Religious Medal of Saint Joseph and the Baby Jesus
Repository: Museo de Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Spain
Fond or Collection
Alfredo González-Ruibal, “NEARCH: New scenarios for a community-involved archaeology,” funded by the European Union, 2013.
Date Created: 1938
Type: Religious items
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Abánades, Spain
The Alto Tajuña offensive in Guadalajara, which the Republicans launched on the morning of March 31, 1938, left thousands of dead on both sides. One of them was the wearer of this silver medal with the effigy of Saint Joseph and the child. His remains appeared in a superficial grave that was found half destroyed by animals and the elements. The soldier was a young man, less than 25 years old, and measuring slightly over one meter and a half. He was armed with a German Mauser rifle and was defending the perimeter of the Francoist position of La Enebrá Socarrá (Abánades), which fell probably on April 1 or 2, during a pincer attack by the Republicans. The soldier did not wear the medal hanging from his neck, but pinned on his jacket with a safety pin, which is how detente balas, or “bullet stoppers”, were usually carried by Francoist soldiers. These were usually images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the word “Stop bullets!” written on them. They were very common among the Carlist requetés, the traditionalist and highly religious soldiers from northern Spain that joined the rebel armies, but they were not exclusive to them. We do not know the geographical provenance of the fallen soldier, but we know that he was not in a requeté unit. The use of detentes links with warrior superstitions that are common in a multitude of traditional cultures: the use of amulets is common among Islamic combatants and followers of local religions in Africa. Like the soldiers of the Spanish Civil War, they considered that these charms would prevent or at least hamper enemy bullets harming them.
Although detentes are not part of Catholic orthodoxy, they were embraced by the Church hierarchy as proof that the Spanish Civil War was in fact a war of religion. In August 1938, the archbishop of Burgos published an article in which he talked about the cult of the Sacred Heart and cited “Detentes, medals and crucifixes” (in that order), as symbols of the fact that “everything is permeated by the religious spirit”. According to the archbishop, looking at them would convince even the most incredulous that “the most outstanding reason for this war is the exaltation of the Catholic faith”. In this way, other, not strictly religious (or at least orthodox), motivations that made soldiers carry religious medals with them are forgotten: fear, the desire to maintain a measure of control in a highly unpredictable environment, and family ties. The iconography of the medal, Saint Joseph and the child, make it likely that the medal was the gift of a mother or grandmother to a young soldier leaving for the front and who, like many others, never returned.