Humanity seems to have developed a taste for digging up the bones of once famous people and examining them. We can thus find out which person had which disease, how they died and sometimes even what they ate. It is a habit driven often by idle curiosity than by scientific or historical inquiry.
The latest deceased person to be dug up and examined is Miguel de Cervantes, who died about 399 years ago. Cervantes was one of Europe’s greatest writers. His tomb has been discovered in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, a charitable order of red friars, in Madrid.
Perhaps we overdo this examination of remains. Kings and peasants are not immune from these processes. Sometimes bones are removed from graveyards, which are then displayed in ossuaries or catacombs. Sometimes the graveyards are very small and there is not enough land to bury folk; other times valuable ores are discovered under the graveyard, which then goes the way of all flesh.
We say “rest in peace” when talking of the dead, but often we do not allow them to rest in peace.
One great (and possibly the greatest) writer wrote his own epitaph.
Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
So far we have heeded Shakespeare’s words, but for how long?