Spain in the 1930s produced not only many an anti-Christian villain but many a Christian hero. Among the latter were Blessed Cyril Bertrand Tejedor and seven other Brothers of the Christian Schools, and with them their chaplain, Fr. Innocencio Amau, a Passionist priest. They were martyred together at Turon in northern Spain in 1934.
Brother Cyril Bertrand was a native of Lerma, born in the Spanish diocese of Burgos, in March 1888. Baptized Jose Sanz Tejedor, he took the religious name of Brother Cyril Bertrand in 1907 when he entered the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the well-known teaching brotherhood founded by St. John Baptist de la Salle.
At the end of his training, Cyril was appointed to teach in a very difficult school. Observing the counsels given by de la Salle in his book The Conduct of Schools, Br. Cyril achieved by patience and fortitude a genuine skill in the classroom. That skill he took with him to a number of other schools, and when these schools were closed by the civil authorities because they were operated by religious, he was appointed superior of the Brothers’ school at Santander. During the six years he spent at Santander, the school achieved such a good reputation that many pupils in other schools transferred there, hoping that Brother Cyril might become their teacher.
In 1933 Brother Cyril Bertrand’s abilities were given the acid test. He was invited to take over a school at Turon in the Asturias region. The Brothers conducted 14 schools in the Asturias. The schools at Turon was attended largely by the sons of local miners who, like the industrialists of the area, were in those days highly politicized. Within a few months after his arrival at Turon, Tejedor made a 30-day retreat, in which he placed himself totally in God’s hands.
He had good reason to commit himself totally to God. In 1931, when the Spanish monarchy was replaced by the Second Republic, there had been an upsurge of political and social unrest in the Asturias. Several left-wing parties supporting the Republic had combined to introduce anticlerical legislation, intent particularly on wresting from the Church its control of education. In the elections of 1933, however, rightist parties won out. Would the monarchy now be restored? Not so, swore the leftists. They launched a local rebellion on October 4, 1934. The revolt lasted only 15 days, but it took heavy military force to suppress, and during that fortnight over a thousand people were killed and thousands more wounded.
It was on the second hectic day of this rebellion, October 5, a First Friday, that the anticlerical insurgents arrested Brother Cyril and the seven others, along with their Passionist chaplain. They were jailed along with other religious, with local priests, and a number of civic leaders. On October 9, early in the morning, the eight Brothers and the chaplain and two officers of the government forces were led out to the cemetery and told that they were to die. A large pit had been opened in the middle of the graveyard. The victims were lined up on its edge and shot to death; their bodies fell into this common grave.
The rebel leader who ordered the execution, long afterward recalled, “The Brothers and the priest quietly listened to the sentence and then walked to the center of the cemetery at a leisurely yet firm pace. They knew where they were going and went like lambs to the slaughter. It was so impressive that I, hardened as I am, could not help being moved…. I think that while walking, and while waiting at the gate, they prayed in a subdued voice.”
The seven Brothers who died with Cyril were young men. Marciano Jose was a nonteaching brother, owing to deafness and health problems;. Vittoriano Pio, an able musician, had been at Turon only 20 days; Julian Alfredo had been assigned there because of his known strength of character; Benjamino Julian, because of his good judgment and his sense of joy. Oldest of the men was the Passionist Fr. Innocencio. He just happened to be at the house on the day of the arrest because he had come there on October 4 to hear the Brothers’ confessions for First Friday.
The Passionist and the eight teaching brothers were not the only victims of this anticlerical revolt. There were also ten diocesan priests, two other Passionists, three Vincentians, two Jesuits, a Carmelite, and six seminarians. They, too, had not known the day nor the hour when they would be tested for their faith. But the Brothers of the Christian Schools were appropriately beatified in a special group in 1990.
–Father Robert F. McNamara