MADRID – Spain gave its greatest writer, Miguel de Cervantes, a formal burial Thursday nearly 400 hundred years after his death, unveiling a funeral monument holding recently unearthed bone fragments believed to include those of the author of "Don Quixote."
Madrid Mayor Ana Botella placed a laurel wreath at the foot of the monument in a Madrid convent in a ceremony that included military honors since Cervantes, considered the Shakespeare of Spanish letters, also had been a soldier for Spain.
The bones were dug up this year by experts after a near-yearlong search at the convent where Cervantes was known to have been buried in 1616.
Construction work over the centuries had made it difficult to figure out exactly where his bones lay. Investigators were convinced that his bones were among the remains of 15 bodies found in the crypt of the Barefoot Trinitarians, but they were unable to prove definitively which belonged to the author.
Still, they had some clues. Cervantes died at age 69 and wrote that he only had six teeth by then. He also had wounds. In 1571, the writer was wounded in the Battle of Lepanto, which pitted Ottoman Turkish forces against the Holy League, led by Spain. Aboard the ship La Marquesa, Cervantes was hit by three musket shots, two in the chest and one in his hand.
In January, archeologists said they found fragments of a casket bearing the initials "M.C." and bones. They concluded it was the author, even without definite proof.
Botella said the monument settled an age-old debt to Cervantes and to Spanish culture.
"Now we can say, `Miguel, mission accomplished,"' she said.
Cervantes has such stature in Spain that the anniversary of his death on April 23 is celebrated each year with a marathon reading of "Don Quixote" by dozens of political and cultural figures.