Four centuries after his death, the remains of Miguel de Cervantes are to be exhumed. Using radar and forensic examinations, the excavation team hopes to pin point his exact location within the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians.
Only five people, a child, and Cervantes are buried there. The problem is that no records exist giving the precise location of Spain’s greatest writer. A team of researchers will attempt to do the great man justice and find his exact resting place. A $138,000 excavation project will take place inside the convent located within Madrid’s Literary Quarter.
The same year Cervantes moved to the Spanish capital in 1606, he had already published the first half of a book that centered about a brave and eccentric fictional knight named Don Quixote, and his faithful companion Sancho Panza. The first book enjoyed popular success. The second book came out in 1615, but only limited royalties for both publications came to the author. More popular writers of his time such as Luis de Gongora, Francisco de Quevedo and Lope de Vega ignored him.
Cervantes died destitute in Madrid in 1623. His body was interned at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians with five other people, and a child. Were it not for Don Quixote, Cervantes would have died in obscurity. Instead, he has been credited with creating the first novel that has influenced writers such as Flaubert and Dostoevsky.
According to the historian in charge of the excavation project, Fernando Prado, the first phase will involve a radar exploration of the ground beneath the building. The goal is to see if there is altered terrain marking the grave’s location.
Prado is sure the remains of Cervantes are buried at the convent and will spend the next month confirming that location. The Church never throws away bones. They might relocate them within catacombs, but no one would permanently dispose of them.
There is doubt that Spain’s greatest writer is interned at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians. In 1673, his body was exhumed and said to have later been returned after the convent underwent renovations. Four centuries after his death, an excavation will exhume Cervantes’s remains to confirm his location underneath the convent.
With radar images to confirm Cervantes’s location, Prado will rely on notes left by the author stating that later in life, he only had six teeth. Radar images should be able to provide pictures of the skull.
Another telltale sign will be old battle wounds Cervantes sustained at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto. While aboard the Spanish ship La Marquesa, he received three wounds, two in his chest and one to his left hand. Radar images should be able to identify these wounds.
When the proper grave within the convent is confirmed, Cervantes’s remains will be exhumed and examined by Francisco Etxeberria, a forensic anthropologist. DNA tests will be administered to all the bones to make sure they belong to Cervantes. Although Spain’s greatest author is said to have fathered a child named Isabella with another woman, Isabella and her descendants are unknown.
Once his remains are identified, Cervantes will be reburied within the same convent with a plaque to remember his name. Four centuries after his death, the remains of Cervantes are to be exhumed and confirmed so Spain’s greatest author can have an exact location commemorating his resting place.
By Brian T. Yates