Bodies are moved to the crypts

In 1958, shortly before the monument’s completion and inauguration, mechanisms were set in motion to resolve one of the project’s central issues: the transfer of mortal remains from the Civil War on a par with the vast scale of the work executed. Although early arrangements were made to organize the movement of bodies in the summer of 1957, it was not until 23 May 1958 that the Interior Minister and President of the monument’s Board of Works, Camilo Alonso Vega, sent a circular to the prefects calling on “Mayors, Civil Guard, Parish Priests and Local Authorities” to help transfer Civil War cadavers to the Valley.

This preliminary communication specified that they should “adopt the necessary measures to give effect to one of the purposes pursued by the construction of this Monument: namely the burial of those who were sacrificed for God and Spain, and those who fell in our Crusade, regardless of the side on which they fought, as required by the Christian spirit of forgiveness which inspired its creation, provided they be of Spanish nationality and Catholic religion”. On 10 October 1958, the Committee for Transfers was established, with Luis Carrero Blanco as President.

This recruitment of bodies was published in the Official Gazettes of the provinces, on noticeboards in town halls, and in major national and provincial newspapers, and it was publicized throughout Spain’s cities and municipalities. It led, on different scales and intensities, to 33,846 bodies being brought to the Valley between 17 March 1959 and 3 June 1983, according to the official records in the Book of Deaths held by the Valley’s Benedictine monks. Of huge political, funerary and bureaucratic complexity, it is the largest exercise in moving cadavers in the history of Spain, but as yet relatively little is known about it. It is clear, however that the selection of bodies sent was often hasty and careless, and many identification errors were almost certainly made at the point of origin.

Recent investigations have detected five phases in this transfer, illustrating the complications, tensions, contradictions and economic difficulties created by the decision for this mass removal of the war dead. One of the paradoxes includes the outright opposition expressed by the Official Association of Families of the Martyrs of Madrid and its Province, to the transfer to the Valley of the bodies buried in what had become known as the Martyrs Cemetery of Paracuellos.

The first and largest phase ran from 17 March to 9 April 1959. In these early weeks, 9,869 bodies arrived from 45 of Spain’s 50 provinces, and accounted for almost a third of the final total. The second stage, between May 1959 and June 1960, was marked by a drop in transfers, estimated at 1,945, which led to reappraisal of the initial strategy. In the third stage, between July 1960 and February 1963, the conditions were changed to facilitate transfers from major civil and military cemeteries, leading to a considerable increase in the flow and totalling 9,738 bodies. In the fourth stage from March 1963 to April 1967, intake dropped again to 6,918, as graves in larger cemeteries were emptied. The final stage began when the Valley’s Board of Works was dissolved in May 1967 and continued until June 1983, when a single last body entered the crypts. This phase was organized directly by Patrimonio Nacional, the agency that administers heritage sites owned by the Spanish State. More than 5,000 bodies arrived in just 47 days, but there were a number of years (1975-1981) without any activity.

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