They are dark figures, staring out of black-and-white pictures in black robes and collars, owlish spectacles, jowls, bushy hermit beards, adolescent peach-fuzz. They're men from another world, another time, far away from here.
They could be ghosts.
They are from towns I know, many of them quite near: Carrion de los Condes, Terradillos de los Templarios, Villada, Grajal de Campos, Fromista, Becerril. Others are from Camino towns: Banos de Montemayor, Villadangos del Paramo, Puente la Reina, Puebla de Sanabria, Zamora.
They are priests and monks and friars: Jesuits, Augustinians, Capuchin Franciscans, Carmelites, Dominicans, Hospitalers of St. John of God. Their names are Juan, Manuel, Alejo, Froilan, Miguel, Claudio, Tino, Victor, Damaso.
They are teachers and preachers, students, philosophers, healers and most likely sinners, too. Boys from here, some of them grown up, some of them very young indeed.
All of them are dead.
All of them are martyrs, killed for being clerics.
They were killed for being part of the Spanish Catholic church, a monolithic institution deeply loathed by many underclass, under-educated, underprivileged Spaniards back in the 1930's. Their soutanes and birettas set them apart, and when civil war broke down the old order, their uniforms marked these men for death.
Now, 80 years later, their pictures hang in honored places in the churches where they were baptized, back when they were baby boys, before they grew up to take vows. They are honored for their sacrifice, if not their holy lives -- there is no living memory of any of these men. It's assumed they all were beyond reproach.
They are "Beatos" now, blessed, by papal decree in 2013. They are not saints yet, but violent death made them special. Death by firing squad, neglect, long imprisonment. Torn apart by mobs, thrown from moving vehicles, left to starve in a cold room. Many of them died together, and were buried in the same ditch, in places with names like Paracuellos de Jarama, Villecas, Algodor, Escalante Crossing.
They may not have died for the Gospel of Christ, but they died for their religion.
Martyrs, murdered for their faith, their souls gather under the altar in heaven and cry out "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord," or at least that's what St. John heard them saying, when he visited there.
And here we work and live and walk, surrounded by this cloud of witnesses. Here as Holy Week comes at us, contemplating the martyrdom of Jesus himself, and all the martyrs in the news -- Christians, Muslims, Martin Luther King, Jr., freedom riders, Meredith, Malcolm X... politics, religion, oppression, and vengeance, stupidity and violence so common they've become banal.
I wonder if Claudio and Victor and Alejo cried to God for mercy when the knock came on their door.
Even Jesus cried.
Not even God's son got a pass when the time came to die.