Firsthand Witness: Juan A Seco (Part 1 of 2)

When it comes to witnesses to the Garabandal events, no one outside the villagers and the pastor was consistently closer to the action from the beginning than Juan Alvarez Seco, Brigadier of the Spanish Civil Guard and Commander in Chief of the section of Puentenansa which included San Sebastian de Garabandal. He was in charge of maintaining order in the village in 1961-62. This is his testimony.


When my promotion to Brigadier was approaching, I hoped I wouldn't be stationed in the north, and I didn't know why Divine Providence arranged that I be sent to Santander. Later when I thought it over, I realized my destiny was in the north of Spain, and especially in the area covering the provinces of Palencia, Asturias, and Santander, on the Nansa River. So, on April 1, 1961, I assumed command of the detachment of the Civil Guard in the already mentioned demarcation. My superiors felt I was well qualified to replace the previous commander who was transferred to other duties.

It was just two months of getting acquainted with my new demarcation and barely getting a feel for the whole area that on June 18, 1961, the most wonderful events began to occur in my command area. I heard about this on June 20 when I visited my physician, Dr. Jose Luis, who had been surprised when two women from Garabandal told him that St. Michael the Archangel was appearing to four little girls in the village.

I had gone to see the doctor for a hearing problem, but I seem to recall that I never got a prescription for treatment. Since I heard perfectly well what he told me the two women said, I had no further complaints with my hearing. I returned to barracks and ordered Corpora Jose Fernandez Codesido to go to San Sebastian de Garabandal as soon as possible and find out what was going on.

On returning the Corporal informed me that indeed four girls were involved in this alleged apparition of the angel, and they were: Conchita Gonzalez (12) whose father was deceased; Maria Dolores Mazon Gonzalez (12), daughter of Ceferino, president of the town council; Jacinta Gonzalez Gonzalez, (12), with both parents and siblings; and the youngest, Maria Cruz Gonzalez Barrido (11).

Corporal Fernandez questioned each of the girls separately and they all told him the same story. They were playing jacks at the entrance to the calleja called La Ventuca near a small garden that belonged to the schoolteacher where there was an apple tree full of fruit, and they took some apples without giving it a second thought I felt I should include in my report this childish prank that occurred before the apparitions began.

The twenty-first of that month I decided to visit the parish priest, but along the way, I came across him sitting in the car of the Indiano [An Indiano was a villager who went abroad to make his fortune and then returned to the village.] who was taking him to Santander to report the happenings to the Bishop. I then hurried back to the barracks and turned in my report to my superior.

The next day, I decided to go to Garabandal with my orderly and find out for myself what was happening there. Garabandal is a small mountain hamlet composed of approximately 70 houses. These people distinguish themselves by their natural hospitality. The village is nestled in the crags of the mountain chain called Picos de Europa, near the Peña Sagra. This zone borders the provinces of As-turias, Palencia and Santander. To climb to Garabandal one must navigate a hard and rough road that starts at Cosio and winds up the mountain for seven kilometers before reaching Garabandal.

As I approached the little village, I was able to enjoy wonderful scenery that reminded me of the nativity scenes that are set up in Catalunya at Christmas time. I noticed how the water ran through the streets of the village, along with chickens and piglets; and the tinkling of bells announced that sheep, goats and cows were not lacking either.

They are a very religious people. As soon as the clock strikes noon, they stop whatever they're doing and pray the Angelus. In the afternoon they pray the rosary led by the parish priest, and in his absence, by the lady school teacher or by the widow Maximina. When evening comes Simon's wife (mother of the visionary Jacinta) goes through the town with a lantern, ringing a small bell to remind everyone to say the last prayers of the day. On Sundays, after having heard Holy Mass in the old and humble church, they rest. Later in the afternoon the young people get together to sing and enjoy themselves to the sound of a tambourine. I couldn't help notice that everything was done with respect and modesty in their voices and movements.

The Events

Once I had arrived in town with my orderly, Celemin, I was introduced to a very kind lady called Valentina who treated me as if I were an old acquaintance. I didn't have to ask her twice to tell me about the first apparition that took place on Sunday the eighteenth. [The Brigadier then recounts Valentina's version of the familiar beginning of the events with the appearance of Saint Michael to the four visionaries.] From this day on I was satisfied and assigned a pair of guards to the village. News traveled to all the neighboring villages and people began to arrive every day from all over making the vigilance justifiable.

After the angel's third or fourth apparition there were eight or nine days without new apparitions and that made people distrustful. But the angel returned and every day there were present in Garabandal from 500 to 3,000 visitors who came to observe the events. I remembered the girls saying that they received three [interior] calls before each apparition.


Photo: A Civil Guardsman stands by the cuadro, the corral set up to protect the girls in ecstasy from the crowd.

After several visions of the angel, a teacher arrived in San Sebastian de Garabandal who was there to tutor the Indiano Etaquio's son who had failed several subjects in school. The parish priest, Don Valentin, asked the teacher to follow the girls during the visions and listen to what they said and take notes.

The out of town visitors began saying the girls were being hypnotized or given drugs and things like that. After the visions the teacher would take Conchita to the Indiano's home to debrief her and write down what had been said during the apparition. One of my sergeants told me of the rumor being spread that it was the teacher who was providing drugs. I immediately went to the house of Etaquio and found the teacher talking to Conchita. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that at the request of Don Valentin he was gathering information from the seer about what they said with the angel and what he wanted; and the teacher was preparing a report that Don Valentin would take to the Bishop.

It was also being said by some that Conchita was the ringleader in arranging with the others to go out at the same time for the apparition. Others said it was an illness which prompted Man Loli's father to request the presence of Dr. Jose Luis, Health Commissioner for this area, who came to Garabandal together with an assistant and the Mayor. They were taken to Ceferino's bar to question the girls detained in the room where Ceferino kept the bread. After the doctor examined each girl and let her go, she shot out of the room and ran to the meeting with the angel.

The doctor said the girls were ill and epileptic, and that everything that happened was due to this illness that they had. But I could see that the girls were as healthy as can be and every day they looked prettier and sharper while their parents and siblings appeared run down as though they weren't getting enough sleep and rest.

The parish priest and others decided to separate the girls into groups of two, to see if they went at the same time to the place of the apparitions. They put them in different places and after the last call, all four ran at the same time to the meeting place with the angel.

The four girls come out of ecstasy with the same ease they enter it. They appear completely happy and totally normal; all the onlookers are impressed. Everyone wants to touch their hair and the women want to kiss them. The two guards protect them until the crowd drifts away.

On Saturday, June 24, people from different places were wandering all over the village. At the spot where the apparitions were occurring they erected a wooden fence like a small corral to keep the girls from being maltreated or pinched or crushed by the large crowd. Only priests and doctors were allowed inside the enclosure. After the vision they went to the church sacristy to explain to Don Valentin and anyone else there what they had seen.

June 24 and 25, saw the largest crowd yet with several priests and doctors in attendance. One doctor tried to lift Conchita from the ground, but because of the increase in weight that the girls experience while in ecstasy, he dropped her, causing her knees to hit the rocks with a loud thud. When the ecstasy ended the injury to Conchita's knees was clearly visible. Also, all the girls have marks from pinches, scratches and blows delivered by the onlookers to see if all this is a put-on, and to see if they can get any reaction from the girls. The girls don't feel anything while in ecstasy; there is no visible reaction facially or physically while the abuse is being inflicted, and there is no pain afterwards; only the marks are left.

On Saturday, July 1, 1961, a great number of people from all walks of life, including several medical doctors, was present. About 7:00 P.M., the girls fell into ecstasy and remained that way for two hours. When it was over the girls complained that it was too short, that it lasted only two or three minutes. It was humanly impossible to stay in that position [kneeling on sharp rocks] for longer than a few seconds, and even less with angelical expressions on their faces. This time the angel told them that the next day they would see the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Our Lady Appears

On Sunday, July 2, 1961, the lane was packed with people praying the rosary. Everyone wanted to see the ecstasy. Next to me was the Second Commander of Salto del Nansa, Mr. Rocha, who had come with Dr. Morales and Biñana, [Not Biñana but Piñal.] members of the investigative commission appointed by Bishop Fernandez. I remember Commander Rocha telling me, "This afternoon the girls won't go to the cuadro as usual to have their vision." I answered by saying doctors have no control over divine events.

I saw at the bend in the lane the girls approaching. Dr. Morales attempted to stop them from reaching the cuadro in order to prevent the apparition from happening, but he was not able to do so as they went right past him without difficulty to the astonishment of Commander Rocha. Once in the cuadro they got on their knees and began reciting the rosary. After the first mystery they fell into ecstasy.


The four girls in ecstasy shouted at the same time "the Virgin!" Initially the girls thought it was Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and then they were heard saying it was Our Lady of Mount Carmel, as she came with the Infant Jesus and both carried in their hands the scapular.

The Virgin was surrounded by six angels. Conchita could clearly be heard counting them. [As Conchita tells us in her diary, there were only two angels, not six, with the Virgin on her first visit. But what then was she counting that Juan A. Seco heard so clearly? In his notes, Father Valentin Marichalar records that Conchita was counting the six words of the "secret of the angel" which has never been revealed.] She also said, "That Eye," which later was found out to be the Most Holy Trinity in the form of an eye. To the right of the Virgin there was a square shaped area of fire. [This fiery frame has no other reference and may have been mistakenly told to J.A.S. by someone else.] The rigidity of the girls was accentuated; their eyes were full of tears and their faces seemed emaciated and with a waxen pallor. The one crying the most was Mari Cruz. A doctor grabbed her around the neck and tried to rotate her head away from the vision, but could not. A loud cracking sound was heard and we thought he had injured her, but she was unhurt.

As the vision continued their faces became more peaceful. The girls were lined up, and to my right were Mari Dolores, Conchita and Jacinta, and on my left Mari Cruz. All had their rosaries and were talking to the Virgin about their daily duties. This was heard with all clarity. Mari Loli showed her teeth. Later we learned that the Virgin had told her that she had pretty teeth. Then Conchita, with her mouth open and twisted to the side, showed the Virgin where she had a cavity. The Virgin also asked them about the priest. The girls said he was ugly but very good. Don Valentin (the parish priest) was present and could clearly hear this, as could many others close by.

The girls told the Virgin that they were praying for the Civil Guards who were protecting them from being harmed by the curious crowds. Then they asked the Virgin if they could hold her crown. She finally agreed and we could see how they passed it from one to the other. Conchita asked the Virgin to let her keep one of the stars so she could put it in her hair, and everyone could see it and believe. The answer of the Virgin: "Eventually they will believe."

The girls describe the Virgin as follows: White dress, blue mantle, crown of golden stars, hands outstretched, and a brown scapular, long, dark brown hair parted in the middle and a very beautiful face. She appeared to be about 17 years old, on the tall side and all the girls agreed she has an unmistakable and most beautiful voice.

After this vision I have been a witness of many of the apparitions and ecstasies, and of hundreds of ecstatic runs, as they ran with great speed through the streets of the town, sometimes backwards. During those runs, at times, some of the girls were in ecstasy while the others not, and those not in ecstasy could not catch up with the others. Even the young men of the town found it impossible to run fast enough to catch up with them.

I also witnessed many times how in ecstasy the seers offered all those rosaries and medals for Our Lady to kiss and returned them to their rightful owners without making a mistake. Some people gave their kissed objects to other people to give to the girls and have the Virgin kiss them once more. The Virgin identified them and said she would not kiss them because they already had been kissed. Others gave their rings to be kissed, but the Virgin would only kiss wedding rings.

I have met the girls and thought them very plain, but during their trances their faces became transformed and acquired an angelic look. I have seen them in their ecstasies fall on their heads and hit stones with a loud thud. It hurt me more than them, as nothing ever happened to them.


Photo: A failed attempt to twist Mari Cruz's head while she is in ecstasy.

These marvels occurred so many times and so often (there could be two or three ecstasies each day) it is impossible to recount them all. I only record certain cases which I witnessed. In my mind I remember so many and with such precision that I will never forget them as long as I live, God willing. [Juan ASeco died on July 5,1988.]

About The First Message

The girls in ecstasy in the cuadro were very serious and intensely listening to what the Virgin was telling them. Some had big tears coming out of their eyes. Many of the onlookers also felt this emotion. When the ecstasy ended, the four girls in the total silence surrounding them, announced to Father Valentin that they had received a message from the Virgin that they couldn't tell him, their parents or the Bishop.

The next day the girls told me that they had to go alone to the Pines because the Virgin said so. They said two little girls about three years old who are too little to know anything about this should accompany them and keep a lookout. Also, Maria Dolores said to me: "Brigadier, you and my father come to 300 feet to the right of the Pines. Father Valentin and two religious are to be 300 feet to the left of the Pines. The rest of the people are to stay far away."

We did as they told us, and we could see the moment they entered into ecstasy. They began to cry so much that the little girls that accompanied them were frightened and also began to cry. This was described as the Vision of the Chalice, which was filling with the sins of mankind, and they were to reveal this on October 18,1961.

With empty wooden fruit crates they devised a small altar at the foot of the Pines and covered it with flowers from the countryside. They spent all morning preparing it and did a very nice job.

Another day the Virgin appeared to the girls in the Pines. A civil guard from Reinosa and his friend had gone there to see an ecstasy were wit nesses. They heard Conchita say to the Virgin: "Aren't you going to hurt yourself in those branches?" She said this because the Virgin was appearing in the top branches of the tree. Present this time were also the daughter of Primitiva, by name Elvira, and another person from the village.

Conchita In Santander

On July 27 in Santander, Conchita had her braids cut off. Apparently in a previous apparition she had offered them to the Virgin. The doctors who were in Garabandal for only a day, had an agreement with the Bishop to bring her from Garabandal to Santander. I happened to be in Santander that same day, but never got to see her. The day before, since I wouldn't be in Garabandal for the apparitions, I told the guards to watch and let me know what happens.

When I returned from Santander the two guards I had left there informed me that on the twenty-seventh of July, Conchita had been taken to a convent in Santander. The girls in the boarding school attached to the convent were asked to take her out to see Santander and entertain her so she would forget about her "illness."

I returned to Puentenansa and contacted the guards, who told me that at 1:00 P.M., Mari Loli, Mari Cruz and Jacinta saw Saint Michael the Archangel, and they were heard telling him what a pity that when the Virgin comes Conchita would not be with them; but the angel said that Conchita will see the Virgin in Santander at the same time they see her in Garabandal.

The next day about 8:00 A.M., in Puentenansa I got a phone call from Brigadier Crecencio of Civil Guard headquarters [in Santander] who asked me what had happened in Garabandal the previous day. I told him at 1:00 P.M., the angel appeared to Mari Cruz, Jacinta and Maria Dolores and had told them that Conchita in Santander would see the Virgin at the same time as them. Brigadier Crecencio confirmed that indeed Conchita had her vision at 1:00 P.M., next to the convent fence.

A young man from Garabandal who knew the four girls very well was in Santander at that time and he told me he had seen Conchita returning to the convent with some of the girls, and on the overpass to the railway station she suddenly went into ecstasy in the middle of the street.

When Conchita's mother returned to Garabandal she said her daughter was a sick girl and that was the reason she was having visions, that everything was a lie and that this was what the ecclesiastical authority had told her.

I was near the water fountain that had been a gift to the town from Etaquio, where two women were telling Mari Cruz's mother that everything was a lie. Had I not been there Mari Cruz's mother would have fought with them, but fortunately nothing happened.

When Conchita's brother Serafin returned from cutting wood in Navarre, he asked his mother about Conchita. When she told him she was in Santander, Serafin told her to bring her home.

Back in Garabandal, Conchita was playing with a little girl, the niece of Mrs. Primitiva, when she recognized the voice of the Virgin but couldn't see her. She even looked under her bed. The Virgin told her to go with the other girls on the next day, to the place of the visions. When the four girls were reunited Conchita told them not to leave Garabandal if anybody wanted to take them out.

The Stone Kissed By The Virgin

Mari Loli came out of her house in ecstasy and arriving at the lane fell on her knees. We surrounded her. Next to me was Father Ramon Andreu. We watched her pick up stones and give them to the Virgin to kiss. She said to the Virgin: "This stone is for a friend and her family who live in Cadiz." She took another stone and offering it to the Virgin, said it was for another friend who does not live in Garabandal.

She then picked up another stone and didn't say anything. The Virgin kissed it and Mari Loli put it back on the ground. Then I picked it up and put it in my pocket as Loli continued looking up the whole time. Then the Virgin asked her to show her the last stone she kissed. While continuing to look upwards, Loli felt around the ground with her hand and didn't find the stone. We then placed two or three stones by her side which she touched but then ignored. Father Andreu said to me: "Brigadier, take the stone from your pocket and put it on the ground." I did, and apparently the Virgin told her it was now on the ground.

Without looking, Loli touched several stones and found the one I put there. She picked it up, showed it to the Virgin and then was happy. She put it back on the ground, and I again picked it up and put it in my pocket. At the end of the ecstasy I asked Loli if that last stone the Virgin kissed was for anyone in particular, and she said no, so I kept it for myself.

Ecstatic Fall

One day an important person came to Garabandal accompanied by Mr. Emilio Valle and his daughters. The daughters gave me several medals to give to Maria Dolores (Loli) so she could have them kissed by the Virgin. I did as requested. Loli had her vision at the Pines. I remember a very curious thing happened. Maria Dolores was on the ground lying flat on her back talking to the angel and told him: "If you don't help me I can't get up." Then I saw how she extended her arm and slowly began to raise up until she reached a sitting position just as though someone had given her a hand and helped her to sit up.


Recognition Of Priests

When his Excellency Doroteo Fernandez y Fernandez published his first nota from the Bishopric recommending that priests abstain from going to Garabandal, the priests would come in civilian clothes. I remember Conchita in ecstasy, repeating the Virgin's words that, "Today there are three priests in the village," but Conchita herself said there was only one. Two gentlemen dressed as civilians came closer to try and hear this murmured conversation, and identified themselves as priests, explaining that they were dressed that way in view of the Bishop's prohibition. [There was no official prohibition in Bishop Fernandez's first nota but simply a "desire" that priests abstain from going there.] We did not see them in town after that. Another day two lieutenants from the Air Force were in town. I recognized them but didn't say anything, and the girls found out from the Virgin that they were chaplains.

On October 12, 1961, I was offered the crucifix to kiss by each of the girls in ecstasy. It was my patronal feast day, and the Virgin congratulated me. I had chosen to spend the day in Garabandal.

Reprinted with kind permission from Garabandal Journal November-December 2006
Translated from Spanish by Dr. Edward Serano

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