The Search for Cervantes

Portrait of Cervantes allegedly by Juan de JaureguiThere are no contemporary portraits of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), the Spanish novelist, poet, playwright and author of Don Quixote. It is believed that Cervantes died in Madrid on April 23rd, 1616. He was buried, in accordance with his will, in a neighbouring convent of Trinitarian nuns. However, the nuns moved a few years later to another convent taking their dead with them. It is unknown whether Cervantes’ remains were also moved.

The local authorities and archbishopric of Madrid have now approved a project led by the historian Fernando Prado to search for Cervantes’ bones in the walls and floors of the convent in the city centre. Scientists will use geo-radar technology to search for hidden niches in the convent's walls and to scan up to five metres below ground. They believe that his bones should be easy to identify as they bear the marks of gunshots in the chest and arm which Cervantes suffered during the Battle of Lepanto in October 1571.

Prado explained how: ‘He received a blast from a harquebus in the chest and another wound that left him unable to use one hand. Those two things will have left some imprint on his bones.’

Forensic archaeologists hope to reconstruct the author’s face which is only known from a portrait painted by Juan de Jauregui almost twenty years after the author’s death. They will also attempt to uncover the causes of his death and dispel rumours that he died of cirrhosis.

The project is due to be completed by 2016 in time for planned global celebrations to mark the anniversaries of the death of Cervantes and Shakespeare on April 23rd.

In reality however, Cervantes and Shakespeare did not die on exactly the same day. Cervantes died on April 23rd according to the Georgian calendar; but at the time the Julian calendar was still used in England. Due to the discrepancy between the two calendars, Shakespeare thus died ten days later than Cervantes.