Ruthless Borgia to be celebrated at resting place

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The Independent Online

Cesare Borgia, son of Rodrigo Borgia - Pope Alexander VI - brother of Lucrezia, a serial murderer by his early twenties, whose family name has long been a byword for corruption, greed and violence, is to be rehabilitated in the northern Spanish town where he died.

The family was originally Spanish - "the Borjas" - and, in Viana in Navarra, where Cesare fell in battle in 1507, a campaign is afoot to recycle this symbol of Catholic depravity as a local hero.

Only a small stone in the pavement outside Viana's Santa Maria church marks the tomb of Cesare Borgia, whose ruthless skills in eliminating enemies inspired Machiavelli's The Prince. He was patron to Leonardo da Vinci and his brown eyes and russet hair provided a model of beauty that Renaissance artists are said to have copied for their images of Christ.

Bishop of Pamplona at 15, cardinal at 18, then appointed commander of the papal armies, Cesare was exiled to Spain after the death of his father. He took refuge in the court of the King of Navarra, whose sister he had married, and died in a siege in Viana early on 12 March 1507, aged 31.

To mark the 500th anniversary of his death, residents of Viana (population 3,600) want to move his remains to a more spectacular resting place inside the church. Today's sophisticated "cultural tourists" who find their way to this remote-ish town on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela are apparently fascinated by the Borgia connection, but disappointed to find memorabilia limited to just one slab beneath their feet. "They see a historical figure of his stature, buried just anyhow. It makes us look like brutes," says Juan Cruz Labeaga, a parish priest and local historian.

So Viana town hall and Navarra's regional authorities aim to restore Borgia to the public eye with elaborate celebrations to mark his fifth centenary. They plan to establish a "Borgia route" from Viana to the nearby spot where he died in combat with three enemies from rival families. Also planned are commemorative concerts of Renaissance music, Renaissance banquets, exhibitions, conferences, Borgia souvenirs and theatrical re-enactments of his death.

"Cesare Borgia represents an interesting moment in our history, when Navarra was the smallest kingdom of Europe, disputed by the two great powers, Spain and France," Juan Roman Corpas, the region's tourism director, told El Pais. "There is increasing interest in cultural tourism. And Borgia is a fascinating personality, very literary. I'd have liked to meet him."

Spain's Catholic hierarchy is unsurprisingly reluctant to restore to prominence a man whose family symbolises all the perversions of papal power, let alone transfer his remains inside the church.

After his death, Borgia was originally buried in an alabaster tomb in the Santa Maria church, but that was destroyed after the visiting bishop of Calahorra expressed outrage that a sinner should be buried in a holy place, and his remains were banished beneath Viana's main street. The bones were exhumed in 1945 and put in their present resting place near the church's main door, and the plaque installed in 1953.

"This gentleman doesn't bother me," says Cesar Gonzalez, priest at the church and member of Opus Dei. "My task is with the living. The main transfer is from here to eternal life." The archbishop of Pamplona does not object to removing Borgia's remains to "somewhere more dignified," a spokesman said, but "not inside the church because that practice is not permitted nowadays".

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