Madrid / The remains of Spain’s former dictator Francisco Franco were on Thursday exhumed from the grandiose mausoleum in the mountains north of Madrid and transfered by helicopter to a more modest cemetery, where they will be reburied next to his wife.
Franco’s body had lain in the basilica at the Valley of the Fallen, a colossal monument hewn into a mountain in the countryside some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the capital, for 44 years, a longer period than that of his dictatorship (1939-75).
The exhumation process was carried out discreetly and access to the crypt was strictly limited. Some 22 members of the Franco family, three representatives from the socialist government, including Justice Minister Dolores Delgado, and a team of stonemason specialists charged with carrying out the removal of the coffin, entered the basilica.
A tarpaulin canopy was erected around the tomb in the triumphalist mausoleum and attendees were screened for any video or audiovisual devices to make sure the process was not documented.
Only the specialists and two family members observed the physical operation of removing the 1,500-kilogram concrete granite slab covering the military dictator’s grave.
Franco’s body is encased by a sealed zinc coffin that sits inside a larger outer casket made of wood.
Although the material had been worn over time, government sources said it was deemed intact enough to survive the journey to the Mingorrubio cemetery in El Pardo, on the outskirts of Madrid, for reburial next to his wife, Carmen Polo.
Before leaving the Valley of the Fallen, the coffin received a blessing from Prior Santiago Cantera, one of the Benedictine monks who manage the basilica and cemetery remains — the two areas of the complex that remain under the authority of the Catholic Church, specifically the Abbey of the Sacred Cross.
Franco’s relatives, including his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, then brought the coffin out of the basilica on their shoulders, making their way down the entrance steps to a hearse waiting to bring the remains to a helicopter.
Last year, the Spanish parliament voted in favor of exhuming Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen as it had become a popular pilgrimage site for his neo-fascist followers and nostalgics of the hard-line regime to this day.
The exhumation process is set to cost the State some 63,000 euros ($70,132).
It was fiercely opposed by Franco’s relatives, who unsuccessfully challenged the plans legally, taking it as high as the Supreme Court.
The Socialist Party (PSOE) government of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pushed the exhumation of Franco as one of its flagship policies.
Sánchez on Thursday said the exhumation had ended a “moral affront.”
“It brings us a step further toward reconciliation that can only be at ease in the democracy and freedom that we share,” he said in a televised speech. “It took us a long time to get rid of a repressive regime. And it took us almost as long to remove the remains of its architect.”
Meanwhile, crowds of Franco supporters and far-right groups gathered at the Mingorrubio cemetery in the morning, some sporting Franco-era Spanish flags, which bear an eagle emblem behind the main crest.
Some were chanting: “Long-live Franco!” and other slogans against PM Sánchez.
There was a heavy police presence to ensure security ahead of the private family funeral.
Spanish TV broadcast the transferal live on TV.
Franco was originally laid to rest in the Valley of the Fallen on 23 November 1975, three days after his death of natural causes was first reported in Madrid aged 83.
Franco’s resting place, next to the founder of the Fascist Falange Party founder José Antonio Primo de Rivera, has been a point of heated political debate in Spain ever since the country transitioned to democracy around 1978.
The pharaonic Valley of the Fallen monument was partly built by Republican political prisoners after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and is the biggest mass grave in Spain, housing nearly 30,000 corpses of combatants from both sides killed during the fratricidal conflict.
Civil war erupted in Spain after Franco led nationalist troops in a coup d’état against the Republican government at the time.
The Valley was widely seen as the only State-endorsed mass pilgrimage site for fascists remaining in Europe after the end of World War II.
After the dictatorship, Spanish lawmakers passed the 1977 Amnesty Law, which provided freedom to political prisoners and allowed political exiles to return but also included a un written pact of forgetting to grant impunity for those accused of crimes that took place during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.
Some 130,000 bodies from the Civil War remain unidentified, many buried in mass graves, according to Historical Memory Associations. (October 24, 2019, EFE/Practica Español)
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