Legal permission for excavations in Valley of the Fallen

by Lorraine Williamson
the Valley of the Fallen
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SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL – The Supreme Court of Madrid (CSJM) has cleared the way for the exhumation of the remains of the victims of the civil war and the Franco dictatorship buried in the Valley of the Fallen near Madrid. 

The Court lifts the precautionary measure that prevented such an excavation. However, the only condition is that the excavations do not lead to irreversible damage to the crypts. Therefore, the magistrates are responding to the appeal lodged by the state attorney on behalf of Patrimonio Nacional. This is the administrator of the Spanish historical heritage. The appeal was against the November 16, 2021 judgment of a lower court in Madrid. That court prevented exhumation based on the argument that irreparable damage would occur to the crypts of the historical heritage. However, the magistrates of TSJM now judge that the opened graves can be restored to their original state after closure.

According to the appellant, the state, which is applying for planning permission to open the crypts, has no availability on the property. This is owned by the Santa Cruz del Valle de Los Caídos Foundation. Moreover, this foundation has always been against exhumations.  

Excavation and identification

The Spanish government, through Patrimonio Nacional, submitted an application to the City Council in April 2021 for a permit to begin the excavation and identification work of the victims buried in the crypts of the Basilica of Santa Cruz del Valle de Los Caídos. As a result, the remains of the victims have been claimed by their relatives. 

The Association for Reconciliation and Historical Truth requested the suspension over the “fundamental right to privacy of the deceased and their families and the need to respect the sacred eternal peace that would be violated if they agreed to perform the obviously illegal works requested”. However, now the judiciary has agreed to the government’s desire to exhume. 

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Half of the victims in Valley of the Fallen without identity 

According to the Ministry of Justice, the mass graves of the Valley of the Fallen contain remains of 33,833 victims. Furthermore, the identity of almost half of these is unknown. Between 1959 and 1983, Franco´s administration transferred the remains of mass graves throughout Spain to the Valley of the Fallen. 

The complex, with a large basilica and a huge cross that can be seen from afar, was for decades the largest mausoleum honouring a dictator in Europe. It was built after the Civil War by prisoners of war of Francisco Franco and was partly hewn from rock. Furthermore, many forced labourers lost their lives. And after his death in 1975, former dictator Francisco Franco was buried here himself. 

However, after much legal wrangling and against the wishes of his relatives, his body was transferred to Mingorrubio cemetery in El Pardo on October 24, 2019 to be reburied next to his wife. 

Also read: When exhumation was stopped

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