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The man who saved the papers of John of the Cross

I have only just discovered the extraordinary story of how during the Spanish Civil War the South African-born poet Roy Campbell, translator of the poems of St John of the Cross, saved precious archives of the Toledo Carmelite friars, including original letters of the saint. Campbell, a convert to Catholicism, was living with his family in the city which in March 1936 was engulfed in riots against the Church. Churches were being burnt by the anti-Franco forces and priests and monks attacked in the streets. In July of that year Carmelite friars asked Campbell to hide a trunk of precious archives. Shortly afterwards, seventeen friars from the Carmelite monastery were rounded up and shot. Huge bonfires outside the town hall consumed crucifixes, vestments, missals and other looted religious items. Later the Campbell's home was searched, and Campbell recounted in a subsequent radio interview that he had prayed to St John of the Cross at this time, making a vow that he would translated the saint's poems in English if their lives were spared - as indeed they were. Campbell was a gifted poet and his translations have been widely praised.

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