Seville – The mystery of the resting place of Christopher Columbus
There is a sudden edge to the previously relaxed conversation.
Tempers are not quite fraying over Tapas, but the debate has a dicey ring to it. The reason for this strain in Spain: none other than that great Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus.
I’m sitting in a salubrious Seville bar enjoying tales of the history of the city almost as much as the selection of pork, chicken and sea-based snacks I’m devouring.
But suddenly our unofficial guides – Leo from the hilariously funny and downright dangerous, Doggy’s Style, and his other half, Mauri – have entered into a historical debate. Namely, is Christopher Columbus buried in the Catedral de Sevilla?
Mauri, pulling an excellently executed ‘I work as a tour guide in the city’ card, is gaining the upper hand with his Columbus’ bones are here argument. But I get the feeling Leo isn’t changing his mind any time soon.
So what is the truth of Columbus’ bones?
The simple answer, as I found out in that Seville Tapas bar, is that it depends on who you talk to.
Inside the massive Catedral de Sevilla visitors can find an impressive monument to Columbus.
Held aloft by four allegorical figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during the explorer’s lifetime – Castille, Aragon, Navara and Leon – it was designed by sculptor, Arturo Melida, and installed in 1899.
Prior to that it had lived in Havana, before being moved to Seville when the Spanish lost control of Cuba.
Columbus’s body was laid to rest in Valladolid where he died in 1506, but shortly afterwards was moved to Seville on the orders of his brother, Diego.
But in 1542 the remains were moved again, this time to Colonial Santo Domingo, in what is now the Dominican Republic. They were installed in the newly completed Cathedral of Santa Maria, where they remained for a couple of centuries.
When Spain lost control of the Dominican Republic in 1795 the bones were moved to Havana in Cuba, before making their final voyage back to Seville 100 years later.
Or at least that’s one version of the story.
In 1877, workers in the Santo Domingo cathedral found a heavy leaden box inscribed with the words, ‘Illustrious and distinguished male, don Cristobal Colon’.
Inside were human remains and the claim is they belong to Columbus. The theory is that the remains sent to Havana belonged to someone else.
It had been Columbus’ wish to be buried in the New World and he founded Santo Domingo. It is also not beyond probability that the Dominicans passed off someone else’s bones as the explorers in 1795.
However, testing in Spain has since found that the DNA contained in the bones at the Catedral de Sevilla is a close match to that of his brother, Diego, who is also buried there.
The Dominican Republic has refused to authorise a DNA test of their remains, but also won’t acknowledge the Spanish results.
The towering Faro a Colon lighthouse still claims to hold his remains and tourists flock their to see them – just as they do the cathedral.
It is debate that is likely to rage for some time. Best get another round of drinks in…
The Catedral de Seville: Some facts
- It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world
- The cathedral is the third largest church in the world behind St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London
- It was registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987
- Construction of the cathedral began in 1402, but wasn’t completed until 1506
- The interior has the longest nave of any cathedral in Spain
- It contains a total of 80 chapels
- It holds the remains of Christopher Columbus… maybe!