In a quest for Cervantes’s remains planned to celebrate next year’s 400th anniversary of the great author’s death, a team of 30 archaeologists and anthropologists began to scan the ground beneath Convento de las Monjas Trinitarias Descalzas in Madrid, Spain, in April 2014. They used infrared cameras, 3D scanners and ground-penetrating radar to identify the few bones that are left from the body of Don Quijote’s creator.
Cervantes, who died in 1616 (one day before Shakespeare’s death and only one year after having published his splendid second volume of Don Quijote), had requested to be buried in this particular convent because the religious order of Barefoot Trinitarian Nuns had helped his parents pay the ransom for recovering him from the pirates who had held him a prisoner for five years in Algiers (an episode that, like the Lepanto battle, marked the author’s life and was reflected in some of his fiction). His wish was granted, but since the convent was rebuilt in the late 17th century, the exact location of the burial place was lost for centuries.
Researchers involved in this quest identified 33 alcoves with bones from the time of Cervantes’s death, but the search came to a successful end when they found a casket bearing the author’s initials in the convent’s crypt, in late January this year. Although the remaining bones are in a bad state of conservation (according to forensic scientist Almudena Garcia Rubio, quoted by BBC) and it is not yet certain that DNA analysis will be useful (because, according to forensic scientist Francisco Etxeberria, quoted by The Guardian, there are no possibilities of comparison – no descendants of the author have been identified), the scientists are certain that, given the age of the bones and the characteristics of clothing leftovers, some of the earthly remains in the crypt belonged to Miguel de Cervantes and his wife, Catalina de Salazar. Researchers were hoping to find clearer clues, based on details like the fact that Cervantes’s left arm was maimed in the battle of Lepanto, or the fact that he had received at least one bullet in his chest, but the bones were too decomposed to allow the identification of such traits.
Historian Fernando de Prado, who spent over four years looking for funds for this project, said that the findings give him great satisfaction. The team has left it to Madrid’s city council to decide on the best way to honor the remains of the most famous author of the Spanish Golden Age. Investigator Luis Avidal considers that, since the great author’s wish was to be buried in the convent, his remains should be reburied there “with full honors”. The local authorities hope to open the crypt for public visitation in 2016, for the 400 years anniversary of Cervantes’s death. Etxeberria, one of the scientists involved in the project, declared that the main purpose of this quest was not necessarily to identify the exact bones of Cervantes, but to draw the public’s attention to the importance of his work, which marked a crucial turn in the history of European literature, and, according to most literary critics, marked the birth of the modern novel.
image source: El Pais