Papal visit to Spain: Vatican to be asked to help transform Gen Franco tomb into place of reconciliation
The Spanish government is to request help from the Vatican to transform the site of the tomb of fascist dictator Gen Francisco Franco into “a place of reconciliation”.
By Fiona Govan, Madrid
The fate of the Valley of the Fallen, a vast mausoleum carved out of the hillside north west of Madrid, is to be brought up in talks between Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Pope Benedict XVI during the papal visit to Spain.
The socialist government made an electoral commitment to tackle the continued existence of the monument to the late dictator, which was built using forced labour by prisoners of the regime and contains the remains of tens of thousands of those who died on both sides of Spain’s 1936-39 Civil War.
Like the 150 metre granite cross that towers above the tomb, the site still casts a dark shadow over Spain some 36 years after the death of Franco. The basilica, which is maintained by Benedictine monks, still attracts supporters of the Franco regime who attend religious services there.
But relatives of those who died on the losing Republican side and whose remains lie in unmarked graves within the mausoleum have called for the graves to be exhumed and bodies returned for burial elsewhere.
Others have called for the place to be demolished entirely or turned into a Historical Memorial centre which recognises both sides of the conflict.
A commission established to propose ways in which the site may be made acceptable to all Spaniards was set up by the Socialist government in May but it is unlikely to reach a conclusion before general elections, which were brought forward to November.
Ramon Jauregui, the minister for the Presidency, said the matter would be brought up with Vatican representatives during the papal visit.
He said that because the site is run by a Benedictine order, “the Vatican may have an interest in its fate” and that he hoped there would be “support in its transformation to a place of reconciliation”.
But the Historical Memory Association which campaigns for the recognition of victims of the Spanish Civil War and ensuing 36 year dictatorship condemned such a move.
”The Catholic Church has no place within discussions over the future of the site,” said a statement released Friday. Instead its members called for the Vatican “to publicly apologise for the role the Catholic Church played in supporting and participating at the forefront of suppression during the Franco dictatorship.”