García Lorca and the Spanish Civil War

Federico García Lorca in 1914. Anonymous photo found at the University of Grenada in 2007, coming from a student record. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Federico García Lorca in 1914. Anonymous photo found at the University of Granada in 2007, coming from a student record. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

According to legend, he was correcting the manuscript of The House of Bernarda Alba the day he was betrayed. Two weeks before, scared and nervous, he had sought sanctuary at the house of Luis Rosales, a poet friend and Falangist. At Rosales’ house he usually spent his days secluded on the second floor, where he ate his meals, devoured the day’s newspapers, and played popular songs on the piano for Esperanza, Rosales’ sister, and her old aunt. Esperanza (her name means “hope”) later said that he wrote during those days but that his papers were taken to his father after his arrest.

He had come from Granada to Madrid to celebrate his father’s and his own Saint’s Day at the family orchard, the Huerta de San Vicente. On Saint Federico’s Day, July 18, 1936, Francisco Franco read on the radio a manifesto announcing the rebellion of the Nationalists. On that day Federico awoke from a nap, disturbed by a dream. He later described it to his father:

Half-asleep he saw how three women with thick black veils that covered them from head to feet, with their faces lowered to the ground, walked and walked around him. In their hands they carried great crucifixes, and as they walked in front of him they stopped, and lifted them in a threatening gesture.[1]

Granada’s garrison joined the insurrectionary forces on July 20, 1936.

During the first bombing raids by the Republicans he hid under his house’s piano, trembling with fear. Señorito Federico, the nanny of Concha García Lorca´s children later said, was a coward, “very chicken.” He took refuge in Rosales’ house when a group of self-appointed right-wing militias came to his house, called him a maricón and threw him down a flight of stairs. Everyone in Granada knew about the death squads that hunted suspected “reds.” At the Granada cemetery a firing squad carried out its grim function, daily shooting teachers, writers, doctors, Gypsies, lawyers and Republican functionaries. The janitor of the Granada cemetery went mad, and was taken to an insane asylum.

To arrest a poet, the temporary government of Granada deemed it necessary to block off the streets that gave access to the house in which he was hiding, to surround the house with numerous armed men, and to post guards on the rooftops of adjoining buildings. Neither the five brothers Rosales nor their father Don Miguel was there when they came that afternoon. Doña Esperanza Rosales, displaying the courage that only mothers seem to have at these times, did not allow them to take Federico in the absence of the men of her house. When one of her sons, Miguel, arrived, Federico was taken away (just before, the old aunt for whom Federico played songs on the piano has taken him before her image of the Sacred Heart and they had prayed together. As he left he did not shake hands with Esperanza. He did not want her to think they would not see each other again.

Then they took him, and drove him 300 meters to the Civil Government building. He repeatedly asked Miguel Rosales, who went with him in the car, to plead his case before the Military Governor, and to ask his brother José Rosales, a high-ranking Falange member, to intercede for him. He was searched, and was locked up in a room in the building. There was a table in the room, an inkwell, a pen and paper.[2]

Like Antoñito el Camborio, he must have thought of the Virgin. During his stay with the Rosales he had often recited from memory long passages from Miracles of our Lady, the 13th century collection of poems written by the Benedictine monk Gonzalo de Berceo:

Those who followed him

who wished to kill him

had no shame of the Holy Place.

The Lord and the Glorious One

forsook him

and they came to take

his soul from his body.[3]

Actresses Margarita Xirgu and Pilar Muñoz in a scene from the theatrical premiere of "Yerma," by Federico García Lorca.

Actresses Margarita Xirgu and Pilar Muñoz in a scene from the theatrical premiere of “Yerma,” by Federico García Lorca. (Credit: Crónica Magazine, Madrid, Spain, 1935, January, Number 269 / Wikimedia Commons)

He must have remembered the Virgin, who walks through his plays and makes a brief appearance in Yerma. He had once written, trying to console a friend:

God … will be good to you, and also the Virgin, the Blessed Virgin, full of swords like a bull who protects bullfighters and who takes to her all who are brave and good.[4]

He must have thought of the Virgin and of her promise of everlasting Resurrection after Pain and Death. Señorito Federico had felt Death before, had feared her, had put her on the stage. And Death had always come with a question, the one mouthed by the strange Boybeetle in his first play:

And what if Saint Cockroach does not exist?

To what end my fatal bitterness?

He spent the first evening unaware of the efforts of his family and a few friends, including his mentor Don Manuel de Falla, to secure his release. The next morning the nanny of his sister’s children, Angelina, came to his cell with a basket of food, a flask of coffee, tobacco and clean linen. (“Angelina, child, why are you here?”) Angelina stayed a few minutes while guards pointed guns at her and at Federico from the doorway. He did not eat that day.

He spent another evening in that room. Angelina came again in the morning.

Another day and another evening. He finally ate the food, poured the coffee and used the napkin.


(to be continued)

Madrid, Spain, circa 1936-37. (Credit: Mikhail Koltsov / Wikimedia Commons)

Madrid, Spain, circa 1936-37. (Credit: Mikhail Koltsov / Wikimedia Commons)

[1] Rafael Martínez Nadal, Cuatro lecciones sobre Federico García Lorca (Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 1980), 36.

[2] This reconstruction of the last days of Lorca is based on Ian Gibson, El asesinato de García Lorca (Barcelona: Editorial Crítica, 1979).

[3] Gonzalo de Berceo, Miracles of Our Lady (Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 1965), 76.

[4] Carlos Morla Lynch, En España con Federico García Lorca (Madrid: Aguilar, 1957), 54.

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