Nancy Phillips tells the story of the monastery in Castile that became an International Brigade hospital and then a prison…

The monastery of Uclés, now one of the most renowned cultural centres of Castilla-La Mancha, was a 500-bed hospital during the Spanish Civil War and then a prison during the post-civil war years. 

During the civil war, it was first used as a barracks by military units that came and went and then functioned as an evacuation hospital for wounded of the International Brigades and the Republican People’s Army. It became one of the largest hospitals in the area, treating war casualties and civilians alike.

During the civil war, the hospital cemetery served as the burial place for the hundreds of soldiers who died of disease or injury there as well as the burial place for civilians. 

Uclés hospital during the Spanish Civil War.

When the war ended, the soldiers who could not leave went from being patients to prisoners.  All medical personnel were arrested. Uclés hospital thus became a concentration camp and later a great prison until 1943. 

Those prisoners who died of disease or injury were buried in the hospital cemetery as were those who were put to death. There was a high mortality rate due to executions and the unhealthiness of the prison.

During the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 archaeological excavations were carried out in the area of graves. A total of 265 graves of 429 individuals were excavated. During the excavations three areas were distinguished, one belonging to those who died when Uclés was a hospital and the other two belonging to those who died during the prison stage.

From the first area (those who died in hospital), 188 individuals were recovered, with signs of respect at the time of burial, since each had a coffin and each was carefully arranged in it. 

Unfinished exhumations.

As for the other two areas or sectors, 241 individuals were recovered, many of them without coffins, of which 158 were shot and only one had the privilege of being buried with a coffin. Sector 2 is the one destined for those who were executed without confession, while sector 3 was used for those who had made their last confession before the chaplain of the monastery. 

According to Máximo Molina of Cuenca’s Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory, this work did not continue after 2012. ‘There are still more than a hundred remains whose DNA must be analysed.’

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