Flowers and anger in the shadow of Franco’s tomb
Like every day since Francisco Franco burial’s 44 years ago, flowers were placed on his tomb on Tuesday, just behind the altar.
And as usual, several dozen people came for daily mass at the basilica where the Spanish dictator is interred.
It was after the service that the faithful learned of the Spanish Supreme Court’s decision to allow the government to remove Franco’s remains from the imposing building carved into a mountain in the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside Madrid.
“This decision is shameful,” 56-year-old Mariano Zafra said, adding that he came to the Catholic basilica specifically “to say farewell to Franco in case they take him away.”
Around an hour before the court’s decision was announced, the basilica’s sexton, Benedictine monk Julio Iglesias, expressed his wish that “they let the dead rest in peace”.
“This basilica is a consecrated church and they can’t come in here and smash everything up like a bull in a China shop,” said the monk who has been taking care of the site since 1981.
The court had rejected an appeal against the exhumation by Franco’s descendants. But the sexton pointed out that the court still had to rule on three other appeals against transferring the dictator’s remains to a more discreet site, including one lodged by his Benedictine community.
Franco, who ruled with an iron fist following the end of Spain’s 1936-39 civil war, had himself planned the monument and had it built, using the labour of republican political prisoners.
A huge 150-metre-high (500-feet) cross that can be seen from miles away towers over the site, which also holds the remains of more than 33,000 dead from both sides of the civil war.
It is presented as a place of reconciliation for Spain, but many on the left compare Franco’s huge memorial to a monument glorifying Adolf Hitler.
Visitors are at pains to find the tombs of the dead fighters, carrying only the inscription “fallen for God and for Spain 1936-1939”. A guide explains they are inaccessible behind the walls of eight chapels.
– ‘No place of reconciliation’ –
The monument attracted nearly 379,000 visitors last year — a third more than in 2017.
Inside the complex of the Valley of the Fallen is a monastic hostel where visitors Javier Gebrie and Aurea Buenosvinos, who call themselves Spanish “conservatives” but “not Catholics”, stayed during a visit to the site.
Gebrie, a 48-year-old computer engineer, was opposed to the exhumation, considering it an “electoral” manoeuvre by the socialists as Spain prepares to go the polls on November 10.
However, others like Mercedes Abril, 86, dislike the site even though her father’s remains are buried there.
A station master in the village of Aragon and a socialist supporter, her father was shot in 1936 and thrown into a common grave. His remains were not transferred to the monument until decades later.
“Removing Franco from there makes sense, he shouldn’t be there, he wasn’t killed during the civil war,” said Abril, whom AFP contacted by phone in Valladolid.
She added Franco was “a war criminal” and expressed her desire to also exhume her father’s remains.
“What matters to me is that we remove my father from that site, which is not at all a place of reconciliation.”