The bombing of Sant Felip Neri/San Felipe Neri

Barcelona often prefers myth to history. Someone once told me with tears in his eyes how, after Franco arrived in Barcelona, his grandfather had been dragged out of bed one morning and taken to the Plaça Sant Felip Neri. There, he and some others had been given guns and forced to shoot their neighbours. Why, then, were the blast patterns along the church walls so chaotic and large? Had an artillery piece been used? Ah, well you see the executioners were nervous and it had taken a lot of shooting to kill everyone properly. And they had to go back a couple of other mornings to shoot some more.

I have heard this story from several people. In fact, as everyone who reads Let’s Go knows, the damage to the façade of the church was caused by a bomb dropped from an aeroplane on Sunday January 30th 1938, killing 20 children. This version is confirmed in detail in España en llamas. La guerra civil desde el aire by Solé i Sabaté & Villarroya (who, incidentally, estimate total civilian deaths due to air raids at ca 4,000 in the nationalist sector and ca 11,000 in areas under republican rule).

Curious, then, that the first edition of La Vanguardia to appear after this slaughter – on Tuesday February 2nd – describes quite thoroughly the arrival from Mallorca of Italian bombers but seems to make no mention of Sant Felip Neri, reporting instead high casualties at a children’s party at Cine Coliseum up in the Eixample (caused, I am told, by a direct hit on an explosives truck conveniently parked just outside) as well as a visit by President Companys to affected areas in District IV, which I had assumed was also up in the Eixample prior to the administrative rejig in 1984. Was the story modified to fool enemy intelligence or is there something else going on that I don’t understand?

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