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Posted June 03, 2003 by publisher in Cuban Culture

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Emma Daly in Madrid | The Observer

A splendid bronze coffin in the ancient cathedral of Seville bears the bones of Christopher Columbus - or perhaps not.

The dispute over the explorer’s true resting place dates from the 18th century, but it was only last year that a Spanish history teacher dreamt up a plausible way of discovering the truth.

This week researchers will open the golden door set into the Seville tomb to remove the remains for DNA comparison with the bodies of the explorer’s son and brother, in the hope of determining whether Columbus lies here or, as is also claimed, in the Dominican Republic.

‘We are open to all theories,’ said Marcial Castro, a teacher at a school in Andaluca. He realised that, if scientists compared DNA from Hernando Colon, the explorer’s illegitimate son (whose burial site in Seville is not disputed), they could identify the father’s bones. Tomorrow Castro’s team will collect Hernando’s skeleton from a tomb in the cathedral and the bones of Diego Colon, the explorer’s brother, from La Cartuja monastery in Seville, then extract the few fragments of bone and earth from Columbus’s monument. ‘We will take them by road to the University of Granada, where they will stay for three days before reburial on Friday,’ said Castro.

Dr Jose Antonio Lorente, director of the acclaimed Laboratory of Genetic Identification at Granada, will try to extract enough DNA from the fragments to determine whether it matches Diego and Hernando.

‘The specialists will be working night and day, and foreign experts will also take part,’ said Castro.

More than 30 years after Columbus died peacefully in the Spanish city of Valladolid, his body was disinterred from its (second) resting place in the monastery of La Cartuja, Seville, and shipped to the Dominican Republic for burial in the new cathedral in Santo Domingo, alongside his son Diego.

And that is the last sighting on which historians can agree of the venerable corpse. In 1795 Spain ceded the island to France, but did not want the bones to fall into the hands of foreigners. They were moved to Havana until the 1898 Spanish-American war and the liberation of Cuba, when the Spanish decided they should be sent home to Seville.

But by then the controversy had already begun to gather pace: in 1877, an excavation of Santo Domingo cathedral unearthed a small lead box of bone fragments inscribed: ‘Illustrious and distinguished male, Don Cristobal Colon’. Those remains are now buried at the Faro de Colon monument in the Dominican Republic.

To complicate matters further, more bones, said to be those of Columbus, were discovered in another site in Seville in 1950.

It will take months to produce a result, Castro said, ‘and luck will play a really big part’.

But if the investigation goes well, the researchers may find out not only where Columbus lies but also who he was.

There are several theories about his identity: he was Italian, Spanish or Portuguese - but the Majorcan version says that Columbus was the son of Charles, Prince of Viana, and Margarita, a Majorcan woman - and Lorente happens to have identified a piece of the prince’s DNA.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on June 13, 2004 by Paulo Novaes

    What happened to this test? It showed any results?

  2. Follow up post #2 added on September 11, 2005 by Knights of Columbus with 2 total posts

    Today is September 11, 2005
    I have been waiting for news regarding the DNA tests that were supposed to be carried out in Spain two years ago.  I have checked and followed up all sources after the June 2003 about this issue and no answer has been found.
    Please give me some lead, if you have, so I can continue my personal research on this matter.  Thank you.

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