Exhumation in the crypts

The creation of the Office of the Secretary of State for Democratic Memory (SEMD) in 2020 sought to facilitate the exhumation of the crypts that a large number of relatives had been pushing for over many years. Previously, in 2010, a forensic exploration had been conducted resulting in a technical report on the Feasibility of identification in the burial sites in the Valley of the Fallen, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice. Published in 2011, the report highlighted the technical difficulties involved owing to the deterioration of the crypts.

The Committee of Experts also pointed to the complexity of identifying the dead, but acknowledged families’ moral right to request the exhumations nonetheless. In 2016, a landmark ruling recognized the right of the relatives of the Lapeña brothers to exhume their remains.

The ruling led Patrimonio Nacional (National Heritage) to request feasibility reports, one of which, by the Scientific and Technical Committee of the Forensic Medical Council, drew up a procedure to permit the exhumations, listing specifications of the technical equipment required. The Torroja Institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) visited the monument on seven occasions between 2018 and 2019 to inspect the state of the crypts.

Its report of 2019 indicated that the work required would only affect partition walls with no structural function, and that the structural elements themselves showed no sign of dilapidation. Their videoscopic examination of the crypt interior revealed that, in many places, the funeral caskets were in a relatively good condition, despite overall deterioration. In late 2020, the Forensic Medical Council validated the procedure to carry out the exhumations designed by SEMD adviser Dr Francisco Etxeberria, recommending certain adjustments.

As of 2020, Patrimonio Nacional recognized the right to exhumation of all families pursuing a claim who had a feasible connection to the bodies in the crypts. By late 2022, there were more than a hundred applications. To set the architectural and forensic operation in motion, the SEMD transferred a budgetary line to Patrimonio Nacional to pay for the work. On 22 June 2021, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved the creation of a working committee to provide forensic guidance on the exhumations. On 12 July, the resolution was signed, and the committee appointed.

Between 2021 and the end of 2022, a series of lawsuits brought against the administrative procedure to grant a works permit led to a protective order suspending the planned operation. After a protracted judicial controversy – which included the lifting of the protective order by the High Court of Justice in Madrid and the reactivation of the works permit authorized by the City Council of El Escorial – the preliminary work required for the exhumations was able to go ahead in December 2022. In March 2023, the High Court confirmed the withdrawal of the protective order that had previously brought the process to a halt. 

The work required involves installing the necessary technical and safety infrastructure (including an on-site forensic laboratory), and organizing the appropriate teams, prior to demarcating the area where the work will take place.

The exhumation plan, authorized by Patrimonio Nacional at the behest of the families concerned, is the most complex ever undertaken in Spain. In view of the state of the crypts and the large volume of bodies buried there, it will be a lengthy process.

Finally, exhumations started on June 12th 2023 in the chapel of Santo Sepulcro. On July 5th, the government announced the finding of box 198 in the chapel's ground zero, containing the remains of twelve people coming from two mass graves in Aldeaseca (naturals of Pajares de Adaja) and Fuente el Saúz (naturals of Navalmoral de la Sierra). in the province of Ávila. All of them were republican civilians assassinated in August 1936, in the "hot terror" phase of the early war. After genetic analysis, eleven of the twelve bodies in the box were identified.

On August 20, 2023, the remains of the twelve murdered people found in box 198 were returned to their families in an institutional act in Pajares de Adaja, presided over by the Minister of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory, Félix Bolaños. 

The people genetically identified returned in this ceremony were Victor Blázquez del Oso, Valerico Canales Jorge, Emilio Caro García, Román González Enríquez, Flora Labajos Labajos, Celestino Puebla Molinero and Pedro Ángel Sanz (from Pajares de Adaja), and Gregorio Pérez del Peso, Raimundo Meneses Redondo, Rito Martín Redondo and Fernando Jiménez de la Parra (from Navalmoral de la Sierra). A fifth person from the latter village has not yet been identified.

Related resources