During the early 1970s, the Palmarian seer par excellence, Clemente Dominguez received new heavenly messages on a continuous basis. They were recorded by Manuel Alonso, written down, copied and distributed. Some of them were translated into English, French and German as part of the diffusion of the news beyond Spain’s borders. A newsletter, Ecos del Palmar, was printed from 1972 onwards. An obvious reason for the documentation was to spread the news to as many people as possible, looking upon them as a final word of warning from heaven. The group around Clemente regarded most Catholic bishops as apostates, whom together with the large majority of nominally Catholic priests, female religious and laypeople, needed to convert (Alonso and Canales 1976:145-58).
To be able to make longer mission journeys and institutionalize the cult, Clemente and Manuel needed money and therefore devoted much time and effort to secure sufficient funding. Donations at the site and the selling of collections of printed messages and objects of piety were important, but the Palmarian movement could also count on much more substantial bequests. According to testimonies, Manuel Alonso was very good at convincing people to contribute large amounts for their cause. One of the most generous donors, with whom they established contact in 1972 was a Spanish baroness, over ninety years-old at the time, who also was an ardent supporter of Garabandal. Another donor was a very wealthy woman from Wisconsin, who remained a main benefactor until her death in 2001, and yet another was man from the same region, who has continued to give substantial financial support. Still, the sums that Clemente and Manuel managed to get from ordinary followers were very substantial (Garrido Vázquez 2004, 2008; Diario de Sevilla October 5, 2003).
The capital influx meant that Clemente and Manuel could travel widely on both sides of the Atlantic. Beginning in 1971, they went around most of Spain and other parts of Western Europe to win people in traditionalist circles for the cause of Palmar. They visited Rome, trying to convince members of the curia. Manuel Alonso later claimed that they met Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviano, one of the most vocal critics of Vatican II, who promised to forward a letter from them to Paul VI (Alfaro 1975; Alonso and Canales 1976:145-58).
In 1974, Clemente and Manuel made a long journey together with Carmelo Pacheco Sánchez, a Roman Catholic priest who was their closest companion. They went to France, Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Yugoslavia and Italy before returning to Spain. From 1971 onwards, the leaders also made several journeys to the Americas, to the United States, Canada, Mexico and many countries in South America, trying to raise interest and find economic support. In fact, until 1978 the leaders made almost ten journeys to the New World. Also, during the journeys Clemente received visions, some at famous apparition sites. The messages were thus no longer limited to the site of Palmar de Troya; the Virgin obviously followed him around (Alonso and Canales 1976:150-58).
In the early 1970s, the Palmarians could count on the support of some people who were influential writers on matters Marian. One of them was Francisco Sánchez-Ventura y Pascual, the founder of the Círculo publishers in Zaragoza, the María Mensajera magazine and a great Garabandal devotee, who even owned the apparition site there. He wrote a book on the Palmarian messages in 1970, but later clearly distanced himself from Clemente and Manuel (Sánchez-Ventura y Pascual 1970). Another was José Luis Luna, an Aragonese priest, often just referred to as Padre Luna, who was a great devotee and continuously travelled to Palmar de Troya in the early 1970s and published a tome on the apparitions in 1972. This work, La Madre de Dios me ha sonreído, became something of a best-seller in translations to French and German, but Luna later denounced the direction the apparition movement had taken under the leadership of Clemente and Manuel (Luna 1973; cf. Luna 1976).
Context 1: The Virgin and the Apocalypse
A leitmotif in the messages given to Clemente was that the end of the world was near; they had a clearly apocalyptic content. It is an important theme for many Catholic traditionalist groups, which have evolved from Marian apparitions. According to sociologist Michael W. Cuneo, such groups can be identified as Catholic Marianists, Mystical Marianists and Mystical Apocalypticists (Cuneo 1997). To understand the messages at Palmar de Troya and the development of the movement, it is important to put them in a context of modern apparition movements. It becomes clear that Palmar de Troya focus on themes similar to other apparition stories, but there are also more unique features.
Through an interview study, Amy Luebbers identifies several characteristics in the world-view of Catholic apocalyptic believers in the United States, when describing the end-times: Traditional society is in crisis with decline in morals, particularly as regards sexuality. The Catholic church is deep in crisis after Vatican II, and only a small remnant keeps on to the traditional faith. Personal conversion is necessary in this time of crisis. There is a clear duality of good and evil, and the forces of Evil are everywhere to be seen. The Devil works through different means, such as modern technology, trying to control society and lead people astray, but true apparitions and prophets is an important antidote. In this context, the faithful remnant’s response should be constant prayer (Luebbers 2001).
In his important monograph on varieties of Catholic traditionalism, The Smoke of Satan, Cuneo identifies a more detailed “three-stage scenario” of the events in the end-time, which is common in traditionalist apocalyptic discourse. It is a model in which the Palmar de Troya messages fit well. The opening act is “the first chastisement”, when most Christians will apostatize and live a life far from traditional faith and morals. At the same time, horrendous natural disasters and wars will fall upon humanity. True believers will be reduced to a small number and maltreated for their fidelity, communism will gain a stronghold over humankind, and a false pope will be installed in the Vatican, while a true pontiff will lead the church militant in confronting its enemies. After the victory of the faithful will come a “period of peace and virtue,” when large hordes of people will convert and submit themselves to the true pope. The third and last phase will be another chastisement, when many people will revert to unfaithfulness and sinful behavior. Thereafter a final world war will bring the world to its end (Cuneo 1997).
Many modern Marian apparitions have contained similar apocalyptic messages about the future of the world and church (For Marian apparitions in general, see Hierzenberger and Nedomansky 1996; see also relevant entries in the Marienlexikon 1988-1994). The Palmarians regarded many of them as important stations towards the final and most important apparitions at Palmar de Troya. A most influential precursor was the apparitions at La Salette near Grenoble in 1846. In her “secret message” to the two children seers, the Virgin declared the imminent end of the world, which would be preceded by general apostasy. In this situation, many clerics would lead the faithful into heresy and even the Roman curia would be filled with apostates. The answer was to pray.
The apparitions at Portuguese Fatima in 1917 were important, too. They had a clear apocalyptic and anti-Communist stance, underlining the necessity of traditional piety to placate divine ire. There was also a need to consecrate Russia to the Sacred Heart of Mary. At Fatima, there were reports of solar miracles and mystical communions, where communion breads suddenly appeared in the mouths of seers. Particularly from the 1940s, the cult of Our Lady Fatima got a huge international influence (Perry and Echeverría 1988; Zimdars Swartz 1991; Introvigne 2011).
Apart from the events in Palmar de Troya, the Spanish twentieth-century apparition story, which had greatest importance for the Palmarians, were those in Garabandal, Cantabria (1961-1965). In the Virgin’s messages to the children seers, she admonished people to return to traditional forms of Catholic devotion and convert, so that that divine chastisement would be averted. Virgin Mary wanted to warn and assist humanity in this end-time, if they only would listen. She pointed out that the church was moving in a disastrous direction, to large extent leaving traditional piety behind. At Garabandal, there were also testimonies of many types of prodigies, including miraculous agility – people were seen moving unusually rapidly or levitating, and communion hosts appeared in the seers’ mouths. The events attracted many pilgrims, increasingly from abroad, but they were repeatedly denounced by the diocesan bishop (Zimdars-Swartz 1991). The Palmarians, however, looked upon the events as nothing less than the penultimate chance for people in the world to convert, while Palmar de Troya provided the very last opportunity.
Though not as central as Garabandal, the Palmarians saw the apparitions in the Basque village of Ezkioga (1931-1933) as important messages from heaven. The first evidence of communications from the Virgin and different saints came in June 1931, two months after the proclamation of the Second Republic, the exile of the king and the increasing anticlericalism. As in many other places, the original seers were children, but later hundreds of men and women would soon claim to receive visions and fall in trances. In a matter of weeks, crowds of up to 50,000 people gathered at the site on some days, many claiming to have seen prodigious things. Some of the later apparitions at Ezkioga had a clearly apocalyptic content: there was an imminent threat of divine chastisement through famine, natural disasters, wars and epidemics.
One of the seers was able to tell that Antichrist had been born in 1923. She claimed that after the first chastisement there would be only one religious order, the Cross bearers (Crucíferos), whose first members would come from Seville. At that time, a great monarch would appear and lead the faithful in the final battles against Satan; an idea that became very central to the Palmarians as time passed. Though there was clerical support of Ezkioga, the church hierarchy’s reaction to the events was decidedly negative. Eventually, in September 1933, the bishop of Vitoria formally denounced the purported apparitions and other miracles (Christian 1996).
Yet another set of apparitions that the Palmarians held high were those at Heroldsbach, outside Nuremberg in West Germany (1949-1952). In these messages, there was a clear focus on the threat of Communism, a coming great war, an escalating moral decline and a general apostasy. Heroldsbach was just one of the more than a hundred local apparition cases reported to Catholic authorities in Western Europe between the end of World War II and the mid-1950s, but for a short period, it became an unusually popular pilgrimage. In three years, the four woman seers at Heroldsbach claimed to have received some 3,000 apparitions and no less than 1,500,000 people arrived as pilgrims to the small Bavarian village. The apparitions and the cult were unequivocally denounced and unusually harshly counteracted by the local church hierarchy, and a very large number of people were excommunicated (O’Sullivan 2009).
Two other apparition cases prior and parallel to Palmar de Troya should be mentioned, too. Both took place in the United States, both were very apocalyptically focused and both met strong opposition from the local church hierarchy. The first case was the apparitions to Ann Mary Van Hoof in Necedah, Wisconsin, beginning in 1949 and continuing through the 1950s. The messages told about the threat of Communism to the United States, the coming of World War III and the necessity of constant prayer. The messages also had a clearly anti-Semitic content, pointing to a Jewish world conspiracy. The connection with Fatima was evident, and the messages were similar to other contemporary European cases.
The apparitions to Van Hoof were accompanied with other prodigious events: crucifixes were glowing and things levitated. She also claimed to experience “invisible stigmata” and became a “victim soul”, chosen to suffer vicariously for humanity. At one occasion in 1950, no less than a 100,000 people gathered in the small town, and the diocesan authorities had to intervene. They declared that the presumed apparitions were false and finally an interdict was imposed on the seer. Today the shrine is attached to an Old Catholic church (Zimdars-Swartz 1989).
The other set of apparitions started in the same year as the ones in Palmar de Troya: 1968. They were received by Veronica Leuken at Bayside, New York until her death in 1995 She was regarded both as a “victim soul”, being plagued by different illnesses, and as “voice-box,” communicating heavenly messages. The messages from Christ, the Virgin and a large number of saints at Bayside include many of the familiar themes: the imminent divine chastisement, the impending invasion of the Soviet Union, the general threat of communism, future wars and natural disasters. A more unusual aspect of the messages was that a “Ball of Redemption,” would crash into the earth and that the fire would kill the sinners. Another important part of the cult was miraculous Polaroid photos, which according to the followers revealed hidden secrets about the end of the world.
The apparitions and the cult were counteracted by the diocese, but no clear negative verdict was promulgated until 1986. The Baysiders constitutes a highly international network, or, in fact, several networks. Devotees meet at Flushing Meadows, where they have moved their vigils after being forbidden to gather at the Roman Catholic church in Bayside (Laycock 2015).
Thus in the beginning, the heavenly messages to Clemente Dominguez closely followed a series of apocalyptic apparition traditions, even if the criticism of the modern Catholic Church was even harsher and more detailed than in La Salette, Fatima, Ezquioga, Garabandal and Heroldsbach. An obvious reason was the reforms following Vatican II.
As regards the level of criticism against the church hierarchy, the cases of Necadah and Bayside are more similar to Palmar de Troya. Still, the urges for conversion and prayers as ways to avert divine chastisement were present in all cases as was the idea that only a small remnant would be faithful until the very end.
Context 2: Catholic Traditionalism in the 1970s
Though the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar development were welcomed by many Catholics around the world, they also gave rise to traditionalist opposition from both clerics and laypeople. In general, these groups were against the Council’s teachings about freedom of religion, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and not least the introduction of the new mass order in 1969. They doubted that a true Catholic hierarchy would make such changes, and saw modernist, masonic and communist conspiracies. Many more or less organized groups of this kind existed in Europe, the Americas and in other places (Cuneo 1997).
The most influential of the Catholic traditionalist groups, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), was founded in 1970, led by Archbishop Marcel Lefèbvre (1905-1991) and based in Ecône, Switzerland. The Society had a very critical stance against the new directions of the Council, not least the introduction of the new mass order. Lefebvre was one of the theologians behind the so-called Ottaviani intervention, sent to Pope Paul VI in 1969, which argued that the Novus Ordo Missae meant a clear break with the traditional Catholic mass offer and resembled a Protestant form of worship. The priests belonging to the SSPX only celebrated mass according to the Tridentine rite. They opened up seminaries on both sides of the Atlantic, not least in the United States and France, but had little influence in Spain.
At first, the ordained members of the SSPX were incardiated in dioceses by local bishops (i.e. they were given pastoral tasks within a particular bishopric). However, in the mid-1970s, Lefebvre ordained priests directly for the Society and special mass centers and churches were opened. Though very critical, they officially held that Paul VI was the true pontiff and they formally remained in the Roman Catholic Church, though Lefebvre later, in 1976, would be suspended, after ordaining a long series of priests against the explicit instructions of the Holy See. The group has no canonical status in the church and when consecrating bishops of their own in 1988, Lefebvre was excommunicated by the Holy See, which regarded the group as schismatic (Cuneo 1997; Introvigne 2004; González Sáenz 2014).
Nevertheless, the pope question would give rise to many internal debates in the Society of Pius X and other similar groups, and from the late 1960s onwards, a minority would leave them and become sedevacantists instead. The latter claimed that the conciliar popes, John XXIII (1881-1963; r. 1958-1963) and Paul VI, were manifest heretics, and could thus no be true pontiffs. To them the Holy See had been vacant since the death of Pius XII (1876-1958; r. 1939-1958) (Introvigne 2004; Zoccatelli 2009, Introvigne & Zoccatelli n.d. b). Still in spite of secessions there is no doubt that the Society of Pius X remains the largest dissident traditionalist group in the world.
The Palmarian movement was part of both a long sequence of apocalyptically centered apparition traditions from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, where laypeople played a crucial role as “voice-boxes”, and the much more clergy-dominated stream of Catholic traditionalism that grew in the post-conciliar context. Still, the two parts would be closely intertwined in the Palmarian case.