Why doesn’t Spain have a Pantheon of Illustrious Men like the French one?

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In 2002, French President Jacques Chirac ordered to transfer the remains of the writer Alexander Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, from the Villers-Cotterêts cemetery (Picardie), where he was born and where he was buried, to the Pantheon of the Illustrious in Paris. He was made “to repair the injustice with one of the great writers” of France. So that he could be with the rest of the illustrious in this national mausoleum.

Years later, in 2015, two empty coffins entered, that of the ethnologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Germaine Tillion and that of the resistance figure Genevière de Gaulle-Anthonioz. His material remains were not there, it was a symbolic ceremony of “pantheonization”, as the manager of this national monument, Pascal Monnet, described it at the time. Rome beatifies its saints and Paris pantheonistic to their illustrious ones.

«The 19th century, with romanticism, is a moment in which the feeling of a national identity was established, with the cult of great men. This feeling exists in other countries, but in France it is much stronger than in others,” explains Laetitia Levantis, art historian and researcher at the French research center (CNRS).

France dedicated the Pantheon to honor the great names that have marked the nation’s history. It is quite unbalanced: 75 men and six women. It is one of the most visited places in the capital and authors such as Victor Hugo, Voltaire and Emilie Zola are there. Only military figures, such as Napoleon, are in the pantheon of Les Invalides.

If France has always cared for the memory of its national glories, Spain has not managed to create a unique space in which to pay tribute to the greats of its letters and arts. In the 19th century, an attempt was made to make a monument of illustrious people in the church of San Francisco el Grande in Madrid, but without much success. Then the remains of Velázquez, Cervantes, El Cid or Murillo, among others, could not be located.

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