Repository: Museo Arqueológico Regional de la Comunidad de Madrid, Alcalá de Henares, Spain
Repository: Museo de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain
Contributor: Alfredo González-Ruibal
Fond or Collection
Alfredo González-Ruibal, “Intervención arqueológica en restos de la Guerra Civil en el término municipal de Rivas Vaciamadrid y sondeos valorativos en la Casa de Doña Blanca y entorno”, funded by the Municipality of Rivas-Vaciamadrid, 2018; International Brigades Archaeology Project, IBAP, 2015.
Date Created: 1937 to 1939
Type: Religious items
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Rivas-Vaciamadrid (Madrid), Belchite (Zaragoza)
40.32406, -3.50362 , 41.28969, -0.74536
Crucifixes are omnipresent in the Spanish Civil War. We find them in mass graves and trenches, in the Republican and Francoist lines. Their ubiquity is witness to a country that was still Catholic, despite the growing secularization of the first third of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, we should not associate crucifixes automatically with the official Catholic faith: like medals, they could be souvenirs of a loved one (a mother or a grandmother) or a protective charm. The two crucifixes in the photograph appeared in very different contexts: a Francoist trench near Belchite (Zaragoza) and a Republican position on the Madrid frontline.
The first crucifix appeared inside a frontline trench defending the access to Belchite through the minor seminary, situated two kilometers south of the town. A Carlist unit, the Tercio de Almogávares, which had been created in Zaragoza on October 1, 1936, was stationed here. Shortly after its creation, the troops made a pilgrimage to the basilica of the Virgin of the Pillar in Zaragoza and once stationed in Belchite participated in several religious processions, evidence of the relevance of religion among the Carlist soldiers, or requetés. Carlism defended a return to tradition through a theocratic political order and an absolutist king, and Carlist troops entered the fray covered with religious medals and crucifixes, cheers to Christ the King and large processional crosses. The assault on Belchite began on August 24, 1937 in the context of the Republican offensive on Zaragoza. The requetés defended the position of the seminary with enormous tenacity and the survivors did not retreat until August 30, after having lost 75% of their men. The trench’s floor, which was found covered in ammunition during archaeological excavations, is testimony to the brutal combat. Amid the heaps of shell casings, cartridges and bullets, a single crucifix was found, doubtless lost by one of the soldiers who fell in the battle. The shell casings and the cross are a powerful metaphor of Carlist ideology.
The second crucifix appeared in an area of Republican dugouts in El Piul sector of Rivas (Madrid), a position controlling the access to the capital through the Valencia road. Although the zone is on the northern limit of the Battle of Jarama, it saw no significant action after February 1937. Fortifications along this sector were built in late 1938 and were defended by soldiers of the 36 Mixed Brigade of the 18 Division. Unlike the requetés of Belchite, these were recruits with no particular ideological commitment. The same object, then, means very different things on different sides of the frontline: a political cause for the Carlist requetés, an intimate and personal belief among the Republican soldiers. The crucifix of El Piul is very large and certainly did not go unnoticed among its owner’s comrades, many of whom surely wore crucifixes and religious medals as well. After all, as the saying goes, there are no atheists in the trenches.