Prior at Valley of the Fallen mausoleum vetoes Franco exhumation

The prior of the mausoleum where Spain's late fascist dictator Francisco Franco is buried has rejected any exhumation of his remains, the government said Thursday, in the latest stumbling block to a divisive project.

Prior at Valley of the Fallen mausoleum vetoes Franco exhumation
The Valley of the Fallen is the controversial burial site of General Francisco Franco. Photo: AFP

The grandiose monument carved into a hillside near Madrid is managed by Benedictine monks and the government is pressing the Church to lean on the prior to change his mind.

It said in a statement it had anticipated the rejection from a man who was once “a candidate for the 1993 general elections and the 1994 European polls for the (far-right) Falange Espanola Independiente party.”

“The obstructionist position of prior Santiago Cantera won't stop the process from going ahead,” it added.

The abbey that manages the basilica where Franco — whose Nationalist forces defeated the Republicans in the 1936-9 civil war — is entombed with tens of thousands who died in the conflict, was not immediately available for comment.


Dictator Francisco Franco in his open coffin after his death on 20 November 1975. Photo: AFP

Many in Spain are repulsed by the existence of the so-called Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), where fresh flowers are frequently laid on Franco's tomb, saying it is the equivalent of a monument glorifying Hitler.

Others insist the site, which Franco's regime built in part with the forced labour of political prisoners in an attempt at reconciliation from the war, is just a piece of history.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who came to power in June after toppling his conservative predecessor, has made removing Franco's remains from the site one of his priorities.

“Something that is unimaginable in Germany or Italy, countries that also suffered fascist dictatorships, should also not be imaginable in our country,” he said in June.

Spanish lawmakers in September approved the exhumation but the family of the man who ruled Spain until his death in 1975 opposes it.   

They have however said they could be amenable to Franco's remains being transferred to a family crypt at Madrid's central Almudena Cathedral.   

But the government wants them to be relocated to a more discreet spot.   

The prior's rejection of the exhumation further complicates the government's plans.   

In its statement, it said it planned to go directly to the prior's superiors with its exhumation request.


Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen

The Spanish government on Tuesday approved a special fund to exhume graves at the Valley of the Fallen, where thousands of victims of the Spanish Civil War and dictator Francisco Franco are buried.

Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen
Women hold up pictures of their fathers and relatives, who were condemned to death during Franco’s dictatorship. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

The Socialist government said it had set aside €665,000 ($780,000) to exhume some 33,000 victims whose remains lie behind a vast basilica near Madrid.

Franco was buried in the basilica when he died in 1975 but his remains were removed in 2019 and transferred to a discreet family plot on the outskirts of the capital.

Government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montera told reporters that more than 60 families and international institutions had called for the exhumation of the victims to give relatives who suffered during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship “moral reparation”.

Campaigners estimate more than 100,000 victims from the war and its aftermath remain buried in unmarked graves across Spain —- a figure, according to Amnesty International, only exceeded by Cambodia.

Human remains discovered during exhumation works carried out by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory of Valladolid, in a mass grave where the bodies of hundreds of people were dumped during the Spanish civil war. Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP

Built between 1940 and 1958 partly by the forced labour of political prisoners, the imposing basilica and the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen was initially intended for those who had fought for Franco.

But in 1959 the remains of many Republican opponents were moved there from cemeteries and mass graves across the country without their families being informed.

The crypts and ossuaries where some of the victims are buried are inaccessible as they were walled off at the time.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

As well as the Valley of the Fallen, his government is also focusing on identifying remains founds in mass graves across Spain.