SPAIN in the heat of the summer months is more usually associated with the pleasures of its sandy beaches than with flying bottles, bomb threats and stabbings, all in the name of religion.
However, a satirical play about an attempt to reconcile the world's religious faiths has so raised tempers among Spanish Catholics that the performers, a Catalan troupe, Els Joglars, have been granted a police escort.
The saga over Teledeum has so excited passions that the national press and political parties have become embroiled in the dispute. The left-wing and the trade union movement have leapt to the defence of the beleagured players in the face of a determined assault by the Church.
Teledeum suggests that intolerance is at the heart of all religions, and features, among other scenes, a slanging match between an Anglican minister and an Italian bishop as to whether to take Communion with or without tomato sauce, The play reaches its climax with a Lutheran minister, vexed at being denied the spotlight for so long, taking centre, stage to read the Bible from cover to cover. This is intended to give the audience the cue to get up and leave.
In Gijon, where the play was featured in an official arts festival, Archbishop Diaz Merchan of Oviodo asked the local mayor to ban the performance. The alcalde refused, and the show went on only to be greeted by flying bottles from various disgruntled members of the capacity audience.
The tour then proceeded through Barcelona, Alicante, Segovia and Madrid where following a performance one of the actors was stabbed in the street by an incensed opponent. The Catholic Church has denounced the play in the strongest possible terms. Bishop Nicolas Castellanos of Palencia said that it was "damaging and disfiguring our religious and ecclesiastic reality".
Later Archbishop Teodoro Cardeual of Burgos termed it "a most serious offence against the mysteries of our faith".
However, the director of Es Joglars, Albert Boadella, who was imprisoned and exiled under Franco's strict censorship laws, dismissed the Church's charges saying; "If my play causes any Catholic to lose his faith, it isn't much of a faith".