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professed religious and laypersons; martyrs (uti fertur)    


     Among the atrocities committed on churchpersons during the Spanish Civil War, the murder on 10 November 1936 of twenty-three Sisters Adorers, Handmaids of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity (in Spanish, Hermanas Adoratrices, Esclavas del Santísimo Sacramento y de la Caridad) stand out prominently. This is not only because of the large number killed in a single execution, but also because of the physical state of the victims: infirm women for the most part, along with a handful of their co-sisters who attended to their needs. Here is one case stemming from the Spanish Civil War where the motive for the killing was indisputably religious in nature and not political.        


     When the religious persecution worsened in Madrid after the July coup of Franco’s forces, residents of the congregation’s generalate at Princesa Street were forced to seek refuge with families and friends. However, not all the sisters were able to do so, either because of debility or the absence of relatives. To accommodate them, the superior general, Mo. Diosdada Andía Laguardia, rented the second floor at number 15, Costanilla de los Ángeles Street, around the beginning of August 1936. They were put under the direct care of the congregation’s secretary general, Mo. Manuela Arriola Uranga. As the months passed, sisters from Guadalajara, Alcalá, and Almería who were in the same quagmire opted to stay there. There were also those, like Mo. María Dolores Hernández San Torcuato and Sr. Borja Aranzábal de Barrutia, who freely forewent the sanctuary that their relatives offered in order to be at the service of and in fellowship with this community. Mo. Manuela herself could have been spared from the slaughter that was to befall them, but she refused to abandon the other religious: “If I die as a martyr, is this not my duty?” At one point, twenty-five Sisters Adorers resided in that floor. Numbered among the professed religious (choir and coadjutor sisters) were six hijas de casa, i.e. former students of the sisters who, having distinguished themselves for their personal qualities and after completing a period of probation, attached themselves to the congregation with private vows.


     Living conditions at Costanilla de los Ángeles were very spartan. Due to lack of furniture, they used wooden boxes for chairs and tables. They also had to make do with their sparse provisions. The Sisters Adorers, nonetheless, persevered in the observance of the common life, especially the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist, a spiritual practice of the congregation. In the absence of a monstrance, the species were kept in a pyx kept in a small wooden watch case. This was then reserved in a hollow at the chimney that was covered by a marble slab. In moments of emergency, like periodic air raids or frequent searches of the floor carried out by members of the popular militia, Mo. Rosaura López Brochier took the wooden box and hid it close to her chest.


     It was common knowledge among neighbors that the women of the second floor were consecrated religious. Aware of this, members of the Popular Front regularly surveilled their residence, apparently looking for anything incriminating that would justify their haling before any of Madrid’s numerous checas, quasi-judicial bodies formed by parties of the Popular Front to render sentences against “enemies of the people.” The responsibility for heartening the religious during those dismal days fell on the able shoulders of Mo. Manuela. “Sisters, let us not be preoccupied with what will happen to us. Let us trust in our good Lord. We belong to Him and He will give us strength to suffer for His love, until martyrdom if necessary.” Two other sisters distinguished themselves during this period. Sr. Blasa Pérez de Labeaga García was totally deaf but she endeared herself to her co-sisters with her patience and resignation. Sr. Lucila González García, the oldest among the residents, was suffering from a heart ailment when she was brought to the Costanilla community. It is said that she passed long moments of prayer before the eucharist, offering herself as “a victim for the conversion of sinners.”


     Madrid was frequently bombarded by planes of Franco’s forces during the civil war. During such occasions, the sisters descended to the main door and lobby of the building for safety. On 09 November, at about 5:30 in the afternoon, a powerful blast shook the nearby Preciados Street. As they were in the habit of doing, the sisters went downstairs, leaving Sr. Lucila, however, who was very sick at that time. Upon gathering at the lobby, a miliciano entered the building and detained them. He argued that another miliciano had just been fatally shot from the floor where the sisters lived. An irate mob of milicianos swiftly forced their way into the building. One group went upstairs and forcibly brought down the debilitated Sr. Lucila on a chair. All the religious were then carried off to the dreaded checa on Fomento Street (which was once a convent of the Society of Mary Reparatrix) under the jurisdiction of the Federación Anarquista Iberica. The twenty-three were:


choir sisters: [1] Manuel Arriola Uranda (religious name: Manuela of the Sacred Heart); [2] Teresa Vives Missé (Casta of Jesus); [3] Rosa López Brochier (Rosaura of Mary); [4] Luisa Pérez Adriá (Luisa of the Eucharist); [5] María Presentación García Ferreiro (María of the Presentation);  [6] María Dolores Monzón Rosales (María Dolores of Jesus Crucified); [7] María Dolores Hernández Santorcuato (María Dolores of the Holy Trinity);


coadjutor sisters: [8] Juana Francisca Pérez de Labeaga García (Blasa of Mary); [9] Lucía González García (Lucila María of Jesus); [10] María Cenona Aranzábal de Barrutia (Borja of Jesus); [11] Emilia Echevarría Fernández (Máxima of St. Joseph); [12] Dionisia Rodríguez de Anta (Sulpicia of the Good Shepherd); [13] María Prima Ipiña de Malzárraga (María Prima of Jesus); [14] Belarmina Pérez Martínez (Belarmina of Jesus); [15] Sinforosa Díaz Fernández (Sinforosa of the Holy Family); [16] Purificación Martínez Vera (Purificación of Mary); [17] Josepa Boix Rieras (Josepa of Jesus);  


hijas de casa: [18] Mercè Àngels Tuñi Ustech; [19] Concepción Vázquez Areas (Ruperta); [20] Aurea González Fernández (Herlinda); [21] Cecilia del Campo; [22] Felipa Gutiérrez; [23] Magdalena Pérez   


     What transpired during the hours that followed are unknown. During the early hours of the following day, the twenty-three Sisters Adorers were machine-gunned at the farthest corner of the East Cemetery.


     The beatification process for these martyrs was formally initiated on 26 November 1952. However, only the causes of Manuela Arriola Uranda, Juana Francisca Pérez de Labeaga; and Lucía González García were considered and investigated.  In 1992, after nearly forty years of inactivity, the process was revived with the inclusion of the twenty other martyrs.  Their martyrdom of the twenty-three Sisters Adorers was formally recognized by the Church on 01 June 2007. On 08 October 2007, they were among the 498 martyrs of the religious persecution during the Spanish Civil War who were beatified at St. Peter’s Square,  


[on-line publication date: December 2007]