A new film on Saint Anthony Claret invites a historical examination

Directed by Pablo Moreno (Bosco Films, 2022)

The movie in spanish slaves and kings is subtitled “The Story of Saint Antonio María Claret”. As the subtitle clearly indicates, this film invites historical examination (in Spanish, the words story and the story are the same). The story is intended to function as a correction to popular stories of Saint Claret and as a positive introduction to his life. I am no historian, let alone an expert on 19th and 20th century Spanish history, so my remarks should also be taken with some caution. Interestingly, an authorized autobiography of Claret is widely available in Spanish and in English translation.

The film is guided by a double plot, a classic “story within a story”, told by a secular Spanish intellectual and author, Azorín, who finds himself immersed in the study of Claret’s life. Arozín is motivated, in part, by a visit from a Claretian priest seeking to further Claret’s cause of sanctity.

This 20th century plot tells the story of Claret from his time as a weaver to the different stages of his life as a seminarian, young priest, archbishop, confessor and adviser to the Queen of Spain. In the film’s final biographical note, the film notes Claret’s attendance at the first Vatican Council just before his death in 1870.

Claret’s conversion arc is depicted in his initial inability to forgive a friend who wronged him, which propelled him into the priesthood, eventually forgiving a hitman and having his sentence commuted. death of man.

The political environment of the Carlist wars is palpable in the young priesthood of Claret; the film identifies him as a Carlist while showing him caring for a wounded Liberal soldier. Claret’s place in an overtly political social context while avoiding politics itself begins in this period and is a theme that continues throughout his life. The liberal value of the books, revealed by the wounded soldier, is presented as motivation for Claret’s authorship of devotional texts.

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The film depicts Claret during his tenure as Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, as an abolitionist willing to invoke Spanish and ecclesiastical law, including excommunication. lataessentiae— on those who practiced slavery. He actively worked to marry interracial couples, openly noting how Spanish men often abandoned their children born to enslaved black women.

The film portrays Claret as caught between a throne and an altar in Spain and Rome which are morally skeptical of slavery and located just south of chattel slavery in the United States, with strong commercial interests in slavery. ‘annexation. This political context informs a complex type of abolitionism where Claret, an archbishop appointed by the Catholic Queen of Spain, intervenes on behalf of slaves and faces violent threats and assaults as a result, but does not play a direct role in the abolition of slavery in Cuba (which would not come until 1867).

The film portrays Claret’s exit from the Caribbean as a triumph over her influential enemies who, at one point, portray her fate as slavery: an unfortunate formulation that seems to work in the film’s title. A presentist but macabre reference to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” provides a harrowing lynching scene that punctuates the tough kind of apolitical abolitionism that the film portrays Claret as championing. Claret’s return to Spain is mostly due to obedience and not choice, including a note of skepticism about the proximity of the Spanish throne to the Roman altar.

The rest of the film is mainly focused on the relationship between Claret and Queen Isabella II, first as her confessor, then, in a twist after Isabella recognizes the secular Italian state against the interests of the state. papal, as his adviser. Claret only accepts his role as the queen’s confessor on the condition that he live outside the royal palace and be allowed to work in the community without royal luxuries like transport.

Claret continues to be a divisive and controversial figure, trying to remain apolitical amid church-state relations that are intentionally political. When Claret’s revolutionary opponents finally pressure the queen to recognize secular Italy, we get a glimpse of Claret’s political allegiance to the papal state, as he not only ends his position as confessor, but the ‘ also informs of the canonical consequences of its infraction.

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Claret’s second removal by his enemies is short-lived when Claret eventually returns as a counselor to the queen and founds a seminary and school while also consulting him on major church appointments. As public sentiment against the Crown grows, Claret goes into exile with the Queen. (At this point, this plot lines up with the narrator’s subplot as Azorín goes into exile with his wife.)

Claret’s enemies do not rest when he is exiled. They plan to destroy his memory by publishing a distorted biography. Likewise, in the plot of the narrator, Azorín finally chooses to publish his article in the Argentine newspaper La Prensa and finds his love rekindled with his once-estranged wife. Azorín’s article serves the canonization of Claret in 1950.

When Azorín chooses to publish his article, he mentions that he can, therefore, be considered sympathetic towards Francisco Franco. Franco’s wife, Carmen Polo, attended Claret’s canonization and was granted an audience with Pope Pius XII. This final note is not included in the film, but it seems worth noting because there is a deep tension that is reflected in the two Spanish historical plots and is also at work in life and thought. of Claret.

For example, despite Claret’s apolitical self-characterizations, he lived in an environment where he had to resist being a political pawn and often made consequential political moves himself. In his own autobiography, he writes: “The Lord made known to me the three great evils which threaten Spain and they are: Protestantism, or better still, the desathelisation of Spain; the Republic and Communism.

The motive of this film is clearly not to engage in these tensions, and it often suffers from romanticism and presentism, but it does manage to illustrate the tense and difficult political history of the Catholic Church in Europe and the Americas, including the struggle for and against colonialism. , slavery and reactionary political movements such as fascism. Bringing this story to the English-speaking world is a contribution to the reform and renewal that Claret so earnestly wanted to see.


Picture: Bosco Films / Stellarum Films

This article is also available in Spanish.

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