Tomb of Columbus in Seville CathedralTomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville (photograph by Pom²/Wikimedia)

In 1542, the body of Christopher Columbus was transported and laid to rest in the Cathedral of Santa Maria, in the Dominican Republic. In 1795, they dug him up, and the international corpse shell game began.

After his career of exploration and exploitation, Columbus died at home in Valladolid, Spain, but as in life, in death he was not destined to stay in one place long. After a brief interment there, his body was moved to nicer, but still temporary, digs in Seville while a cathedral worthy of him was constructed in the New World he had settled.

The cathedral was completed and Columbus’ body installed in 1542. He stayed there for 200 years.

When Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) fell to the French, the Spanish really, really wanted to hold on to the body of their Very Important Navigator, so they had him removed to Cuba, their closest colonial outpost. Eventually, that arrangement failed as well, and the Spanish once again moved the body, this time back home to Spain where they installed a rather elaborate tomb in the Cathedral at Seville in 1898.

Meanwhile, back in the Dominican Republic, 1877, efforts were underway to restore the historic, if tomb-less Cathedral of Santa Maria. Workers discovered an aged lead box, which, when opened, revealed the words, “The illustrious and excellent man, Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” Well hello there, Mr. Columbus.

Plans were promptly begun (and dragged out nearly a hundred years) for a new, bigger, better, insanely large tomb for Columbus in the Dominican Republic.

The tomb in the Dominican Republic (photograph by Daniel Lobo/Flickr)

Ah, but there’s a catch: Both Christopher Columbus AND his son, Diego, were known by that title. You can probably imagine the tone and tenor of the ensuing argument that has endured between the two holders-of-boxes-holding-Columbus over the last century or so.

In 2004, examinations of the remains indicated that it may in fact be Diego that is buried in Spain.  However, DNA testing seems to have confirmed that they belong to Christopher. In the end, the matter may never be settled to the satisfaction of all parties, particularly since the authorities in Santo Domingo refuse to allow their remains to be tested.



COLUMBUS LIGHTHOUSE, Santo Dominico, Dominican Republic

COLUMBUS TOMB, Seville Cathedral, Seville, Spain