THE fun and frolics of dressing up, trick-or-treating and partying on Sunday was followed by the solemnity of remembering dearly departed loved ones on Monday.
In certain quarters the Spanish can be heard bemoaning the new ‘tradition’ of Halloween, complaining that it’s an Anglo-Saxon festival that has no place in Spain and asking why it has become so popular here. Despite this, every year more and more Spaniards get hooked on the festival, stocking up on sweets to give the trick-or-treaters who visit them, while others go all out to impress, converting their front gardens into other worlds, maybe a haunted graveyard complete with atmospheric music and dry ice, or perhaps a psycho circus with eerie clowns.
Being generally a sociable nation, the whole Halloween idea suits the Spanish well and they have embraced it with arms wide open. Even Valencia’s Bioparc got into the spirit of Halloween, organising terrorific events over the weekend. And to those who say it has no place here, let’s take a look at the origins of Halloween; the name itself is derived from All Hallows Eve, literally the night before All Saints’ Day, the Spanish Día de Todos los Santos, which is, of course, a very important date here. So, in an indirect way, Halloween and the Spanish Día de Todos los Santos. are intrinsically linked, rather like different sides of the same coin.
Honouring the dead
Following a much quieter Día de Todos los Santos last year, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the region’s cemeteries were once again heaving with families coming to pay their respects to long-lost loved ones.
In Torrent, however, a dispute between two rival ‘clan’ families left two dead and another injured. The cemetery had to be closed so investigators could carry out their work and to avoid any further disturbances or reprisals.
British Cemetery open
Meanwhile, the British Cemetery Valencia was open for the day, to allow visitors to experience the location and for families to pay their respects. An oasis of tranquility in the middle of the city, there was a steady flow of visitors during the day, according to trustee, Pam Smith.
Visitors to the cemetery on Monday gave donations but the cemetery needs to raise funds for general maintenance work as well as improving one of its perimeter walls. Back in the summer vandals broke in and destroyed three of the tombs. Members of the cemetery association believe the vandals were searching for jewels or other expensive items buried in the graves, but whatever the reason, an even higher perimeter wall, maybe even topped with barbed wire will now have to be built.
What is the British Cemetery Valencia?
During the industrialisation of the city in the 18th and 19th centuries British engineers, technicians and sailors came to work in Valencia both at the port and on the railway, but when they or their families died here, as protestants they could not be buried in a Catholic cemetery so this caused problems. Previously bodies had been wrapped in shrouds and buried at sea.
In 1831 a Royal Decree authorized the establishment of places for the interment of non-Catholics who passed away in Spain. In the years that followed land was bought close to Valencia’s Municipal Cemetery which, to this day, belongs to the British government.
When the British Protestant Cemetery was built it provided, for the first time, a place to bury non-Catholics. Now known as the British International Cemetery, it is a multi-denominational final resting place for some 350 souls of more than 21 different nationalities.
The cemetery grew most rapidly in the years from the 1870s onwards and many prominent engineers and businessmen who contributed to the industrialisation of the city are buried there, as well as Alfred Faulconbridge, the founder of the Valencian Tennis Club and Albert Holliday, chairman of Blackpool AFC who died while on holiday in Valencia in 1962.
While those buried in the 19th century and the start of the 20th century were well documented, during the Civil War things were more chaotic with the cemetery being cared for by the Red Cross and the Swiss Consul, and some souls were buried anonymously, including, it is believed, soldiers from the Internationl Brigades, bombing victims and people who succumbed to the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
After the Civil War, World War II and the dictatorship meant fewer British people came to work in Valencia, and consequently there were fewer burials. In the second half of the 20th century the cemetery became the victim of vandalism and some of its stained glass windows were broken. Thanks to the hard work of the group of trustees, a grant was awarded to restore the windows and the work was carried out by the local NGO Fet i Vidre between 2017 and 2018. The front courtyard was also renovated to create The Bonnie Garden a quiet space where memeorial plaques can be placed. The garden was named in memory of Bonnie Hintzpeter, an altruistic member of the International Women’s Club.
As with all historic buildings the next maintenance project is never far away and now the roof of the little chapel is in need of repair. The trustees are busy campaigning to raise the money needed with various events and activities.
The cemetery is looking for volunteers, especially people who can also speak Spanish and have a keen interest in history. Anyone interested in volunteering, organising a visit or wanting to hold an event at the cemetery can get in touch via the Friends of Valencia British Cemetery page on Facebook or through their website http://www.britishcemeteryvalencia.org