FOR many Spanish families 1 November, All Saints’ Day, is a very important date, when they visit cemeteries and remember lost loved ones. They take flowers and wreaths to place on graves, hence the huge number of floral displays which have been filling shops and spilling out onto pavements over the past few weeks.
All Saints’ Day is also the busiest of the year for places like Valencia’s Municipal Cemetery. However, just across the road is the British International Cemetery an oasis of calm, where the graves are surrounded by plants, trees and grass, quite the contrast from the brick and cement of the city’s Municipal Cemetery. It is also just a fraction of the size of its Spanish counterpart, but well worth a visit to enjoy the peace and tranquility of a space reminiscent of an English churchyard.
Being cared for by volunteers, the International Cemetery is only open on certain dates, such as All Saints’ Day, so a great chance to visit and make a donation to its conservation.
A long history
But this peaceful, secret garden also has a history going back some 150 years, a history which is inextricably linked with Valencia’s own.
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 were wrapped in shrouds and buried at sea.
In 1831 a Royal Decree authorized the establishment of places for the interment of non-Catholics whose lives had ended in Spain. In the years that followed land was bought close to Valencia’s Municipal Cemetery which, to this day, belongs to the British Crown.
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 Valencia 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 people were buried anonymously, including, it is believed, soldiers from the International Brigades, bombing victims and others 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 memorial 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.
For more information about visiting or to volunteer to help visit the website or pop along on Tuesday and speak to one of the volunteers.