2. The Family Environment

José María Escriba Albás, is the second of six brothers. He was born on 9 January 1902 in Barbastro (Huesca). His father, José Escriba Corzán, was a merchant in Barbastro. (10) He was born on October 15, 1867 in Fonz, although his family had come from Peralta de la Sal. As a businessman, he was already one of the three partners of "Sucesores de Cirilo Latorre" in 1894, a society that, due to disagreements and disputes for economic reasons in the distribution of money among the partners, was dissolved in May 1902. The society  - adopting the new commercial label of "Juncosa y Escriba" -  continued with two of the three original partners, Juan Juncosa and José Escriba, in the business of fabrics, garments and cloths. It must be noted that the trade of cloths and fabrics has always been one of the favorite trades of the Spanish Jews since the Middle Ages on the Iberian Peninsula.

José María was born at the time of the crisis in the "Sucesores de Cirilo Latorre" partnership, at a time when his father, in combination with Juan Juncosa, was trying to take over most of the business, eliminating one of the partners in order to obtain greater profits. His mother was the next to the last of thirteen siblings. José María's birthplace was his parents' home in the Plaza del Mercado, so called because it was where the stalls for sales and trading were located. He was baptized on January 13 and given the names José María Julián Mariano. (11)

It was in the Plaza del Mercado, at the door of his house, where he played "civilians and thieves" with the other children of the neighborhood (12). José María liked to hide and not be caught by the "civilians". This is what is said in the children's game: A perfect "thief" who knows how to simulate, hide and guard himself from the view and the action of those who in the game presented order and authority, that is, the "civilians".

He was not a strong child. (13) When he was only two years old he became seriously ill and feared for his life. He was considered terminally ill by the doctors. (14) Three of his sisters died within a period of three years, between 1910 and 1913. José María believed that he would be next because of his weak and sickly condition. He voluntarily withdrew from the company of boys his own age and went into a deep depression.

On one occasion, while José María was in the town of Fonz, near Barbastro, where his father was a native, and he had gone to spend a few days in the house of the local priest, his father's brother (15)"he had some attacks, the seriousness of which was diagnosed by the doctor consulted. He was further examined by doctors from Fonz, Barbastro and Huesca. He suffered from 'alferecías', which is what is now known as epilepsy". Escriba would continue to suffer from these convulsive attacks, which, of course, have been discreetly hidden and silenced.

He studied at the school of the Piarist Fathers in Barbastro, making his first communion in 1912. According to the testimony of Aurelio Español, a pharmacist from Jaca who also attended his high school, there were only a few students.

A witness of that time was Mr. José Mur, a schoolmate of José María in Barbastro, who said that "his schoolmate was a normal child, not especially pious nor especially studious". (16)

Among some of his hobbies, that already reveal to us the inclinations of the future founder, we find the one cited by his official biographer Salvador Barnal in a book published by Opus Dei's publishing house, Rialp, in 1976 (17) - "José María some nights, after closing his mother's shop, stayed on to help calculate the money they had made that day; he enjoyed counting coins very much" - an archetypal Jewish trait.

On the other hand "he liked stories a lot". (18)

Escrivá would also comment, for example, that "in those days visits to his house were commonplace. Families and some of the mother's friends visited them. He had to greet them, because he was the child of the house, and when his father's friends wanted to kiss him, he defended himself, especially from a distant relative of his grandmother, with a real mustache that pricked". (19)

Escriba received from his elders a severe and Semitic, rancid education. "His mother had always made her children aware of the importance of making things last, to avoid unnecessary expenses; of thinking very well, with common sense, about any purchase, without stretching out the arm more than the sleeve"; of taking advantage of things apparently less useful: "with the threads that are pulled, the devil makes a rope" taught Doña Dolores to her daughter Carmen when she was learning to sew in Barbastro..." (20)

His  father did not have a very good reputation in the village and by the end of 1913, his business was on the verge of bankruptcy, presumably a fraudulent bankruptcy. Those were the "financial troubles" of which Daniel Artigues (21) speaks that provoked the nightly departure of his family, the flight from the village which left unpaid large sums of money to the neighbors, suppliers and providers.

As Francisco Umbral wrote in his national newspaper: (22) "Spain is not a country of climbers. The last one was Escrivá. The Escrivás, a family of merchants who fled during the night from Barbastro to avoid creditors". He did not show his face, he did not face up to his debts, he did not ask for a moratorium to, with honest and dignified work, pay his many debts. Mr. Escriba preferred to leave through the small door, at night, to consummate the fraud of the creditors.

Continuing the story of the events given to us by Luis Carandell (23), the family's happiness was abruptly interrupted in 1915 as a result of the bankruptcy. References to said bankruptcy are easily found anywhere but no mention is made about defaulting the creditors of the hitherto flourishing business of selling fabrics.

There are various versions of the causes of this bankruptcy, which was to cause a profound shock to family life. One of José María Escrivá's friends at the seminary in Zaragoza said that Escrivá himself had told him that his father had had a dispute with some nuns. In Barbastro it is also said that one of the partners in the business, Mr. Mur, decided at one point to separate from the other partners, Juncosa and Escriba, to whom he sold them his share. Including in the contract was a clause of no concurrence, to eliminate Mr. Mur as a future and possible competitor in the region. However, it seems that he violated that clause through a front man, which led to the initiation of a trial urged by Escrivá and Juncosa from which, apparently, they came out badly, leading the company name to ruin.

The dramatic tone of the bankruptcy was set by the fact that the partners. and their families. were forced to leave the city, with Juncosa going to Huesca and Escriba to Logroño, where they could not be located so easily.

"Some people from Barbastro with whom I spoke", Carandell tell us, "told me that Monsignor was 'bitter' about his home town and this was the reason why he did not go there more often. In fact, Don Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer has not visited Barbastro, at least officially". (24)

His father's ruin in the textile business, with the aftermath of hardships and privations that the Escriba family had to endure in the following years, left in José María's mind a deep trauma that would manifest itself, unmistakably, throughout his life, even to the point of affirming that "without the ruin of the Juncosa y Escriba name, the personality of the founder of Opus Dei, and in fact Opus Dei itself, would have had a very different content". (25)

Since 1915, when he was thirteen years of age, Jose María lived in Logroño with his family in an attic at number 18, Sagasta Street, where they appear to be hiding from the pressures of creditors, in a sordid atmosphere of economic hardship. There, during the 1915-16 academic year, he enrolled in the Logroño High School. His father, with the stigma of mistrust due to his immediate past, finally managed to get a job as a shop assistant in a grocery store in the city. (26)

In these circumstances, his entry into the seminary was more a question of survival than of a deep-seated vocation.

Nor can it be said that his family environment was moralizing or exemplary.

As a student, he was mediocre, although with a sense of fairness, his family environment was not the most propitious for a serene spirit. That was the family picture, realistic and without aura.


10. Bernal, p 16.
11. Ibid, p 16.
12. Ibid, p 18.
13. Walsh, p 24.
14. Bernal, p 22.
15. Carandell, p 137.
16. Ibid, p 133.
17. Bernal, p 18.
18. Ibid, p 19.
19. Ibid, p 17.
20. Ibid, p 32.
21. Artigues, p 17.
22. "El País" newspaper (January 20, 1986).
23. Carandell, p 116.
24. Ibid, p 117.
25. Ibid, p 118.
26. Ynfante, "La prodigiosa aventura del Opus Dei" ("The Prodigious Adventure of Opus Dei"), p 4.

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