18 Jan God and death in the pueblo
The church in the village has always intrigued me. The bell rings every quarter of an hour and chimes the hour throughout the day, starting at 8 in the morning and falling silent after 9 at night. As far as church activity is concerned, that seems to be it. The church of Santa Maria here in Bedar, with its peachy-beige walls and its terracotta roof, its little tower with the weather vane at a jaunty angle, is simply never open. One day last year was the only occasion I recall or have heard of. There was a funeral in the village: winding streets filled with cars; tiny alleys humming with people dressed in black, their heads bent, their murmured greetings and the shuffling of their feet a harmony to the insistent melody of the bells; a huge hearse parked to the side of the church dripping with garish wreaths.
When we first came here 3 years ago, we walked into the village one Sunday morning expecting to find the local faithful arriving for mass. I had assumed, I suppose, that Spain’s Roman Catholic traditions would still be observed in its villages and rural communities. Finding it quiet, the church square deserted and the doors shut, I wondered, if there had been some lapse of religious fervour, whether the Padre was peripatetic, responsible for many depleted flocks in neighbouring villages and perhaps only manages to visit once a month.
The other evening I heard the story.
During the Franco years, very many communities opposed the little autocrat. But they often suffered for this, especially in the Civil War years in the second half of the 1930s when General Franco was establishing his control over Spain. Pockets of Republican sympathisers continued and, from time to time, he would send his henchmen to teach them a brutal lesson.
In Bedar, the news of such a visit reached the village in time for the men to leave and hide in the hills while the women took refuge in the church. The Fascist soldiers arrived, searching out the men. The women kept quiet. But not the priest. The unholy alliance of fascist dictator and self-serving clergy held firm. He betrayed the men, telling the soldiers where to find them. Many were caught and cruelly beaten, several were killed. After Franco’s men had withdrawn, the people of the village turned their fury on the traitor priest and hanged him inside the church.
Since then, there has never been a priest appointed to the church in Bedar. When one is needed, the priest from Los Gallardos, the village at the foot of the hill, will come. The god-fearing souls of Bedar, should they wish to make their confession, say their prayers, eat of the body or drink of the blood of Christ, well, that’s a 6 km hike down the hill and onto the plain.
It’s a chilling story that jars profoundly with the scene of a quaint church in a little whitewashed village in the sierra. I know that awful stories of what happened in the Spanish Civil War still circulate. I know that the betrayals and feuds that took shape 80 years ago still fester in some communities, that there are still ghosts that need to be laid to rest. But, I wonder, perhaps they never can. Will there ever be a priest in Santa Maria de Bedar?