The exhumation of José Antonio Primo de Rivera

The report produced in 2011 by the Committee of Experts on the Future of the Valley read as follows: “The remains of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who died in the War on 20 November 1936 in Alicante, were subsequently buried in the Monastery of El Escorial. Once work at the Valley of the Fallen [today Cuelgamuros] was complete, they were transferred to the Basilica of the Holy Cross on 30 March 1959. Among the more than thirty thousand Spanish citizens buried there and made equal by death, the decision was taken to give preference and pride of place to those of José Antonio Primo de Rivera who was buried on a prominent site by the main altar. In the eyes of this Committee, such a privileged position runs counter to the equality of treatment that is owed to the remains of all the people buried there”.

The recommendations specified that “given the equal dignity of the remains buried there, the Committee understands that those of José Antonio Primo de Rivera should not occupy a preeminent place in the basilica”. Unlike Franco’s exhumation, where three dissenting votes were cast, on this occasion the Committee was unanimous in its recommendation. Once Francisco Franco had been exhumed from the Cuelgamuros basilica on 24 October 2019, Article 54.4 of the Democratic Memory Law of October 2022 established that “the only mortal remains that lie in the Cuelgamuros Valley shall be those of persons who died as a consequence of the War, making it a place for the recognition, commemoration, remembrance and homage to the victims buried there. Furthermore, any mortal remains that occupy a preeminent place on the site shall be relocated”. This set in motion the process to exhume José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the chief ideologue of Spanish fascism.

The exhumation took place on 24 April 2023. Although Act 20/2022 allowed for Primo de Rivera’s remains to continue to rest at the site of the monument, provided this was in a non-preferential place, beside the other people buried in the crypts, his family opted instead to transfer them to the Cemetery of San Isidro in Madrid, to be laid to rest with other relatives. Despite the protests of a small group of the fascist leader’s followers, the transfer did not have the same public or media impact as the exhumation of the dictator Francisco Franco. Primo de Rivera’s departure marks the end of the Francoist funerary hierarchy of the Cuelgamuros Valley. 

For many years, exhumation of the graves presiding over Cuelgamuros has been one of the demands of the twenty-first-century memorialist movement in Spain regarding the removal from privileged sites of the remains of the ideologues, instigators and perpetrators of the military coup of 1936 against the Second Republic. 

The exhumation from a crypt at the Monument to the Fallen of the putschist generals Emilio Mola and José Sanjurjo was promoted in 2016 by the City Council of Pamplona. Spain’s Central Government has managed the removal from their honorary graves of the dictator Francisco Franco (2019) and José Antonio Primo de Rivera (2023) in Cuelgamuros, and of General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano in the Basilica of the Macarena in Seville (2022). 

Related resources