A hole on the beach. This is how Malaga buried, at the beginning of the 19th century, the deceased who were not Catholics. At midnight, under torchlight, the gravediggers dug up the sand along the shore, held the corpse upright, and prayed that the next morning the sea had washed away the body. The problem is that he did not always do it, with consequences that it is better not to imagine. The then British consul, William Mark, scandalized, complained that the majority were Anglican English subjects, so he requested land on the outskirts for a dignified burial. He succeeded and in 1831 the first two were made in the so-called since then English cemetery. One of them was that of Robert Boyd, shot on the beach of Huelin after supporting the pronouncement of General Torrijos. The site was later opened to other nationalities and cults and was declared a site of cultural interest in 2012, but it progressively declined until the health crisis forced its closure. In July it reopens daily for visitors thanks to the work of a tireless volunteer group and the financial support of the Unicaja Foundation.
Bruce McIntyre is the beacon of this space. British Consul in Malaga between 2000 and 2008, he is now retired. Slowly ascend the slope that leads to the first tombs under the powerful Malaga summer sun. Review the difficult past months. “In February we had to close. There was no money for the minimum maintenance ”, he says. They launched a micro-donation campaign and were able to carry out some openings at the weekend thanks to the dozen volunteers that make up the English Cemetery Foundation, created in 2006 non-profit and chaired by McIntyre, who when he arrived in Malaga found a completely abandoned. “Something had to be done, because this site has a lot of history and, I think, the potential to be one of the most interesting European cemeteries,” he assures, looking at the Anglican temple of an enclosure where, among others, the remains of Gerald Brenan rest. 14 years in formaldehyde at the University of Malaga—, his wife, Gamel Woolsey, the poet Jorge Guillén and his wife, Irene.
The Spanish poet chose this space – integrated into the Association of Significant Cemeteries of Europe – because it had views of the sea and the tranquility that is breathed by its dirt streets. The 8,000 square meters of the enclosure unfold in a privileged area, very close to the beach of La Malagueta. At the end of June, some cats scamper between tombstones and crosses, turtle doves play romantically in the branches and the song of the birds muffles the noise of the cars on the avenue de Príes. “It is a haven of peace, but it is also an integral part of the history of Malaga, of its past as a cosmopolitan city, when foreigners worked here in the industry or the port,” recalls Liz Parry, secretary of the foundation and who collaborates in the cemetery since the nineties. “The abandonment of the English Cemetery would mean for Malaga not only the renouncement of a unique monumental, cultural and historical heritage, but also the forgetting of an essential part of its own spirit, of its special way of being”, underlines Braulio Medel, President of the Unicaja Foundation.
Up to 1,200 people rest in this cemetery. There are tombs carved in marble and others that are simply marked by a line of white stones. Of that color are also the seashells that cover the land where the first burials were made. They are protected by walls that cover about one hundred square meters and delimit the original cemetery, expanded over the years. There lie the remains of several minors, “victims of pandemics”, as well as that of Robert Boyd, marked with a plaque halfway between two piles of earth because its exact location is not yet clear. A little further, the marble reflects the name of George Lanworthy, a British retired from the army who built the first hotel in Torremolinos and who was known as the english of the peseta because he gave one to each beggar who came to his house asking for it in exchange for reading some verses from the Bible. It ended up being ruined.
Beyond lie the British surgeon Hamilton Bailey, the Finnish writer Aarrne Viktor Haapakoski, the playwright Miguel Romero Esteo or the English doctor Joseph William Noble, who donated the old Noble hospital, today the administrative headquarters, to the city. The monument to the 43 victims of the wreck of the German frigate also stands out on one side. Gneisenau, to whom the crews of Teutonic warships or training ships pay homage every time they dock in Malaga.
The impulse of the Unicaja Foundation will allow to open daily, but also to develop some projects that have been pending for years. Beyond the reopening, it is intended to resume the nightly guided tours and cultural activity, as well as increase lighting and expand the botanical garden. Also the restoration of some tombs and marbles cracked by the passage of time, although it is the most expensive because as it is an asset of cultural interest, everything must be done under strict protocols. “For now, the important thing is that we are able to open again and remind foreign residents that we are still here and that they can buy their graves for the future,” concludes McIntyre, who says he has thought about advertising because funeral services would help the funding, but he resists because he thinks it is “a little macabre.” Of course, he already knows that his remains will rest there, like those of a melting pot of characters that helped shape the current Malaga.