In Search of Cervantes’s Casket
January 26, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Archeologists in Spain have excavated a casket with Miguel de Cervantes’s initials on it, the Associated Press reported earlier today, which may mean that a long search for the author’s remains is finally over.
When Cervantes died, in 1616, he was buried in the Trinitarias convent in Madrid. This arrangement required a special dispensation: Years earlier, when Cervantes was a soldier, his ship had been captured by pirates, and he was held captive for five years. The Trinitarias’s religious order had helped arrange for his safe release, so he asked to be buried there.
The order obliged, but upon his death, there was a bit of a hiccup: apparently no one thought to mark his grave. If it was marked, it wasn’t marked well—centuries later, no one is really sure where exactly Cervantes was interred. As the New York Times reported last March,
Strangely, either through neglect or oversight, reverence for the dead or the seeming impossibility of unraveling a riddle obscured by the passage of time, no effort has been made over the years to locate Cervantes’s grave site.
Spain should have searched for Cervantes “a long time ago,” said Alfonso de Ceballos-Escalera, a publisher and historian who has researched the writer’s family. “I think that we’ve done less than others to find some of our most famous people because this also corresponds to a Catholic view, which considers that what is important after a burial is the spirit and not the body and the physical remains.”
Soon after that article was published, the search began in earnest, “working with ground-penetrating radar technology.” And earlier today, the Associated Press reported that Cervantes’s remains may have at last been found:
Experts searching for the remains of Miguel de Cervantes said Monday that they found wooden fragments of a casket bearing the initials “M.C.” with bones in and around them in a crypt underneath the chapel of a cloistered convent in Madrid.
Archeologists have yet to verify if the bones are Cervantes’s—they’ll need to consult records of his battle wounds, as well as his portrait and his stories, “in which he relates that shortly before dying he only had six teeth”—but it seems likely that their search is over.
“You cannot write in Spanish without having Cervantes in mind,” the translator Edith Grossman told the Daily in 2011. “There is no question, in my mind, that you couldn’t have Márquez, for example, without him. They are all heirs of that style … Cervantes’s influence blossomed in England … it comes by way of the eighteenth-century novelists like Fielding and Sterne.”
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.