SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain – A city in northwestern Spain confirmed on Friday it had filed a lawsuit against the daughter of the military dictator who ruled the country with an iron fist over four decades for illegally possessing two valuable 12th-century statues kept at the family’s luxurious estate.
The mayor of Santiago de Compostela, Martiño Noriega, told journalists that the city – located in the Galicia region, some 575 kilometers (357 miles) to the northwest of Madrid – had filed a suit against Maria del Carmen Franco y Polo – General Francisco Franco’s only child – after she repeatedly rejected the city hall’s request that she return the statues to their original spot at the portico of the iconic Santiago Cathedral.
“It’s a civil lawsuit, a legal action to reclaim ownership due to what we understand to be the illegal or irregular possession of the two statues on behalf of the Franco family,” Noriega said.
Spain’s parliament and other institutions had already called on Franco y Polo to return the statues, which depict the Biblical figures Abraham and Isaac and have been attributed to Master Mateo (circa 1150-1217 AD), the Medieval sculptor and architect who oversaw the building of the majestic Portico of Glory, the cathedral’s Romanesque main gate.
The historical pieces of art were now hidden away at the Pazo de Meiras, a palatial property in Galicia – including an opulent mansion and the ample land surrounding it – that has been used as a summer residence by the Francos since the strongman’s death in 1975.
The estate was bought in 1939 by a group of local grandees wishing to curry favor with Franco; it was later presented as a gift to the then-Head of State, whose authoritarian, nationalist, far-right and ultra-Catholic regime retained a stranglehold on power during the four decades following the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
Both statues began to be listed as part of Franco’s assets in 1961, but there were never any documents proving their sale or transfer from the city to the generalissimo’s family.
Noriega explained that the suit had been filed in Madrid because that was where Franco’s daughter, now aged 91, presently resides.
He added that the proceedings sought to conclusively demonstrate that the statues were city property since no institutional or legal transfer agreement was ever struck with the Franco family.
Thus, Noriega said, these artworks were part of the State’s public historical-artistic heritage and therefore needed to be returned to the city “for the enjoyment of all Galicians and all the visitors to Santiago.”
Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral is the end destination of the centuries-old Way of St. James – one of the world’s most visited pilgrimage routes – and is believed to contain the hallowed remains of the Biblical figure and martyr James the Greater, son of Zebedee, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus.
The city’s old town, including the cathedral, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Franco y Polo was created 1st Duchess of Franco by King Juan Carlos I shortly after her father’s death and currently chairs the controversial Francisco Franco National Foundation, a revisionist group that exalts the figure of the deceased “Caudillo” (meaning “leader,” similar to “Führer” or “Duce”).