Somewhere deep inside the Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas in Madrid, historian Fernando Prado is searching amidst the holy books and cloistered nuns for the man who wrote the first modern novel, published 407 years ago today: Miguel de Cervantes— or whatever’s left of him.
The plaque on the exterior of the convent memorializes the author of the great Don Quixote, who is buried inside. Probably. They’re pretty sure he’s in there somewhere. Just no one’s quite sure where. Cervantes’s bones may have been moved to another convent nearby during a 17th century renovation. Although it’s thought they were moved back again, and that they weren’t disturbed at all when, in the 20th century, part of the convent was converted into a courthouse. However, what’s certain is that he was buried there initially—at least it said in his will that he wanted to be. Though Cervantes himself was not a member of the “Barefoot Trinitarian” sect that runs the convent to this day, they once helped ransom him out of slavery, and one of his daughtersbelonged to the convent (they think). All we really know for sure is that the great author died nearby, in his home, of dropsy (only itmay have been cirrhosis of the liver, or possibly diabetes) on April 23rd, 1616, just ten days before William Shakespeare. Except that Spain was using the Gregorian calendar and England the Julian… so really they died on the same day.
OK, fine. Really all we actually know is that he’s dead.