The Spanish government has come across another obstacle in its plans to exhume the remains of the former dictator General Franco. The Benedictine prior who oversees the Valle de los Caídos site, Santiago Cantera, has denied the request of the Justice Minister for access to the mausoleum. RTVE has quoted government sources saying that Cantera was once a falangist election candidate, and that his opposition is no surprise.
The Benedictine authorities have not objected to the exhumation in principle, but defend the prior’s ‘autonomy’ over the site. Cantera says they support his insistence that the exhumation must be approved by Franco’s family. The matter remains before the courts.
The Valle, 50 kilometres north of Madrid, is effectively a mass grave of over 35,000 casualties from both sides of the Civil War, about 12,000 of whom are buried anonymously and most without the knowledge or permission of their families. The only two named graves are those of Franco himself and Falange founder José Antonio Primo de Rivera. It took almost two decades to build, with around 20,000 prisoners of war being used for its construction.
It’s easy to understand why it remains an issue for many Spaniards, for whom the ramifications of the war and Franco’s dictatorship are still raw. Many of those buried in the Valle were republicans who lost their lives fighting against Franco, but who are buried in a mausoleum created by and dedicated to him. Cantera says that el Valle should be a site of prayer and reconciliation: the dead are now brothers in eternity, rather than republican or nationalist. However, the site remains a place of pilgrimage for franquistas and neo-fascists. For this reason, the government, led by Pedro Sánchez, remains steadfast in its commitment to the removal of Franco’s remains.
Family members of the dictator maintain that, if the exhumation must occur, his remains should be buried in their family vault in the Almudena cathedral, in the centre of Madrid next to the Royal Palace. However, it is likely that this location would become an even bigger attraction and place of homage for the far right.
The government would prefer the reburial to take place in a less contentious location on the outskirts of Madrid, where the grave would be less evident. This would undoubtedly be less grand than the mausoleum in el Valle de los Caídos. However, for many Spaniards the Valle is a constant reminder of the oppression and conflict that they experienced during Franco’s regime. For the memorial to be a real place of remembrance, Franco’s remains must go.
by Otillie Forsyth, St Paul´s Girls School