The 233 martyrs were clergy, religious and lay persons of the diocese of Valencia who were executed during the Red Terror of the Spanish Civil War. Some 6,000 clergy and religious were executed in Spain during this period; of these over 2,000 have been proposed for canonization. Up to the present over 1,000 have been beatified and 11 canonized. They are regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War.
The 233 martyrs were made up of 16 separate causes, mostly groups but also some individuals who have been proposed for canonization. The earliest cause was opened in 1952 (that of Tomas Sitjar Fortia and his companions). Most causes were opened in the 1950s, though none were accepted by the CCS until 1990. The most recent cause (Maria Giner Gomis) was opened in 1995 and completed in five years. This was not the first group of Spanish martyrs beatified by John Paul II, though it was the largest up to that time.
The beatifications were announced at a ceremony in Rome on 11 March 2001, presided over by Pope John Paul II. In his homily he preached on the Transfiguration and pointed to the example of the martyr's sacrifice, and urged the church in Spain to be worthy of their example. He observed that they were men and women of all ages, and states (clergy, religious, lay persons) and that they had been killed for professing their faith. He pointed out that the martyrs had died forgiving their enemies, and expressed the hope that their example would help to remove the end of hatred and resentment still felt in Spain from those times.
The issue of the Spanish martyrs is controversial, not least because of the Spanish churches identification with the Nationalist cause during the civil war. However John Paul pointed out, generally and in specifics, that those who died in these cases “were not involved in political or ideological struggles nor did they want to be concerned with them” and that “they died solely for religious motives”.
John Paul II made special mention of Maria Teresa Ferragud, one of the lay companions from Valencia; an 83-year-old woman, she was executed along with her four daughters (companions of Aurelio Ample Alcaide), all nuns in contemplative orders. He also made special mention of Francesco Castello Aleu, a 22 yr old layman, and German Gozalba, at age 23 just 2 months into the priesthood. He also made reference to Consuela and Maria Dolores Aguiar-Mella, two lay companions of Maria Baldilou Bullit, and the first people from Uruguay to be beatified.