The Faith and the Fury: Popular Anticlerical Violence and Iconoclasm in Spain, 1931 – 1936

Maria Thomas

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is an exploration of the motives, mentalities and collective identities which lay behind acts of popular anticlerical violence and iconoclasm during the pre-war Spanish Second Republic (1931-1936) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The five year period following the proclamation of the democratic Second Republic in April 1931 was marked by physical assaults upon the property and public ritual of the Spanish Catholic Church. These grassroots attacks were generally carried out by rural and urban anticlerical workers who were frustrated by the Republic’s practical inability to tackle the Church’s vast power. On 17-18 July 1936, a rightwing military rebellion divided Spain geographically, provoking the radical fragmentation of power in territory which remained under Republican authority. The coup marked the beginning of a conflict which developed into a full-scale civil war. Anticlerical protagonists, with the reconfigured structure of political opportunities working in their favour, participated in an unprecedented wave of iconoclasm and violence against the clergy. During the first six months of the conflict, innumerable religious buildings were destroyed and almost 7,000 religious personnel were killed. This thesis challenges standard interpretations which link these acts to irrationality, criminality and primitiveness. It focuses directly upon the agents of anticlerical violence, exploring the connections between the anticlerical outpouring of July 1936 and those forms of anticlericalism that were already emerging before the coup. It argues that Spanish popular anticlericalism was a phenomenon which was undergoing a radical process of reconfiguration during the first three decades of the twentieth century. During a period of rapid social, cultural and political change, anticlerical acts took on new, explicitly political meanings, becoming both a catalyst and a symptom of social change. After 17-18 July 1936, anticlerical violence became an implicitly constructive force for many of its protagonists: an instrument with which to build a new society.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Graham, Helen, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Mar 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • anticlerical violence
  • iconoclasm
  • Spanish civil war
  • Spanish Second Republic
  • Social and cultural history of modern Spain
  • Mobilisation
  • Public space
  • secularisation
  • anticlericalism

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