Spain Explained

Federico García Lorca – talent and untimely death

Last updated on September 13th, 2019 at 09:08 am.

The body of the Spanish writer Federico García Lorca remains buried somewhere in southern Spain. Murdered by Franco’s Spanish nationalists, he remains one of the many individual tragedies of the Spanish Civil War.

Lorca is one of the most important Spanish poets and dramatists of the twentieth century. As news is breaking that a third attempt is to be made to find his grave this article outlines his life and the search that continues for his remains.  

Lorca’s life

Lorca was born on June 5th 1898 in Fuente Vaqueros in rural Andulusia. He was the son of a farmer and the family were comfortably off. However, the social conditions he witnessed in Andalusia influenced his work. His mother was a gifted pianist and school teacher and Lorca was the eldest of four children.

At the age of 10 he moved to Granada with his family and went to a private Catholic school. Lorca decided to study law at university but studying wasn’t a strength of his and during this time he was better known for his piano playing skills. Lorca started turning to writing in his late teens. He published his first book ‘Impresiones y Paisajes’ (1918) as a response to a series of journeys he’d made through Spain.

In 1919 Lorca moved to Madrid where he lived for the next ten years.  During his time there he devoted himself to theatrical performances and poetry. The play ‘El Maleficio de la Mariposa’, published in 1920, was based upon a lovesick cockroach. It was not well received and only lasted for four performances before being closed down.

Lorca liked to use popular themes in his work such as Flamenco and Gypsy culture. He became part of a group of artists known as ‘Generación del 27’ which included Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel.

Lorca became involved with Salvador Dali from 1925 to 1928 and   came to acknowledge his own homosexuality. Dali encouraged Lorca to experiment with new movements in the art world and he also produced sets for the full-length play ‘Mariana Pineda’. Lorca could draw as well as write and was encouraged by Dali to exhibit his drawings in 1928. But it was the poetry collection ‘Romancero Gitano’  or Gypsy Ballads (1928) that brought him international recognition.

As his friendship with Dali waned, his fame increased and made privacy difficult. Lorca decided to move to New York in 1929 where he continued to write poems with themes of urban decay and social injustice.  

He returned to Spain after it became a Republic in 1930 and became part of a student theatre group that decided to build a ‘Barraca’ in central Madrid. In this ‘Barraca’  they could produce plays, including some of Lorca’s own and were sponsored by the country’s progressive new Republican government.

His death

However, the political horizon was about to change and in 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out as nationalist forces marched across Spain to oust the democratically elected Republican government. Lorca was staying at Callejones de García when he was arrested by Franco’s soldiers and put in jail.

Lorca’s homosexuality and his liberal views meant that he was particularly hated by the Franco Nationalists. After a few days, on August 19th, soldiers took him to supposedly visit his brother in law who was a socialist ex-mayor of Granada. However, Manuel Fernandez Montesinos had already been killed and dragged through the streets.

Arriving at a remote hillside town in Granada, Lorca was forced out of the car and shot through with bullets. His books were also seen as a threat and were burned and banned from Franco’s Spain.

Recovering his body

It’s a sad fact that Spain was witness to many unauthorised and authorised murders during the course of the Spanish Civil War. In the vast majority of cases the people killed were civilians whose death caused devastation within their family but went no further. However the case of Lorca has come to represent the public face of the slaughter that went on.

As such, finding his remains has become a labour of love for many people and has attracted crowd funding too. However, the search has been described as looking for a needle in a haystack. The area itself where it is thought he was shot has not lain undisturbed in the intervening years making the dig to uncover him even more complicated.

It is believed that Lorca was shot along with three other men; one a teacher and two assistant bullfighters – all known for their support for the Republicans. It was common practice during these years for people to be taken away, shot and buried without any accompanying ceremony or trial. Mass graves exist across Spain and opinion has varied as to how much time and effort should be made in terms of uncovering them and the war crimes that accompanied them.

Some believe that it is best to leave the past in the past. However, many of those whose families were devastated for their Republican sympathies still want to see some level of justice achieved and some retribution or conciliation in relation to the wrongs that were done.

That wrongs were done on both sides, there is no doubt. However, in the ensuing years after the Civil War the Francoists had plenty of opportunity to search out and cut down (and this they did) those who continued to express their views against them. This option was not open to the opposition, many of whom fled Spain, went into hiding or even committed suicide in a bid to avoid capture.    

The search for Lorca’s body is now focusing on Alfacar (Granada) on an area of barren land.   The dig is being led by Miguel Caballero and Javier Navarro and the search is this time based on accounts provided by those involved in his murder. If this one token body could be unearthed and given the burial it deserves it will at least act as a symbol of reconciliation with the past.  

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Margaret Doughty

2 February, 2016 5:32 pm

I enjoyed this piece on Lorca
I enjoyed this piece on Lorca the poet, I knew of him but have never heard about his life, very interesting. Thank you

Suzanne O'Connell

3 February, 2016 8:31 am

I’m pleased you found it

I'm pleased you found it interesting. Thank you.