Experts search Madrid convent for remains of Cervantes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 9:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 9:59pm


Miguel de Cervantes, Spain's greatest writer, was a soldier of little fortune. He died broke in Madrid, his body riddled with bullets. His burial place was a tiny convent church no larger than the entrance hall of an average house.

No more was heard of the 16th century author until the rediscovery of a novel featuring an eccentric character called Don Quixote rescued him from oblivion.

By then, nobody could remember where his grave was. Four centuries later, Spain intends to do the great man justice.

A team was yesterday planning to start excavations in a search for Cervantes's remains, with the results expected by the year's end. The estimated cost of the operation is €100,000 (HK$1.07 million).

A three-phase search will take place at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid's historic Barrio de las Letras - or Literary Quarter.

When Cervantes moved to Spain's capital in 1606 he had already published the novel that was to change Spanish literature: The Adventures of the Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.

Although his book enjoyed some success, it did not make him famous - and the author was better known in Spain as an ill-fated soldier.

Cervantes was hit with three musket shots in the 1571 Battle of Lepanto and spent years captive in Algiers. The ransom paid for his release ruined his family.

In 1616, aged 69, he was buried and years later the chapel was expanded. According to Fernando Prado, the historian in charge of the project, just five people, including a child and Cervantes, are buried there. "We know he is buried there," Prado said. "History teaches us that churches never throw bones away."

Forensic identification will be the last - and possibly most delicate - part of the process. Prado said that with no living Cervantes descendants, DNA analysis was unlikely to lead anywhere.

The investigation would instead refer to the author's portraits and his own stories, in which he relates that shortly before dying he only had six teeth.