The last afternoon of 2022 I had a curious stumble. I had decided not to devote too much energy to the New Year’s Eve celebrations and accepted the invitation of a good friend to have lunch in his town. David Zurdo is a professional writer and screenwriter. We met more than two decades ago, we have worked together on some projects, and in this time his bonhomie has earned my affection. That’s why, when he suggested that we meet in El Pardo, on the outskirts of Madrid, to chat and catch up, I didn’t hesitate. It was during dessert that he proposed something disconcerting to me: “What do you think if we go to the cemetery and see where Franco has been buried?” The idea was strange – David himself, after releasing it, also thought so – but the afternoon had turned out good, El Pardo was emptier than usual, and the Mingorrubio cemetery was going to be open until five. Lefty played that with an advantage. He knew that cemeteries have always attracted me. I visit them whenever I can, whether they are large or small, monumental or village. I often say that tombstones, sculptures and epitaphs encapsulate stories that have been left half told, and Mingorrubio’s had to be a potential library.
It was only a few minutes past four when we walked through its gate, and just as David foresaw, the place was deserted. My companion then decided to distract me by other tombs before reaching the one he wanted to show me. The names he read left me perplexed. Ministers, generals, businessmen, intellectuals, inventors rested there… some five hundred graves and more than a thousand niches that were History, and that seemed to flank the granite chapel in whose crypt Franco rested after his exhumation from the Valley of the Fallen in 2019. The chapel By the way, it was closed, so we took some time to look around its exterior fence. Flags of the tercios, of the Legion, bouquets and crowns of red and yellow flowers, indicated that that place was not exactly forgotten. But what intrigued us most was a collection of small historiated banners to which had been attached photographs of little-known people. One captivated me right away. «Mother Ramona María del Remedio, protector of Franco». Looking closer, I confirmed that, indeed, she was an old “friend”: Ramona Llimargas, “the Catalan.” She had studied her case three decades ago, when I documented my first novel, The blue lady. Like the protagonist of that story (sister María de Jesús de Ágreda, 1602-1665), Ramona also enjoyed the gift of bilocation. She could be in two places at once. Franco’s supporters said of that neighbor of Vic not only that she “slept with her eyes open”, going into trances since she was a child, but that at the beginning of the Civil War she began to bilocate to Burgos, to the general’s private rooms, and to talk with him… in Catalan! Ramona, the only survivor of a family of seven siblings, did not speak a word in Spanish, and the legend –fed up later by the Regime– assures that she had to speak slowly to the Caudillo for him to understand her.
The banner also claimed that Ramona saved Franco from being poisoned in Zaragoza, and that she even helped him get away from Hitler’s plans for Spain to fully enter the Second World War. Paul Preston would disagree. But along with such an explanation, another banner recalled the so-called Miracle of Empel, an episode from 1585 that led a demoralized Spanish third to defeat the Protestant fleet of Admiral Honhenlohe-Neuestein, after the discovery on a hill of a table of the Virgin of the Immaculate And a span further on, a third banner evoked the Carmelite Maravilla de Jesús, a saint since 2003, founder of several convents, including one on Cerro de los Ángeles, after a supernatural vision dear to Franco.
“Does he miss you?” David asked me, scanning that catalog of prodigies. “Power and the supernatural have always gone hand in hand. You can trace it from the haruspices and sibyls that accompanied the Roman emperors, to the babalaos that Fidel Castro or Chávez consulted ». David was right. years ago he posted Franco’s secret life, and remembering right there, it is not difficult for us to list other “magic guides” of the dictator that, however, no one had nailed to the fence. Like Mercedes Roca, “Mersida”, the blond, light-eyed witch from Morocco who played her cards before the uprising. Or Corinto Haza, the merchant from Tetuán who became a fortune teller, who ended up inspiring the “Victor”, the unique protective talisman that Franco would use in many of his public events. Or his own older brother, Nicolás, who became famous as a witch when he found “by intuition” the youngest of the family, Ramón, after a seaplane accident in 1929. Or even, to cite one more, Blessed Sister Eusebia Palomino, Died 1935 but whose last years he spent writing memoirs full of “visions of blood” about a future Civil War, in which he saw hordes of men shouting “Death to religion! Down with the crucifixes!», and that the dictator knew when all that was already History.
Preston, by the way, has just published one last contribution to the portrait of the dictator, describing him as cunning and cruel but also very gullible in these things. Which are the ones that, curiously and literally, have accompanied him to his last resting place. For now, of course.
Javier Sierra is a writer and winner of the Planeta Novel Award.