.
Classroom benches and chairs offer little in the way of comfort for either the old or the young, and bare boards provide a hard bed equally for all. But this was their accommodation for several weeks.
It was rumoured that the Government would release intellectuals if they identified themselves and asked to be released. At least ten of the imprisoned Augustinians were well respected professors. But there was no way that these men would abandon their community, they would neither seek nor accept any offer of release.
Great psychological pressure and even torture were brought to bear on the young students by their communist guards, to have them deny their faith in God in order to gain freedom; not one chose that kind of freedom. Their courage was inspirational.
In late November 1936, the prisoners were brought before a tribunal which followed a set pattern and lasted barely five minutes. Each friar was asked his name and the same questions: “Where were you before you came here?”
On answering “In the monastery of The Escorial”, he was asked “Are you an Augustinian?” When he answered “Yes”, he was asked: “Are you willing to fight to defend the Government?” The standard answer the Augustinians gave to that question was: “With a gun, no! With the Red Cross or in a Hospital, yes!”
That was it. In most cases the verdict was a death sentence, simply for remaining faithful.
On 28th November some 400 prisoners, including twelve Augustinians, were taken to an isolated place, with a scattering of pine trees, called Paracuellos de Jarama. Armed assassins, standing near some deep trenches, awaited their arrival.
Fr Avelino Rodriguez O.S.A. asked and was granted permission by the commander of the guards to say farewell to his confreres. He made the sign of the Cross on each one and embraced him; then he loudly proclaimed, “We know that you are going to kill us because we are members of a religious order; and certainly we are. I and my confreres forgive you from our hearts. Long live Christ the King!” Shots rang out and the victims fell or were thrown into the trenches.
The next day more bus loads of prisoners, including Augustinians, were taken away. For some unknown reason, their fate was simply imprisonment in Alcala de Henares, a town near Madrid, and they survived the persecution.
Among them was Fr. Luciano Rubio O.S.A. who decades later was to be elected Prior General (international leader) of the Augustinians in 1959.
(Continued on the next page.)
Photos (at right):
Picture 1: One side of the Escorial.
Picture 2: The main monastery refectory in the Escorial.
Picture 3: External entrance to Escorial church courtyard.