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In Spain, the Benedictines of the Valle de los Caídos on borrowed time



After having exhumed Francisco Franco, the former dictator, the Spanish government wants to continue reviewing the role of the Valle de los Caídos (the Valley of the Fallen) in national life. Tuesday, July 20, the executive approved the “democratic memory bill”, which notably calls into question the Catholic dimension of the place.

Desired by Franco first as a memorial to the combatants of his camp during the civil war (1936-1939), then as a place of reconciliation, the Valle de los Caídos is both a mausoleum and an abbey. In 1957, at the end of the construction of the place, a decree of Franco established the Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valle de los Caídos to administer it. The same decree entrusted its management to a Benedictine community, called to settle there.

→ READ. El Valle de los Caídos, the bulky mausoleum of Franco

It is this system that the Spanish government wants to question. “Lat Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valle de los Caídos will be dissolved ”, explained Félix Bolaños, minister in charge of the subject, according to which the decree of 1957 – ratified by Franco – would be “Contrary to the constitution”. Beyond the fate of the foundation, that of the Benedictine community is therefore called into question by the bill, even if it is not directly addressed.

Support from the Archbishop of Madrid

According to the local press, the community of about fifteen monks is in any case convinced that the government is seeking to expel him. In particular, the exhumation of Franco in October 2019, to which the Benedictines had fiercely opposed. Faced with this new bill, the monks have already warned that they would lead a “Legal and media battle” so as not to have to leave the premises, assures the news site Eldiario.es.

In their coming struggle, the Benedictines have already received strong support, that of Cardinal Carlos Osoro Serra, Archbishop of Madrid. “We do not know in detail what the government wants to do in the Valle de los Caídos, but we must remember that the Church, in particular the Benedictine community present there, has always prayed for reconciliation and for all the victims, he said in a message on the social network Twitter.

Another question after the presentation of the bill: what fate for the imposing cross which dominates the place? “EIn due time, a project will have to be finalized in which a decision will be taken ”, evaded the Minister of Relations with Parliament and “The democratic memory of Spain”. Requested by the left-wing Podemos party, a member of the ruling coalition, the demolition of the cross does not seem to be the preferred hypothesis for the moment.

The basilica will remain a place of worship

On the other hand, it is certain: the basilica of the Valle de los Caídos will not be desecrated and will remain assigned to worship. The executive would thus be in negotiation with the diocese of Madrid so that the management be entrusted to it rather than to the Benedictines. “It’s a basilica, it’s a place of worship”, reassured Félix Bolaños during his press conference. However, accompanying his remarks with a caveat: “We want that [ce lieu de culte] also responds to a demand for democratic values ​​”.

→ READ. Franco’s tomb awakens Spanish antagonisms

Presented as the first bill clearly condemning Francoism, the text must now be studied by the Spanish Parliament. It contains other measures, in particular concerning school education during this period.

Also planned is the exhumation of the Valle de los Caídos of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the fascist movement of the Spanish Phalanx and buried in the memorial since 1959, by decision of Franco.

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