The English Cemetery in Malaga is a lovely little spot to ponder the past. To call it English is a bit of a misnomer really. Those interred came from around Europe, but predominately from the UK, so the British Cemetery might be a better name. This confusion comes from the Spanish Cementerio Inglés which wildly sweeps all of the UK into little old England!!
The cemetery doesn’t get too many visitors, and hence it doesn’t get much in the way of contributions for its upkeep. To make up for this, an entry fee of €3 is charged but it’s a small price to pay. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 1000 until 1400. You get a map detailing some of the prominent graves and you know that you are contributing to a worthy cause. Tucked away off the street, just away from the city past the bullring, it’s not the sort of place most people would just stumble across. From the outside you may also think that only St George’s Anglican Church lies within. That probably accounts for the low visitor numbers.
So, how did we end up with an English, sorry, British cemetery in the heart of Malaga? Well, after the reconquista, the Spanish authorities denied burials to Protestant Christians, and this meant non-Catholics had nowhere to go on their demise. In 1830 the then British Consul, William Mark, persuaded them to let him found a cemetery. Prior to that, burials had been upright on the beach and bodies were often washed back to the shore!
Halfway up the hill there is a walled enclosure. This was the original cemetery. It’s quite a sad place as inside there are many small graves covered in seashells. These are the final resting places of children who died from TB and fever. At the very top is a panel inscribed with a poem dedicated to the sad loss of the children, inspired by little Violette whose grave lies just outside the walls. She was only one month old when she succumbed.
Gerald Brenan, a poet and civil war author, is buried alongside his wife, Gamel Woolsey. She was an American poet and novelist best known for her eyewitness account of the war, Malaga Burning. Her tombstone is inscribed with a line from Shakespeare: “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun.”
In the central part of the cemetery you will see four Commonwealth War Graves. Details are sketchy, but it seems these heroes, an Australian amongst them, died off the coast of North Africa and their bodies were washed ashore in Malaga. They were retained and laid to rest appropriately after World War II had come to its end.
It seemed strange that in a British cemetery you would find so many German graves. Most of them date back to before the First World War when we were more or less family, and far from bitter rivals. The most notable of these Protestant graves is the tribute to the victims of the Gneisenau, a German training ship which sank off the Malaga coast in 1900.
So, next time you visit Malaga, look for this peaceful spot just a short way off the beaten track.
June 27, 2018 @ 6:03 pm
I came across this site a few weeks after I had visited the cemetery. I was fascinated by the infant tombs covered in seashells. I asked the duty custodian what they were all about and he explained the former beach funeral ritual. But he added a bit more grisly detail. Bodies were buried in the sand vertically and up to the neck, so the heads were left exposed and subject to water erosion and bird attack. So, real heads for headstones then….Ow!
June 27, 2018 @ 6:13 pm
Thanks for adding the grisly details Paul!
November 6, 2018 @ 3:55 pm
I would like to buy a Poppy wreath and lay it on a British grave in Malaga.
Where can I buy the wreath guys?
November 6, 2018 @ 4:13 pm
Hi Stu. Sorry, I don’t know. I’m sure there must be some RBL folk around selling poppies. They might have local knowledge.