Spain court allows exhumation of bodies at Franco mausoleum
A Spanish court has for the first time authorised the exhumation of bodies from the Valley of the Fallen, a vast mausoleum where dictator Francisco Franco is buried along with thousands of victims of Spain's civil war, according to a ruling published Monday.
Maria Purificacion Lapena, 58, in September 2015 asked a court in El Escorial near Madrid, where the mausoleum is located, to order the exhumation of the bodies of her grandfather Manuel Lapena Altabas and her great-uncle Antonio Lapena Altabas so they could be given a proper funeral.
The two men, both members of an anarchist group, were executed by Franco’s forces at the outset of Spain’s 1936-39 civil war and buried in a mass grave in the northeastern region of Aragon.
Their remains were transferred in 1959 without the consent of their family to the Valley of the Fallen when the government decided to move a number of mass graves across Spain to the site, which became Franco’s final resting spot when he died in 1975.
The court, in a ruling dated March 30 which was only published on Monday, ordered the “return of the remains of the Lapena Altabas to their relative Maria Purificacion Lapena after they are identified so that they can be given a proper burial”.
Built by Franco’s regime between 1940 and 1958 in the granite mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Valley of the Fallen holds the remains of over 30,000 civil war dead from both sides of the conflict.
Franco lies buried behind the high altar of a vast basilica hewn into the rock and the site has long been a rallying point for the far right in Spain.
The remains of tens of thousands of other victims of the civil war, as well as of the repression of the right-wing Franco regime that followed, remain scattered in unmarked mass graves across the country.
A Historical Memory Law passed by Spain’s previous Socialist government in 2007 allows relatives to exhume and recover the remains of loved ones in mass graves and calls for public funds to be provided to help cover the costs.
But funding for such projects dried up after the conservative Popular Party government was elected in 2011.
This is the first time that a court has authorised the exhumation of bodies at the Valley of the Fallen, Lapena’s husband Miguel Angel Capape, a member of campaign group Arico which works to identify bodies from mass graves, told AFP.
“This has been years of work, of going from one court to another…finally a door has opened and we can see the end of the road,” he added.