These Three Nurses accepted Martyrdom rather than Deny their Catholic Faith

By Larry Peterson

This is about three young women. They were all Red Cross nurses but had been mistaken for Catholic nuns. The year was 1936, and the Civil War in Spain was raging. The Catholic clergy was a prime target for the government militia. The three nurses were taken prisoner by the rebel soldiers.

The innocent women, who were Catholic,  had come to help and treat the sick and dying no matter what side they were on. It was all about taking care of those in need. Inspired by their love for Jesus, they were simply following His way, demonstrating love and kindness the way Jesus taught. Even though they were not nuns, they loved their faith deeply and were not about to denounce it.

The three ladies were beaten, tortured, and treated in the most degrading and heinous ways imaginable. This cruel treatment continued all through the night and then, for the grand finale, they were shot to death. Their names were Maria Pilar Gullon Yturriaga, age 25;  Octavia, Iglesias Blanco, age 42; and Olga Perez-Monteserin Nunez, age 23.  

After inflicting their degrading and painful acts upon the women, their torturers demanded that they renounce their Catholic faith. Exhibiting unbelievable courage and saying over and over, “Viva Cristo Rey” (“Long live Christ the King”), they died “in odium Fidei” (“in hatred of the Faith”).

  • Nurse Maria Pilar Gullon was born on May 29, 1911, in Madrid, Spain. Her mom and dad were devout Catholics, and Maria became a member of Catholic Action and the Daughters of Mary in Astorga, Spain.  She taught catechism and worked with the poor and the sick. But her calling was to nursing, and she became a Red Cross Nurse and wound up at the front during the Spanish Civil War. She was captured by the militia and (as mentioned) died a martyr’s death on October 28, 1936.
  • Nurse Octavia Iglesias Blanco was born on November 30, 1894, in Astorga, Leon, Spain. At age 42, she was the oldest of the three women and tried her best to be the “big sister” as they were beaten and violated. They apparently all stuck together as best they could because they all died the same way, “in odium fidei” never giving  up to the evil being showered upon them.
  • Nurse Olga Perez-Monteserin Nunez was born on March 16, 1913, in Paris, France. At the age of seven, she moved to  Astorga, Spain with her parents. At the age of 23, she was the “baby” of the group but just as determined and dedicated to helping the sick, wounded, and dying as her older nursing sisters. When she reported for duty at the Red Cross headquarters she was assigned to the front, the same as Nurse Maria and Nurse Octavia.

Prior to their Beatification Ceremony on May 29, 2021, Bishop Jesus Fernandez Gonzalez of Astorga said, “These martyrs were not linked to either side—the Red Cross went wherever it was summoned, regardless of who was in control. Nor did they carry weapons or even use words to attack anyone. They were simply moved by human compassion and Christian charity, knowing the risks and dangers when signing up as volunteers.”

Bishop Fernando Gonzalez also said that the three women had clung to their crosses and forgiven their executioners, offering a “model of the Christian lay vocation.”

The Bishop continued by saying, “Although they were given the opportunity to apostatize, they did not do so. They were people with their whole lives ahead—only a great hope could have enabled them to renounce it, and only a great love could have sustained such hope. The testimony of martyrs offers a lifeline, keeping us afloat in the truth that liberates,”

The Beatification ceremony took place on Saturday, May 29, 2021, at Santa Maria  Cathedral in Astorga.  The celebrant representing Pope Francis was Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saint’s Causes. The newly Beatified women were originally buried in a mass grave at their execution site. They were re-interred at the Cathedral in Astorga in 1948.