Recent memos have pointed out the symbolic importance of events in Spain.
Now the Saints come marching in, or rather treading gently. The most
notorious remark of Republican Prime Minister Manuel Azana was that Spain
had ceased to be Catholic. The ensuing Civil War was largely a religious
war, with the Catholics supporting Franco, the Republicans murdering
priests. Azana was largely right, but the Church is still an important
presence in the background.
This brings us to an annual custom introduced by Prime Minister Jose Maria
Aznar. Again, yesterday, with much publicity, he flew by helicopter to the
famous but isolated Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in Castile, his
home region. There, with the 33 Benedictine fathers he ate in silence,
listening to a sacred reading, followed by coffee and a social gathering
In interpreting this gesture, we must not confuse our saints. There are
three Saint Dominics, even though the exhaustive eleventh edition of the
Britannica recognizes only one: the famous founder of the Dominican Order,
born just south of the monastery and presumably named after the first
Santo Domingo, who lived a century earlier. Since there are three Spanish
Santo Domingos, and to distinguish him from Santo Domingo de Silos, he is
known as Santo Domingo de Guzman. He has left a questionable memory, since
he founded the Inquisition to persecute the Albigensians, now idealized as
martyrs to Catholic intolerance.
We must assume that Spaniards do not confuse the three saints. Prime
Minister Aznar was honoring the scholarly Benedictine, not the heretic
was telling Spaniards that his government supports a quiet, scholarly
church, but not the church of the Inquisition. It was a sequel to the
Almeria ceremony which stressed support for the constitutional monarchy,but
not the absolute monarchy which scrapped the constitution.