Family of Portugal’s ‘Gaudi’ fights to recover mausoleum – and remains of illustrious ancestors

The family of Portugal’s ‘Gaudi’, architect Silva Rocha, is fighting to recover its mausoleum and the remains not only of Silva Rocha, but other family members who appear to have been re-buried in a mass grave still to be identified.

Leading the fight is Silva Rocha’s great-granddaughter Maria João Fernandes, herself an art critic and horrified by what has happened.

“It is unbelievable”, she tells Correio da Manhã which has taken up the issue across a double-page spread.

First, these mausoleums are sold under ‘título perpétuo’ (meaning they should remain in the family’s possession forever).

Second, Silva Rocha was, and remains, an icon – responsible for numerous venerable buildings in Portuguese Art Nouveau style, to the extent that he was dubbed the country’s equivalent in talent and execution of Spain’s famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

CM explains: “Silva Rocha left a unique work which led art historian José Augusto França to classify Aveiro as the capital of Art Nouveau in Portugal”.

Yet, without informing any of his living family members, Aveiro’s union of parish councils of Glória and Vera Cruz sold the mausoleum five years ago, declaring it abandoned.

The official line was that the little above-ground tomb was in danger of collapse – something Maria João Fernandes categorically denies.

What remains suitably vague is to whom the burial chapel was sold. CM has only a small box story, saying ‘mausoleum no 32 was sold on February 24, 2014 at public auction to the family of an Aveiro councillor”.

It was sold “with the mortal remains inside”.

Says the illustrious’ architect’s granddaughter, there could have been no confusion. The mausoleum had a “very visible inscription” on the outside, saying that it belonged to João Pedro Soares, Silva Rocha’s father-in-law who was one of the leading citizens of Aveiro in his time (the end of the 19th century).

João Pedro Soares, for instance, was a leading benefactor behind the city’s hospital and its industrial school.

Yet ‘respect’ for the family’s past seems to have mysteriously evaporated.

Says Maria João Fernandes, “it’s unbelievable”.

The family has since tried various forms of getting answers, and is now “fighting for the dignity of Silva Rocha’s memory, and the return of his mortal remains, those of his family and of his last resting place – the mausoleum of João Pedro Soares – from which they were inexplicably removed”.

Portugal has a tradition of ‘digging up’ coffins after a certain period, and either placing bones in boxes in special ‘gavetas’ (drawers) in cemeteries, or disposing of them some other way.

But the auctioning off of mausoleums – still full of family remains, without informing surviving family members – is a new departure.

Says CM, Aveiro council “recognises that there is a problem”, and had hoped to intercede to find a solution before the case went before the city’s administrative and fiscal tribunal.

That hasn’t been possible, said a source for the council, stressing that on the cultural side, it has always ‘honoured Art Nouveau and the architect Silva Rocha’.

The union of parish councils that auctioned off the mausoleum in 2014 – and oversaw the reburial of those inside it – has apparently failed to respond to any of Correio da Manhã’s emails.

Maria João Fernandes says she is not even sure where her ancestors are buried now.

“All we know is that they were all put into the ground on the same date in one single burial with the characteristics of a common grave, and in circumstances still to establish”.

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