War injuries could identify Cervantes’ bones

Researchers looking for the remains of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, the author of "Don Quixote", said on Friday that his war injuries could hold the key to identifying him.

War injuries could identify Cervantes' bones
Francisco Etxeberria at work on a dig in 2013. Photo: Aranzadi

Scientists used infrared cameras, 3D scanners and a ground-penetrating radar last year to pinpoint the five areas at the church of the Convent of the
Barefoot Trinitarians, a church in Madrid where human remains — possibly including those of Cervantes — are thought to lie.

They will return on Saturday to begin a two-week search for bones at the church where Cervantes is recorded as having been buried a day after his death on April 22, 1616 — the same week that William Shakespeare died.

"We are looking for a skeleton of a male, of around 70 years, that has six teeth or less in the mouth and with injuries in the forearm and the left hand," forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria who is leading the search told a news conference.

"These have been described, not as an amputation, but as a non-functioning arm because of those injuries. It is not impossible that we find small metal fragments embedded" in the bones," he added.

Cervantes received three musket shots, two in the chest and one in his left hand, during a 1571 naval conflict, the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Holy League led by Spain defeated the Ottoman fleet.

Though Cervantes was referred to as "El Manco de Lepanto," or "The One-armed Man of Lepanto", he did not have his arm amputated because of the shooting, though he lost use of it. 

He died a poor man but had strong links with the Madrid church's Trinitarian religious order which negotiated his release and helped pay a ransom after he was captured by pirates. The church has been expanded over the centuries, however, and the exact whereabouts of the writer's remains have been forgotten.

Etxeberria's team launched what is the first significant search for the remains of the greatest writer of the Spanish Golden Age at the end in April 2014. During the first phase of the search researchers identified 33 alcoves where bones could be stored and four tombs.

In the second phase which gets underway at the weekend they will remove the layer of plaster which covers the wall with the alcoves to see if there are funerary inscriptions.

Alcoves without inscriptions will be probed with an endoscopic camera and if any remains are found that park the interest of researchers, they will be removed an analysed in a laboratory set up in the crypt.

"In 15 days we have to leave the place having answered the question of whether the bones that are found are of a man or a woman, of a child or an adult" and if they match Cervantes's physical characteristics, said Etxeberria

If Cervantes's remains are identified, it is planned that he remain buried in the convent, which is still inhabited by nuns and has been designated part of Madrid's cultural heritage since 1921.

Born near Madrid in 1547, Cervantes has been dubbed the father of the modern novel for "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha", published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.

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Finally! Terry Gilliam finishes ‘Don Quixote’ film project that took 17 years

Terry Gilliam, the US-born director famous for a string of dark fantasy films, has finally finished his version of Don Quixote... after 17 years battling one disaster after another.

Finally! Terry Gilliam finishes 'Don Quixote' film project that took 17 years
Photo: Terry Gilliam / Facebook

“Sorry for the long silence…,” he posted laconically to Facebook on Sunday.

“After 17 years, we have completed the shoot of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. Muchas gracias to all the team and believers. QUIXOTE VIVE!” (Quixote lives!)

Gilliam said he and his crew had just finished shooting in Spain. But it has been a long haul for the director of “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys”.  

Like the aging knight at the centre of Miguel de Cervantes' classic tale, Gilliam, now 76, has had to deal with one mishap after another to complete his quest.

READ ALSO: Most Spaniards have never read Don Quixote

His first tilt at adapting the 17th-century novel was with US star Johnny Depp and French actors Jean Rochefort and Vanessa Paradis.  

That came to grief back in 2000, hit by a string of setbacks that included torrential rain and constant flyovers by military jets from a nearby NATO base.    

To top it all, Rochefort, whose role as Quixote required riding a horse, developed back problems that put him out of action.    

The new version features British actor Jonathan Pryce as Quixote. He starred in Gilliam's 1985 hit “Brazil”, but is perhaps better known to younger viewers as the High Sparrow in the “Game of Thrones” television series.

Also on board is US actor Adam Driver, the villain in the latest Star Wars film; and the Ukrainian-born French actress Olga Kurylenko (“Quantum of Solace”).

The history of Gilliam's disastrous first attempt to film his Quixote project has passed into film folklore: there is even a 2002 documentary, “Lost in La Mancha”, that tells the whole sorry story.

Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, originally hired to do a making-of film to accompany the finished product, finally managed to salvage an award-winning documentary from Gilliam's disastrous shoot.

But Gilliam, like the steadfast Quixote, refused to surrender.    

The former member of the Monty Python team, and a specialist in absurd fantasies such “Jabberwocky” and “Time Bandits”, pushed on with his project.    

“Shooting my version of Don Quixote is a medical obligation,” he told the Spanish daily El Pais last year. “It's a brain tumour I have to eradicate.” 

READ MORE: DIsney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie