Book Review: The Last Crusade

Title: The Last Crusade
Author: Warren Carroll
Publisher: Christendom College Press
Excellence: 4 stars
Why: Another great Carroll historical work
Summary in a sentence: A short chronicle of how, within living memory, thousands of Catholics gloriously gave their lives for Christ against what was almost a mouth of Hell reaching up to engulf Spain.

I used this book as a textbook for my history class this last year (I wrote this in 2006) and one of my students asked me the most important (and most obvious) question: "Why haven't we heard about Franco and the murders of all these bishops, priests, and religious?" Well obviously, because America didn't baptize this baby. America, led by such "luminaries" as Hemingway (who wrote his For Whom the Bell Tolls during this time period) showed that they would rather line up with the Commies than the dirty Catholics.

What are those statistics exactly?

Total Number of Catholic priests and religious martyred during the Spanish Civil War: 6,832.

Most were killed without even the pretense of a trial, often near cemeteries so their bodies could be rolled into mass graves, that is if they weren't burned and outraged first.

Total number of bishops killed: 13.

Total number of churches that were totally destroyed: 20,000 out of 42,000.

And countless numbers of laypeople also executed without trial, often for simply wearing a medal or being a known churchgoer.

These numbers take on even more intensity when you realize that they are nearly within living memory. 70 years ago, priests were being murdered in the streets by the enemies of Christ and His Church. This short and excellent work by Dr. Warren Carroll sheds some light on a glorious chapter in the history of our Faith.

The book is just a little over 200 pages, and covers the attacks and strategies of the war effort well. My goal in this review is to simply touch on a few points, and hopefully encourage you to pick up the book yourself, so I will not be able to cover everything that the book does.

1. Carroll does not sanctify the Falange. He names it for what it was: "the Spanish organization which most nearly resembled the totalitarian parties of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy" (p. 10) and "...statists, most of whom saw the Church as having little or nothing rightly to say in matters of public policy" (p. 198). But what he does do is explain their incorporation with the final victory in Spain in the same way that Franco cobbed the help of the German Nazis and Italian Fascists into a winning coalition - taking the help of those who offered, while never compromising his principles and indeed maintaining and erecting the Catholic Faith in Spain at least during his lifetime.

2. While it is true that Franco did raise and maintain a Catholic Spain, its failure to endure past his lifetime was his sole trust in Juan Carlos (the things I would say here were he not the Monarch of Spain and due the proper respect...) and the myopia that prevented him from allowing the Carlists, in particular Fal Conde, the heart and soul of the Carlist movement, to effectively govern in Spain. The Carlists saw that without a true restoration of Christianity throughout Spain, no government would penetrate beyond men's minds to their hearts.

Carroll so narrates the blunder, which was an exile to Portugal by Franco after Franco had learned that Fal Conde had planned to open a military academy for Carlists yet had not run this project by him, who was the head of state. Such a trivial reason in the great scheme of the war, but it provided an excuse to jettison a group that Franco felt did not give its complete allegiance to him (indeed, their allegiance was to Christ and the Church and State united in harmony in Spain).

"But in the long run, in Spain after victory was won, he (Franco) needed a strong and active Carlist movement led by Fal Conde to provide the ideological guidance and continuity to rebuild and maintain a Catholic Spain, which Franco as a relatively unimaginative general - however successful in the field and personally devout - could never provide. By exiling Fal Conde, thereby signalling his determination to control and restrict the Carlists, he deprived Spain of a priceless asset. It was the greatest mistake of his life, and one of the principal causes for the failure of the Catholic Spain he led to survive his death 39 years later" (p. 197).

3. Also, it is very important in our fat, lazy, and luxurious age to be leavened with the stories of incredible Catholic martyrs - thousands of which newly populated the heavens in these days of darkness.

"In the morning of the 21st three Jesuit priests and a brother were arrested at a Jesuit retreat house...after a search of their house for arms had found none...the crowd shouted, 'We are going to kill you because you are priests; not one of you will be left!' Taken to a hill outside the city, the martyrs declared that they died for Christ and forgave their killers, giving each other absolution. All were shot, but one survived to tell the tale, with a bloody head wound that made him appear dead. On the night of the 23rd twelve nuns were shot in Barcelona beside a highway, four of them over sixty; one lay in agony for four hours before dying"
(p. 75).

(The historic story of the Alcazar cannot be done justice here. It must be read about - so read!)

"On the day he was killed, July 27, Bishop Nieto of Siguenza, seized and "judged" by a street mob, was shot at the Kilometer 4 marker on the highway from Siguenza to Estriegana as he cried "Viva Cristo Rey!" His body was burned and thrown into a gully, where Nationalist troops later found and recognized it by its pectoral cross...14 seminarians, who had attempted to flee with one of their teachers...were captured in the open country by militiamen...(they) tried to force Father Jove to trample on a crucifix; when he refused, they forced it into his mouth until it gushed blood. They tried to make one of the seminarians swallow a rosary. Horribly beaten and abused, every one of these young martyrs stood firm for his faith, saying he wished to die for God. All of them were shot at the cemetery of Lerida at noon the next day" (p. 89).

"Only the blackened walls remained of the historic religious buildings. The statues and paintings had been destroyed or removed, the altars ripped out, the stained glass windows broken. The burial vaults in the floors of some of the churches had been forced open and the century-old mummified bodies of nuns and priests had been removed from their mouldy resting places" (p. 90).

"...That night Bishop Ascensio finished a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and said to his fellow prisoners: 'My sons, I wish to give my last benediction, and afterward, like Our Lord Jesus, I will celebrate my last supper with you.' At three o'clock in the morning he was taken from prison saying, 'What a beautiful night this is for me! I go to the house of the Lord!' He was shot at Kilometer 3 on the road...and left for dead. He lived for two hours upon a pile of corpses, then delivered up his soul. Afterwards his body was mutilated." (p. 106).

"That same day the 78-year-old Bishop of Segorbe...was shot; the day before, the Bishop of Cuenca...was killed at Kilometer 5...saying triumphantly to his murderers: 'Do you not believe in Heaven? Heaven is, my sons! Do you not believe in Hell? Hell is, my sons!...You can kill me: my body I leave behind, but my soul will rise to Heaven...I pardon you and in Heaven I will pray for you" (p. 107).

Let me pause in this series of recounting of glory to ask - What Catholic heart does not rise to one's throat in the reading of such glorious Christianity? How heartened we can be if we see in their deathless spirit a challenge to die our petty death daily!

"Four days earlier...Bishop Silvio Huix...was taken to a cemetery for killing with 22 laymen. He asked to be the last of the group shot, so that he might give absolution to each of the others before they were struck down. A week later...Bishop Manuel Borras...was executed beside a highway, his body mutilated and then partially burned with gasoline...Within a single week, six Spanish bishops had been martyred. Nothing like it had been seen since the ancient Roman persecution of Diocletian. Even the massacres of September 1792 in the French Revolution took the lives of only two bishops" (p. 107).

"The floor was swimming with blood, and everything in the house was wrecked. Lying by the bed was the body of an old lady of seventy-six, her head half chopped off and her poor broken arms lying unnaturally as if trying to reach the bodies of her son and grandson, who were lying beaten to death beside her. I could find no trace of a gunshot wound on either of them, but they were both terribly disfigured by the blows which had rained on them from head to foot" (p. 170).

As an aside, Pope Pius XI did finally recognize the Nationalist government of Franco, because there were Catholics (mostly Basque) fighting on the side of the Republic, and he did not want to endanger them - but this prudence was lacking in his treatment of Action Francaise and the Cristeros. But those are stories (and laments) for another time.

Yes Virginia, there are enemies of the Catholic Church. They believe in their hatred. And their existence, just beyond living memory in enfleshment, cannot be long away from being re-proven in our times.

And can one fail to see such persecution just a few years after Our Lady had appeared to some shepherd children, warning them of an impending world war, worse than the previous, if the world did not do penance? Those who speak against "Fatimism" would do well to explain with what other lens one may view the hatred spewed out from Hell against the Church and Christ in this episode, and the glorious response of the Martyrs.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen founded True Restoration in 2006 and served as its first President until 2023. He now lives in Reading, Pennsylvania.

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