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There Be Dragons - The History of Opus Dei

Updated on May 29, 2011

Work or Sorcery

For moviegoers that were put off by the sight of an albino in self-flagellation during The DaVinci Code, the more recent There Be Dragons gives a more grounded view and background of Opus Dei. As star Tom Hanks said of The DaVinci Code, "It's just a movie." However, that film bolstered the belief abroad in public that Opus Dei is an evil secret society and probably made up of magicians.

Members of Opus Dei in the US have posted to various Internet sites that when they viewed The DaVinci Code and witnessed the portrayal of Opus Dei that they laughed, because it was absurd and untrue. The truth is hidden somewhere between the Code and the laughing members, but There Be Dragons is believable.

An interesting scene near the end of There Be Dragons features actress Geraldine Chaplin one of many times in which she instructs grandchildren and their friends that there are many dragons in life and one must learn to face them. She mentions that perhaps this task will never be finished in life and this statement is a hallmark of Opus Dei - that the work to God's glory fills one's lifetime and can come through any vocation chosen, if done for God. It seems a never-ending tapestry.

It also seems to open a controversy in that for decades since the founding of Opus Dei, a few mavericks have stated that they were, for instance, a "stripper for God." I've known about two of these individuals and one particularly did not seem to think or speak about God at all. This leaves a conundrum - can any and all kinds of work, legal or illegal, be done to the glory of God? Today, illegal Christian missionaries continue to set up Bible studies in the back rooms of bakeries in North Korea and while this activity is illegal, it is surely about God.


Work As Service

Father Josemaria Escriva died in 1975 and was canonized in 2002. In his early priesthood, he felt that he heard from God and was told that not everyone must become a priest or nun in a cassock or habit, take vows, and uphold a set of strict behaviors, vocations, and worship traditions. He felt that a community could be started that comprised single men and women living separately and maintaining celibacy, while being allowed whatever jobs they secured and the attire to go with them. Their work would be a form of worship to God. Married couples could join the community for activities and return home afterward.

This all is an interesting concept, given that people of nearly every faith and who have never heard of Opus Dei feel that their work is a form of worship to God or a gift to others as service and an offering to the overarching Universe.

A Dragon of Krakow.
A Dragon of Krakow. | Source


During the Spanish Civil War that occurred before WWII, Communist soldiers delivered a scourge and assassination of Catholic priests. Some priests abandoned their cassocks for street clothes and continued their work. Father Josemaria was one of these, but others were dragged form their churches, beaten, and assassinated in the streets. Opus Dei was very small in the beginning and their practice of hiding from Communist soldiers may have inflamed the first accusations of "secret society."


At age two (born in 1902), Josemaria was cured of an incurable illness after prayer before the Virgin Mary. This placed a sense of the mystic on his life, because within a decade, his three sisters were dead of various diseases. In 1917 at the end of WWI, Josemaria found the footprints of a barefoot Discalced (barefooted in reverence) Carmelite priest in the snow and took this as a sign of a mission from God. In the future, he often worked with the sick.

In a scene from the film, Josemaria is hidden from the Communist soldiers in a madhouse - the actual psychiatric clinic called "Casa de Reposo y Salud" (House of Rest and Health) operated by a friend in Madrid. In the film, it was neither restful or healthy, inmates dancing to the flashing bomb fires seen through the windows. The Father meets a young woman that tells him that God is a monster and she fights Him successfully with love. He sees her healed wrist scars from suicide attempts and we feel that he is thinking about suffering before God as a form of worship and service. After an old priest is beaten and shot in the back of the head by Communists in the film, Josemaria punishes himself across the bare back with a wide leather belt.

The mystic aspect of the film and the nature of Father Josemaria's life is interesting, because Josemaria was not only ordained a priest, but had earned a law degree and pursued additional studies as well.

The small group of Opus Dei members and Josemaria left the clinic and walked through snowstorms across the Pyrenees Mountains to safety in Andorra in 1937. In the film, the group stops overnight halfway to their goal in a mountain church crumbled to ruins. Josemaria kneels in painful rubble all night, distraught and praying, to rise with the sun and a renewed sense of purpose and energy.


In 1944, Josemaria learned that he suffered Type II Diabetes. However, in 1954, doctors found that he no longer had any signs of it.


Have confidence in your guardian Angel. Treat him as a lifelong friend - that is what he is - and he will render you a thousand services in the ordinary affairs of each day. -- from The Way, page 562

A piece of advice I have insisted on repeatedly: be cheerful, always cheerful. Sadness is for those who do not consider themselves to be children of God. -- from Furrow, page 54

I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth. -- from The Forge, page 1005

The Spanish Civil War - Picasso's Guernica

A line drawing of the famous anit-war painting,
A line drawing of the famous anit-war painting, | Source

There Be Dragons

Recommendations: See this movie if you are interested in the Spanish Civil War, politics, Catholic church history, origins of Opus Dei, action, romance, and questionsof belief. I plan to see it again.

This action-adventure and romantic film (PG-13) is two hours in length and directed by Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields). Through an investigative reporter writing about the priest in the 1980s, the film traces the diverging paths of Josemaria and his childhood friend, Manolo Torres, who dropped out of seminary and became a fascist spy among the Communists. Major themes include doubt, isolation, and forgiveness; as well as the founding of Opus Dei and its concentration on work. Another theme is love vs. dragons, which asserts that were love is not present, dragons like unforgiveness enter.

Many war scenes are exciting, with lots of shooting and bombs, but not much gore. Scenes in a madhouse and in the Pyrenees are captivating. A love triangle and murders add interest as well and at the end of the film, the audience receives quite a large surprise.


  • Charlie Cox - Josemaria Escriva
  • Wes Bentley - Manolo Torres
  • Dougray Scott - Robert, Manolo's son
  • Golshifteh Farahani - Leila, Robert's friend
  • Unax Ugalde - Pedro, a member of Opus Dei
  • Olga Kurylenko - Ildiko, a Hungarian freedom fighter pursued romatically by Manolo
  • Rodrigo Santoro - Oriol, a Communist military organizer and Idilko's hero
  • Geraldine Chaplin - a grandmother in 1910s' Spain


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Than you, thank, you, thank you, for this tremendous information!

    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 

      4 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I just want you to know that I'm an Opus Dei member, and I would highly recommend "There Be Dragons" to others.

      One has to read up on the life of St. Josemaria Escriva to know what holiness in the ordinary things truly means. And by the way, his successor, Alvaro del Portillo, was recently beatified. This just goes to show that Opus Dei produces saints.

    • marimccants profile image


      7 years ago


    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 

      7 years ago from Michigan

      I did not see 'The DaVinci Code', tried to watch it be after just a few moments, it was looking rather 'silly.' to me anyways. But I will make another attempt to watch it as I saw 'Demons and Dragons' and thought it was really good and look forward to seeing 'There Be Dragons.' Thanks for sharing the quotes, interesting. v/r

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for the new comments --

      deblipp - interesting premise for a film. Like shell shock in a way.

    • deblipp profile image


      7 years ago

      I hadn't heard of There Be Dragons, but now I'm intrigued. I can recommend, on an entirely different note, Pan's Labyrinth, a horror/fantasy about a young girl who navigates the horrors of the Spanish Civil War by retreating into a terrifying fantasy realm.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      Sounds a great movie but I couldn't watch all this hurt.

    • profile image

      sync life 

      7 years ago

      Funny, we had just re-watched Da Vinci code on the weekend...Hadn't heard of There Be Dragons and now will be keen to see this one. Da Vinci certainly raised questions but more for a search for the truth. It succeeded in opening people's eyes to mystery for sure. Very interesting information.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 

      7 years ago from Great Britain

      Another seriously interesting hub from you , Patty.

      Opus Dei, as potrayed in the film De Vinci Code confused me until the sight of the ´so called decendent of Mary magdelene´ at the end attempting to walk on water

      made me realise. Yes, It´s just a film and not even a very good one.

      The research you do is far more interesting and l apppreciate your hubs even though l don´t get to as many as l´d like. Thanks for all your hard work.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      The film urgede me to go looking for more information about the Spanish American War and about Opus Dei in America. Multiple 1000s of members now.

    • susiebrown48 profile image


      7 years ago from Clearwater, FL

      A movie I wasn't even aware of has suddenly become a must see - Thank you for the excellent hub.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Good review Patty. Must see the movie to find out what Opus Dei is all about. Very Interesting. Thanks Peter

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      This film is in limited release at president, with a wider release to follow. Hope you like it when you see it!

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 

      7 years ago

      Blessings and Namaste' to you this lovely Saturday morning!

      I wouldn't have given this film a second thought if it weren't for your in-depth review! Thank you so much for sharing Patty!

      Blessings always, Earth Angel!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      An interesting topic and movie. I think anyone can say they are working to promote God and spiritual teachings; it is the actions which make those statement true or not.

    • stars439 profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful hub. Your work is always so enjoyable. God Bless You.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I want to see this movie! I saw an ad in an elevator in Providence, RI. It looks interesting. I am a fan of Dan Brown and his topics.

      I also had the opportunity to watch "The Killing Fields" and my wife was in Cambodia at the time (check out my Hub on my wife if interested:

      I am looking forward to seeing this. Thanks for sharing!



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