Halloween: five historic places that were once cemeteries in Cartagena

Cartagena is a beautiful city, full of great landscapes, colonial houses and a lot of history everywhere. Among these places, the mystery stories stand out. They tell how many places that have been or are tourist attractions in the city once housed the bodies of thousands of people who have died in the most gruesome manner.

We present the five best places that were once cemeteries in Cartagena:

Three cemeteries in one

Before the arrival of the Spaniards in America, the center of Cartagena was inhabited by the Kalamarí Indians. In the 1500s, with the arrival of the Spaniards, the place which is known today as the Caribbean Naval Museum, was a school of the Society of Jesus run by Jesuits.

The college building was built in the Spanish colonial style from 1607 to 1617 and operated as such until 1840 when the cholera pandemic hit Cartagena and the Jesuit College had to be converted into a public hospital to cope. to the health calamity experienced by the city.

San Juan de Dios Hospital was designed to care for the most needy people who suffered from cholera and had no means of seeking treatment. This disease wiped out a third of the city’s population, but the poor who died and had no money to be buried in the common cemetery in the San Diego neighborhood were thrown into the mass grave of the hospital, located in the courtyard of the hospital.

Visitors to the Naval Museum claim to have smelled and seen spirits in the corridors of the colonial building. There are even legends among the workers that mention a skeletal hand coming out of the cobblestones of the courtyard (where the hospital mass grave once stood) and grabbing the ankles of people walking there.

One of the most recent paranormal experiences was relayed by an Ecuadorian couple visiting the hospital in the middle of a heavy downpour. While waiting for the rain to fall to continue their tour of the city, they noticed a ray of light passing through one of the sculptures in the main hall, they took a photo to remember the majestic moment, and looking further, noticed a person in the middle of the model. It was a man with the appearance of a Jesuit monk, with a long black robe and a candle in his hand, standing next to the tower which was struck by the sun. No one else has ever been able to see the mysterious character in any other photo.

Children buried

During the time of the Spanish conquest, between what is now known as the Church of the Third Order and the old movie theaters of the Theater of Cartagena, stood the Convent of San Francisco – a solemn place that for many years had in its yard a cemetery of children and other young Spaniards.

In 1555, it was the King of Spain who authorized the religious orders to formally establish themselves in Cartagena and, moreover, indicated where they could build their cloisters. When Cartagena was 22 years old, construction of the Convent of San Francisco began.

Four hundred and sixty-four years later, in 2019, new work began to convert the land that was once the Convent and later the Theater of Cartagena into a grand hotel.

In the middle of the work, a group of archaeologists discovered around 600 skeletons of children in the old courtyard of the convent.

This discovery was due to a custom of the time, when the bodies of believers were to be buried near the altar so that their souls could “rest in peace”. The Spaniards believed that if they rested inside the temple, the dead would be closer to God on the day of resurrection.

The crypt of the nuns

The former cloister of the Poor Clare Sisters of Cartagena was built in 1621, after the arrival of three Italian sisters in the city to begin convent life. It is said that during the 240 years of operation of the convent, around 280 nuns lived there.

After being abandoned by the Poor Clares, the property became a rat’s nest in the city, since no one took care of its upkeep like the convent did.

Faced with this situation, the place fell under a law known as the “dead hands expropriation law”, which stipulated that these places were not on the market to be acquired by civilians. Eventually, the building passed into the hands of the state, which decided to transform it into a Santa Clara hospital, to serve the city’s poorest patients.

When the expedition was made for the restructuring of the convent into a hospital, they discovered that there was a crypt with the corpses of the deceased nuns inside the convent in the room next to the chapel.

The crypt was where the deceased nuns were buried. The Poor Clares were active and healthy women, so it is said that the corpses must have belonged to elderly women, mostly between 80 and 90 years old.

Currently, the crypt of the Poor Clares is open to the public from 3 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. at the El Coro bar of the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara hotel. At dusk each day, the ritual of candles is celebrated, when the hotel’s butlers dress in monks’ robes and walk the halls lighting all the candles until they reach the crypt, where each night they light an altar in memory of the Poor Claire Sisters who died there.

The body of the defender of slaves

Saint Pedro Claver was a Spanish missionary and priest who arrived in Cartagena in 1610, where he dedicated his life to alleviating the suffering of black slaves who arrived to be sold in the city’s port.

At the time, it was believed that black people had no soul, but Pedro Claver worked until his last day of life to give them a better life outside of the Spanish families who enslaved them. For this reason, he was sanctified and declared a “defender” of slaves in 1985.

Currently, the body of Saint-Pierre Claver is located in the main altar of the Church of Saint-Pierre Claver in Cartagena. It is an open space where all visitors can observe the remains of the Defender of Slaves.

A college with corpses

The former Colegio de la Presentación was one of the best Catholic schools in the city of Cartagena which had to close in 2014 due to a major financial crisis.

The school house, located in the fortified center, is a museum where the courses of the Universidad Autónoma de Nariño are now held.

Like many other Catholic schools, the college is said to be a cemetery as well, and throughout its history nuns have been buried in the house where they lived closer to God.

In the large house, which in colonial times was the residence of the viceroy, is also the Pozo de Noria, from which pure water still flows, and according to several local workers, the well served as a tunnel of wartime evacuation and leads directly to the island of Tierra Bomba.


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Patrick F. Williams

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