Andalucía: Paradise for Eternity

Many foreigners prefer to be laid to rest in Andalusian cemeteries

Throughout history Andalucía has attracted other civilizations which have come in search of the key to the Mediterranean. This potpourri of cultures has shaped the character of the Andalusians which is reflected in their open, hospitable nature that charms visitors, particularly foreigners, and which, in many cases, has been a decisive factor in their settling here.

As a result of this influx of “new settlers” many provinces have been obliged to face the special needs of these residents when life comes full circle.

Lying at the foot of Gibralfaro in Malaga, where a pair of lions defiantly stand guard over the entrance, is The English Cemetery. Melancholy reigns in every corner of this burial ground which dates from 1831. Until that time the burial of Protestants in Spain was fraught with difficulties in spite of the provisions made in the treaties of Utrecht ( 1713), Madrid (1715 and 1721) and Versailles (1783). According to Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, burials could not take place in Malaga during the day, the solution to which was to wait for the cover of night and take the corpse to the beach where, in the weak light of a burning torch, it would be buried in the sand in an upright position and facing out to sea, with the attendant risks of the corpse either being exposed and torn up by dogs or washed out to sea by the waves. This degrading treatment prompted British Consul William Mark to launch a campaign and in August 1831 he achieved his mission: the construction of a cemetery where his fellow countrymen could be buried in a decent manner. Prior to this Lord Bute had acquired a piece of land in Madrid to serve as an English Cemetery but the initiative did not fulfil its objective until September 1831. Immediately after the Spanish government made land available for the same purpose in La Coruña in Galicia.

While in Malaga in 1833 David Roberts made a visit to the cemetery in the company of William Mark where he “was captivated by the view altogether”. The sea lay before them, the Moorish palace-cum-fortress of the Alcazaba towered above, the tower of the cathedral punctuated the urban skyline and “an interesting display of promontories” provided a backdrop. Roberts returned alone to make a drawing of the cemetery which was later made into a lithograph, a copy of which Mark sent to Lord Palmerston.

Hans Andersen visited Malaga in 1862 and fell under the spell of its romantic melancholy which prompted him to write: “…I wandered in a little paradise, this charming garden. Here were myrtle hedges, covered with flowers sufficient for a thousand bridal wreaths; high geranium bushes growing round the tombstones, which had inscriptions in Danish – Norse, it might also be called, as these were inscriptions over men from the north; there were English, German and Dutch to be read. Passion flowers flung their tendrils over many gravestones, pepper-trees waved their drooping branches amidst this place of repose. Here stood a single palm, there a gum tree, and in the centre of all this vegetation was a neat, small house, within which refreshments were to be had; pretty children with laughing eyes were playing there. The whole cemetery was encircled by a hedge of wild cacti, over which one beheld the wide, heaving ocean.”

Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, Baroness Von Schlippenbach, who left her native England in 1951 to settle in Spain with her husband, has spent much time studying the history of The English Cemetery and is a member of the cemetery committee. An active 88 year old, she is still gathering together documents belonging to William Mark although her most immediate project is to write a book on economic policy in Spain. “It’s a shame. Although the cemetery is still in use few people want to be buried. Before the problem was lack of a site and now the problem is that the majority of people prefer to be cremated: very few choose to be repatriated.” In the mid-Fifties Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson published a booklet “The English Cemetery at Malaga”, the fruit of a year of research, although she continues to write about the history of the burial ground until this day.

In 1991, the cemetery gardener, Antonio Alcaide, was awarded the OBE for a life dedicated to the care of the necropolis, a labour which had also been carried out by his ancestors and is now continued by his son.

Amongst those buried here are Robert Boyd, an Irishman who was executed for his involvement in the Liberal uprising led by General José María de Torrijos against King Ferdinand VII; Swedish Consul John Bolín, died 1832, the first Protestant consul to be buried in the cemetery in accordance with an agreement made by Mark to permit the burial of any Protestant consul who died in Malaga; and the wife of Gerald Brenan, Gamel Woolsey (both of whom were fond of Malaga and lived in Churriana), who died on January 18th, 1968, the victim of cancer. Her husband had the first two verses of the song by Cimbelino inscribed on her gravestone:

“No longer need you dread the heat of the sun or the furious rage of winter”.

But this oasis of peace is not reserved only for British subjects. After an incident in 1836 the cemetery became the final resting place for many other nationalities and the Burial Register includes Prussians, Saxons, Hannoverians and Hanseatics. This is also the burial place of one of the principal figures of the Generation of 27, Spanish poet Jorge Guillén, as too his Italian wife, Irene.

The cemetery has numerous sculptures and monuments, one of which is dedicated to 62 officers and crew of the “Gneisenau” belonging to the Imperial German Navy which sank in the port of Malaga on December 16th, 1900. The survivors of the disaster were rescued by the townspeople and in gratitude for their help the German government paid for the construction of the Santo Domingo Bridge, popularly known as The Germans’ Bridge, which spans the Guadalmedina river. The unfortunate victims were buried in a common fosse in The English Cemetery.

Later during the Second World War the bodies of four soldiers were found floating in the sea and initially buried in Marbella but on April 2nd, 1946, the corpses were transferred to Malaga and finally laid to rest in The English Cemetery.

Other provinces

Cemeteries in Andalucía

In the province of Almeria, the cemetery of San José also has a cemetery reserved for the British. At one time there was a British Cemetery in Cadiz but the remains were transferred to the Almeria burial ground some years ago.

Cordoba, marked by its past as the former caliphal capital, also has a burial ground for Moslems. Moslem cemeteries have a great importance in the region which was once known as Al-Andalus. For this reason Moslems can not only claim to have sections of cemeteries reserved for their community — as in the cemeteries of San Fernando in Seville and San Rafael in Cordoba — but also have cemeteries of their own. Granada and Seville already have Moslem cemeteries and a third one is currently under construction on the Costa del Sol which should be finished within the next three months.

In the cemetery of San Fernando in Seville there are three separately administered areas reserved for confessions other than Roman Catholic. One area is reserved for Moslems and has existed since the Spanish Civil War, another area serves as a Jewish burial ground, which was a donation by Queen Isabel II and finally an area reserved for dissidents but which is now totally integrated into the Catholic cemetery. It is a frequent occurrence in Andalucía’s cemeteries that areas are reserved for different nationalities or religions without any kind of discrimination.

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