Aviles, Spain is one of St Augustine’s sister cities – and perhaps even the most important one, since our 16th century founder, Pedro Menéndez, was from Avilés. To commemorate this connection during this 450th anniversary year, several members of the St Augustine Archaeological Association took a trip to Aviles to view archaeological work being done in that city. Our generous hosts showed us everything from prehistoric cave paintings to Roman ruins to pre-Romanesque churches, and even took us down into a modern archaeological site, a 19th and early 20th century coal mine that has been excavated and turned into a museum of early industry. Next year, some Avilés archaeologists will come to St Augustine, and we’ll show them what we have…not as old, by any means, but certainly interesting. In this photo, you see some of the group, along with our host, Román Álvarez, surveying modern Avilés.
Naturally, one of the things we will show them is Tolomato Cemetery, since we hope to have even more information about it by next year. Work is due to begin soon on the repair of the fence and wall, and the city archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, will do a small dig along the front wall to see what information he can…dig up. Groan – I had to say it!
Next year, a graduate student is also planning to base his thesis on a Ground Penetrating Radar study of Tolomato, looking for the footings of the old mission chapel and bell tower as well as any other significant archaeological record that he can find.
But as we prepare to investigate Tolomato for our visitors, it’s worth spending a few minutes talking about the cemeteries of Avilés.
As in St Augustine, pre-19th century burials were under or around the church. In the above photo, we see the church where Pedro Menéndez is buried, in a marble urn high up on the wall; it is now known as the Iglesia de los Padres Franciscanos, but during the time of Menéndez, when it was his parish church, it was known as San Nicolás.
In this photo, we see the side of a 13th century church, with gravestones clearly visible in the yard next to it. This is the old Iglesia de Sabugo; the latter was the name of the village where Menéndez was born. It was originally a separate fishing and maritime trades village located next to the larger commercial town of Avilés, but now it is simply a neighborhood in Avilés. The church is now closed, but archaeological work has found many burials around the church and under the floor.
And then we come to the world’s largest, most dramatic angel…as the 19th century cemetery arrives in all its glory! This angel points to Heaven from its seat on the casket of the Marquise de San Juan de Nieva at the Cemeterio Municipal de La Carriona on the outskirts of Aviles. This dramatic statue by 19th century Asturian sculptor Cipriano Folgueras was even a finalist in a recent Spanish cemetery art competition.
This cemetery was opened in 1890 when, as in St Augustine, burials were forbidden within the city of Avilés for health reasons. It contains many huge monuments, some of them by well-known artists and sculptors of the time, as well as fields of more modest stones. Below is the grave of a local poet and author, Armando Palacio Valdés, where a mourning woman sits next to an excerpt from one of his poems, in which he urges the passer-by to leave a branch of honeysuckle in his memory. Someone has, in fact, left some flowers at the foot of the monument.
Below we see a crypt with stairs, so that people could descend to pay their respects to the deceased who were buried in niches under the crypt.
The cemetery is still in use and has regular burial services. There is a chapel in the center of the cemetery that contains a catafalque, where the casket is placed during the funeral Mass or service.
The cemetery is located on the top of a hill and is a dramatic sight in its own right. Interestingly, it also has an interpretation center, and offers guided tours and programs on the cemetery, cemetery art and related matters.
But you don’t have to go all the way to Avilés if you’d like to find out more about our Sister City’s cemetery, which goes by the acronym CicLaC. All you have to do is click here for their Wikipedia site (in Spanish, of course) or here, for the very interesting site of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe, an EU initiative which has links to fascinating cemeteries all over Europe.