Question: Where in the world is Christopher Columbus buried?
Answer: His remains are entombed in Seville Cathedral—unless, of course, they are not.
Christopher Columbus’s story has become the stuff of legend. Famed as the sailor who “discovered” the Americas, sung of by children in nursery rhyme, and honored with his own holiday, he’s certainly a mythic figure. But the historical facts remain the subject of great dispute. His legacy has been affected as well by debates over where exactly he did or didn’t land and his treatment of the people ashore. These continual revisions extend past his memory to his physical body; even his final resting place requires an asterisk.
In 1506, when Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain, no one would have guessed that his corpse would continue to be a globetrotter. His brother had it taken to Seville, but in 1546, it was decided to move him to Santo Domingo (in what is now the Dominican Republic, but was then part of Hispaniola). There it held a place of honor in the Cathedral of Santa Maria—right until Spain lost its hold on the territory in 1795, and moved Columbus to Havana, Cuba. A century later, when Spain had to give up Cuba as well, the body was summoned home to Seville and installed in the cathedral.
In 1877 a box of remains labeled, “The illustrious and excellent man, Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea,” was discovered at the cathedral in Santo Domingo. Authorities eventually built a massive memorial “lighthouse” to surround the remains of the sailor. The official opinion of the Dominican government is that the body never left the island.
Who’s right? Spain tested the DNA of the Seville remains and announced that they match the DNA of Columbus’s brother and his son. But no similar test took place in Santo Domingo, where DNA testing is forbidden by the government (allegedly) out of respect for the dead. With DNA on Spain’s side, many think Seville Cathedral’s claim holds water, but, as befitting all things Columbus, the argument is not yet over.
With or Without Columbus: 10 Reasons to Visit Seville Cathedral
- When commissioned in 1401, the project had a grand mission: Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos. (“Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad.”)
- Occupying 250,000 square feet, Seville Cathedral passed the Hagia Sophia as the world’s biggest cathedral in 1434, and today it remains third largest in the world by area.
- At its tallest, the interior is 138-feet high, and the building’s widest point is 328 feet.
- The nave is outlined by 80 chapels, each the height of a small church, which allowed for the offering of up to 500 masses a day at the church’s peak.
- The Giralda bell tower rises 314 feet and was formed from the 12th-century minaret of the mosque that once occupied the site.
- Surrounding the tower is the Patio de los Naranjos, built in the former courtyard of the mosque, containing orange trees and a working fountain that retains its Islamic flavor.
- Columbus is not the only figure (possibly) interred there: He is joined by his son, four kings, a queen, two cardinals, and an infant royal.
- There are four facades, together featuring a total of 15 doors, many of them elaborately decorated or carved, with scenes from the Assumption and the Nativity, and sculptures of Biblical figures.
- The baptistery contains the repaired Bartolome Murillo masterpiece “The Vision of St. Anthony,” which the Prado restored after thieves cut the saint out of the picture and tried to sell him separately.
- After a year-long selection process in 2007, Seville Cathedral was named one of the 12 Treasures of Spain, a well-deserved honor.
Visit the Seville Cathedral on our enhanced Iberian Voyage: Lisbon to Barcelona Small Ship Adventure.