Spanish version



view from San Isidro cemetery
There have been always two main ways of burying people. One is the cremation, based on the believe that the body is a burden and the person has to be freed of it. Through smoke the soul can travel to heaven.

The second way is the burial, that is based on the idea that human beings come from earth and have to return to it.
The Christian burial is based on Judaism. The bodies were buried outside of the cities as the corpse was considered impure.

Only martyrs or saints were buried in churches, usually under the altar. In order to celebrated a mass it was necessary that a relic from a saint was in the altar.

The word cemetery has its origin in a Greek word which means sleep. Cemeteries are also calles necropolis, which also comes from the Greek meaning city of the dead.

Burials in Churches

In the XIII century churches began to be used to bury people. The more important or wealthy they were, the closer to the altar they were buried.San Isidro cemetery

There was a visigothic cemetery in Valderbernardo, near Madrid, a Muslim one in the area of Puerta de la Cebada and a Jewish one in the area of Embajadores.
In this century people started to believe that if you were buried far from a church, you were also far away from God. That is why they started burying people in churches, usually just covered by shroud. Coffins were only available to the rich.


Due to this custom the parish cemeteries appeared. Only four still remain: San Andres, San Gines, San Sebastian and San Luis. In the first two people were buried in front of the church, were now the entrance is. In the parish of San Sebastian they were buried in a garden (now there is a flower shop).

masonic tumbAs the city started to grow there was not enough space for all the bodies, so after some time they were dug

up and the bones taken to the ossuary of the parish and physical remains were buried.

As important people wanted to be buried in churches, many of these were just built with this purpose, like the Capilla Real in Granada (for the Catholic Monarchs) or the Escorial, which was a convent, a palace and a cemetery for all Spanish Kings and Queens.

In the XVIII century King Carlos III forbade that churches were used for burials due to the pest which made

churches smell terribly. Only the crypts of the monastries could be used or those churches that had chapels belonging to certain noblemen.
But the population did not like this idea. They thought that only the churches were holy places and they did not want to be buried under unholy earth.

In 1804 King Carlos IV tried again to change this custom and two cemeteries were built, but as before nobody wanted to be buried there.

The Northern General Cemetery was the first one to be built outside of a church. It was in the area of Plaza del Conde Valle de Suchil. It was designed by Juan de Villanueva who introduced the niches. It was built in 1809 and was used to bury those belonging to several parrishes. This cemetery dissapeared in the XX century.


masonic symbolIt was not until King Jose I that the law came into force. This time there was no excuse: due to the different battles fought against the French, there were many corpses in Madrid and they had to be taken care of. There was not enough space in the churches and this time the population had to give in. The area chosen for the cemetery was outside of the city.

The Southern General Cemetery was built by Jose Bonaparte as the Northern one was too small for all

those that had died during the battles of the War of Independence. It was opened in 1810 and was near Puerta de Toledo and divided in seven parts belonging to seven parrishes. In the center was a big cross designed by Ventura Rodriguez.
This cemetery had a very small fence so frequently dogs entered and started rummaging in the earth and picking up bones. In 1818 it was repaired and a chapel built. It was known as the Cemetery of the Executed, as people executed at Plaza de la Cebada were buried there like the famous bandit Luis Candelas.
It was enlarged several times and used until 1905. In 1942 it was demolished and all remains brought to the Cemetery of La Almudena.
Another cemetery, just for noblemen, was built in the Retiro, more or less were the sculpture of the Fallen Angel is now, but this one dissapeared in 1874.

first patio in San Isidro cemeteryIn the XVI century Pope Julius III created the sacramental brotherhoods. They were dedicated to worship

the Holy Sacrament and established themselves in different parishes in Madrid. They did not want to be buried in cemeteries belonging to other churches and that is why they created their own.

Afterwards other cemeteries were constructed near hospitals, usually for the poor.

Other Cemeteries

In those days there was also a special cemetery for the people who committed suicide. They were considered as sinners and could not be buried in holy land, so they were buried with the body in the cemetery and the head outside of it.

Another cemetery ,in what is now the area around Puerta de Toledo, was only for those who died in a duel. A type of duel quite popular in Madrid in those times was not a fight with swords, but with big sticks. The two opponents had half body in a hole, i.e. from their waist down. They started clubbing each other until one of them died.

In 1854 the British cemetery was built in Carabanchel, at calle Comandante Fontanes 7. It belongs to the British Embassy and is considered British soil. In those years many foreign people lived in Madrid that were not Catholics, that is why there are not only British, but also people from other religions. There is Christian and a Jewish area. Lhardy is buried here.

To get to the cemeteries the funeral procession usually passed what is now Plaza de Manuel San Isidro ermitageBecerra, which they used to call then Plaza de la Alegria, Happiness Square. There were many inns as it was the natural entrance or exit for those travelling to Alcala de Henares and they used to stop there before entering Madrid. So while the procession went on to the cemetery the companions stopped for a refreshment.

The funeral procession consisted of a carriage driven by black horses. The more horses, until a maximum of eight, the more important the deceised.
Sacred Brotherhood Cemeteries (not existing any more)

San Nicolas Cemetery: it was built in 1818 and was extended adding new patios. In the middle was a monument dedicated to Liberty by Aparici, which is now in the Pantheon of Illustrious Men.

San Sebastian Cemetry: Close to San Nicolas Cemetery. It also had several patios and was in use until 1884 when it became part of the Eastern Cemetery. Now there is the building of Aguila Beer.

San Gines and San Luis Cemetery: It was built in 1831 and was probably the most beautiful one with its parks and columns in Romanitc style.

La Patriarcal Cemetery: this one was only for people working at the Royal Palace, afterwards for anybody.

Cemeteries Today

Nowadays there are 22 cemeteries in Madrid.San Isidro cemetery mausoleum

It is sometimes difficult to distinguished the public cemeteries from those belonging to brotherhoods as they are close together. Many tombs are broken, the statues partly demolished. The problem is that those terrains belong to the families and not the brotherhoods. That is why, if the families do not look after them, nothing can be done as it is considered privat territory.

Sacred Brotherhood Cemeteries.

There are currently four of these cemeteries. All of them were built on the other side of River Manzanares, now they have become part of the city surrounded by buildings.

San Isidro cemetery mausoleumSan Isidro: It is located at Paseo de la Ermita del Santo 78. It was designed by Jose Llorente and built in 1811. It belonged to  San Isidro Hermitage, which was built thanks to Queen Isabel de Portugal in the XVI century. It is located behind this Hermitage. As many noblemen, polititians or artists preferred to be buried here we can find now important pantheons built by famous scupltors. Is is considered one of the most important cemeteries of Europe.

There is a fountain which was found by Saint Isidro. They still have the custom to bring the first water that flows on the Saint´s Day to the Mayor of Madrid and to the Bishop.

This cemetery has seven patios, but the three oldest ones are the most interesting. The first one (1811) is dedicated to Saint Pedro (Peter) and was designed by Rafael Isidoro de Hervias. From there one has splendid views over Madrid. Among others the Madrazo family is buried here.

The second patio (1829), dedicated to Saint Andres (Andrew) was designed by Jose Llorente. Diego de Leon is buried here.
The third patios is called of Saint Isidro (1842) and was designed by Jose Alejandro Alvarez and many politians were buried here, like  Maura or Canalejas.

In the XIX century another patio was added dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. In it we find different pantheons reflecting all styles of that century.

There were some summer residence nearby and their owners did not want to live near a cemetery, but thanks to King Fernando VII´s protection it was not closed.

In this cemetery the Duchess of Alba is buried. It was the aristocratic cemetry. The best sculptures were ordered to decorate the tombs. There are few religious sculptures, most of them are allegories. It is probably the most important cemetery in Spain in terms of history and art.

AngelThere we even find some tombs belonging to masons with the typical form of a pyramid. It was believed that they were not buried in sacred earth, but that is not true.

On top of one of the mausoleums we can see the image of an angel. It was made by Ricardo Bellver, who also made the statue of the Fallen Angel (the devil) that is now in the Retiro Park. These two angels are connected: the good and the bad, heaven and hell, it is considered that they belonged together.

San Justo: it was built in 1847 next to Saint Isidro cemetery at Paseo de la Ermita del Santo 70. Like in all cemeteries there is an pantheon of  illustrious men.  In this case it belongs to  the Writer´s and Artist´s Association. Breton de los Herreros, Espronceda, Gomez de la Serna and Larra, among others were buried here. Unfortunately a modern part has been added to the cemetery which looks more like a big parking than a place were people should rest.

Santa Maria: Located at Calle Comuneros de Castilla, 13. It was built in 1842 and designed by Jose Alejandro Alvarez. It belonged to the church of Santa Maria. Today we can see a few remains of the church in calle Mayor. The brotherhood of Santa Maria and of the General Hospital (today Centro de Arte Reina Sofia) built it in 1860 so also poor people that died in the hospital were buried here . It is the smallest one. In the center was a chapel for the funeral services which inspired the chapel of the Almudena Cathedral.
The playwright Enrique Jardiel Poncela is buried here.

San Lorenzo y San Jose: Located at Calle de la Verdad s/n. It was built in 1860 next to the Southern

General Cementery and was organized in different patios. It was mainly for scientists. Some of the tombs have the statue of an angel, which represents the prize of eternal life. It was the last cemetery built by a brotherhood. Eugenia de Montijo´s parents are buried here.

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