Malaga’s English Cemetery and its last guardian3 min read
The English Cemetery (also know as the St. George’s Cemetery) is the oldest Protestant cemetery in Spain. It was established 1831 for the British merchants who lived in the city of Málaga and, before that, they were buried on the sea shore at night, since they were mainly Protestants and could not be buried in the Catholic consecrated ground.
In 1787, King Carlos III created a statute that forbade the interment of any non-Roman Catholic during daylight hours and in any of the existing cemeteries in Spain. During those years, the number of English residents of Malaga was growing rapidly due to the industrial and economic boom of the city in the 19th century. Therefore, the death of an Englishman involved a gruesome dilemma.
And so…where and how to bury the bodies?
Well, most people had to be taken during the night to the seashore, guided by torchlight, and buried precariously in the sand, where sooner or later they were going to be unearthed by animals.
Having witnessed this bad situation William Mark, the British Consul in 1824, decided to find a piece of unused land in Malaga where the non-Catholic British population could be buried with dignity.
And finally, in 1829, the Malaga authorities granted him a piece of land which was subsequently assigned to the British Government.
The first person to be buried was such a George Stephens, who accidentally drowned in Malaga port, in 1831. Later that year, a young Irishman called Robert Boyd was buried there, executed for being part of the attempt to restore constitutional order by the liberal forces in December 1831.
Over the years, the cemetery developed and got much bigger. A little temple was built to serve as a chapel and home for the guardian of the cemetery, and later a gatehouse was built to serve as an Information Centre for visitors.
Conceived as a botanic garden, the English Cemetery is home to many exotic and unusual species of trees and plants, with graves placed on terraces facing the sea and antique tombs covered in seashells. Overall, there are gravestones of different sizes and styles such as Gothic, Classic or Celtic, seen all over the beautiful gardens.
The cemetery covers over 8,000 sq. m. and contains more than 1,000 graves.
Several well-known people are buried in the English Cemetery of Málaga, including the British writer Gerald Brenan and his wife, the American writer Gamel Woolsey, and 60 members of a German Navy Sail Training Ship’s crew, the Gneisenau, that sinked in 1880 just outside Malaga. The Málaga population tried their best to rescue the crew and passengers, and a dozen or more died trying to do so.
Today it is forbidden to bury other people at the cemetery due to lack of space, and the last burial was in 1995.
According to an old English legend, the last person buried in the cemetery becomes its guardian and has to look after the souls who rest there until a new deceased is buried there, and takes over the same role.
Ironically, the last person buried at the English Cemetery was Mr. Antonio Alcalde, who was the actual guardian of the cemetery when he was alive, like his father and grandfather before him.
Since the cemetery is inactive and no further burials are planned, it seem like he will remain the guardian of the cemetery forever.
It is also said that the ghost of Antonio Alcalde has been seen by local residents and visitors, wandering around the gravestones, and some visitors have been touched by unseen hands or have heard voices and footsteps coming from nowhere.