Bones of a conqueror

January 30th, 2009

The Spanish settlers in Spain, upon their deaths, often wanted to be buried beneath the churches they had built on what they considered foreign and certainly un-Christian land. Doing so they thought was the only way of ensuring themselves a place in heaven. The richest or most important Spaniards in Lima were given prime spots – beneath the alter of the city’s grand cathedral. Here, when work on the church’s foundations was being carried out in 1977, a led box was found proclaiming; “Here is the head of Don Francisco Pizarro, Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered Peru and presented it to the crown of Castile.”

Francisco Pizarro, the Spaniard who arrived in Peru in 1531 with a handful of soldiers to conquer the Inca empire, was violently assassinated with multiple stab wounds in 1541 by the son of his companion, Almagro. What exactly happened to his remains is not clear, but it was always assumed he was buried somewhere in the grounds of the cathedral, though his tomb was never marked as the others were.

In 1892, in preparation for the anniversary of the Spanish discovery of the Americas, what were thought to be his bones were exhumed and displayed to the world. It wasn’t until 1977 that the mistake was realised.

Along with the box, hidden for centuries in a wall in the cathedral’s foundations, was found a full skeleton, one which bore the marks or many stab wounds. The skull found in the box also bore a stunning resemblance to the portraits we have of the man.

Pizarro’s true remains have now been given a corner of the Cathedral, where a small exhibition has been set up. The visit to Lima’s cathedral in the Plaza de Armas costs 5 soles.

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