Spaniards wait years to exhume loved ones as fascist leader moved from mausoleum

A friar walks in front of the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain
A friar walks in front of the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain Copyright Manu Fernandez/AP Photo
Copyright Manu Fernandez/AP Photo
By Graham Keeley
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Like many others, Rosa Gil has spent the past 15 years trying to remove the remains of her own grandfather from the same mausoleum.


Giving the fascist salute and shouting ¡Arriba España!, scores of supporters of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the fascist Falange party, watched as his remains were exhumed from the Valley of the Fallen on Monday.

Almost four years after the remains of the dictator General Francisco Franco were taken from the same hulking edifice on the outskirts of Madrid, this was part of the Socialist government’s Democratic Memory Law which aims to give justice to the victims of the Spanish civil war and its long dictatorship.

The images of fascists honouring their forgotten hero enraged Rosa Gil, who has spent the past 15 years trying to remove the remains of her own grandfather from the same building.

The Valley of the Fallen, which is now known by its original name Valley of Cuelgamuros, also holds the bodies of 34,000 people, republicans and nationalists, who were disinterred from resting places across Spain and buried anonymously in the church in an apparent attempt at reconciliation.

Unlike the removal of Franco or Primo de Rivera, the fascist leader, removing her grandfather’s remains has been far from easy for Gil because of legal hurdles and struggles to identify his unmarked grave.

Her grandfather Pedro Gil Calonge died from a bullet wound at the age of 27 during the Spanish civil war. He was buried in a cemetery in Zaragoza but then in 1961, his remains were transferred to the Valley of the Fallen.

Gil's father Silvino Calonge, who was only one when his father died, had longed to give his own father a decent burial but died in December without seeing his wish realised.

“Apart from the natural sadness at my father’s death, we were all sad that my father had not been able to bring his own father’s remains home,” she told Euronews.

“It was my father’s dream to bring my grandfather’s remains back to the village in Soria where he was from. But he never lived to see it.”

Gil, who lives in Barcelona, said the family were waiting on forensic reports to locate her grandfather’s remains. She is by far alone in her desire to recover her relatives from the daunting mausoleum.

Manu Fernandez/AP Photo
People confront with police officers as they gather outside San Isidro Cemetery in Madrid, Spain, Monday, April 24, 2023.Manu Fernandez/AP Photo

Purificacion Lapeña paid scant attention to the news of the fascist leader’s exhumation.

The remains of her grandfather Manuel Lapeña, a vet, and his brother, Antonio, a blacksmith, lie inside the mausoleum.

In 2016, a court approved the exhumation of the brothers but seven years later the family is still waiting.

Lapeña’s father died at the age of 97 and was unable to fulfil his dream of burying his father with dignity.

“What really angers me is that unless you are the family of Primo de Rivera things take so long and people are not getting any younger,” she told Euronews.

“Spain is still filled with Francoists who stop this happening. They have the money, the contacts and the lawyers.”

She said she was determined to keep fighting but was worried about the prospect of the Right coming to power after the next election which is expected in December.

“If that happens, then we may never see the remains of our relatives given a decent burial. They will put a stop to it,” she said.


Alberto Núñez Fejóo, the leader of the conservative People’s Party, has vowed to repeal the Democratic Memory law if it wins power.

The leader of the Falange was the son of Spanish dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera who ruled Spain between 1923 and 1930.

Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera was executed in 1936 after being convicted of conspiring against the Republican government. On Monday, he was exhumed on the wishes of the family and reburied at a Madrid cemetery.

Today was the fourth time his remains had been exhumed.

In 1939, after having lain in two different mass graves in Alicante, southeastern Spain, his coffin was paraded 500 kilometres to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a town near Madrid where Spain’s royals are buried.


His remains were moved again to the Valley of the Fallen 20 years later and buried next to Franco.

Despite being buried next to each other, both men had little love for each other, according to Franco’s biographer Paul Preston. Franco was a conservative general while Primo de Rivera was a flamboyant playboy.

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