Miguel Cervantes is known to us for the literary masterpiece, Don Quixote. The Spanish writer was born in the mid-sixteenth century and from what we are able to reconstruct of his life, it was as interesting and colorful as the characters he wrote about.
Cervantes was one of seven children. His father was a barber-surgeon at a time when it was common for barbers to perform minor surgical procedures in addition to cutting hair. He doesn’t appear to have been very successful in this profession though as the family moved quite often.
Cervantes went to Rome sometime in his early twenties. Many believe that he had to flee Spain after wounding a nobleman in a duel. While in Italy, he joined the Spanish naval forces that were stationed at Naples. He participated in numerous skirmishes, including the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, where he was seriously wounded—two gunshot wounds to his chest and one to his left arm. He recovered from these wounds but his left arm was permanently disabled. Nonetheless, he continued to serve in the navy.
A few years later while sailing to Spain, Cervantes was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. His family did not have the funds to purchase his release so on four different occasions over the next five years he tried to escape. He was unsuccessful each time. His family continued to work for his release and eventually enlisted the aid of some nuns from The Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid. They helped the family to raise the necessary funds that gained Cervantes his freedom.
Cervantes never forgot what the nuns did for him. When he returned to Spain he went to Madrid and prayed in their convent. In 2015, a team of geophysicists, archaeologists and forensic anthropologists completed an excavation of the burial chambers underneath the convent. They found a burial vault with the initials M.C. Imaging of the remains revealed ribs that had been damaged as well as a withered left arm. DNA testing nailed down that this indeed was where the Cervantes was buried.
It had been Cervantes dying wish that his final resting place be among those who had redeemed him. How could it not be? Without their intervention he never would have seen his family again—much less blessed the world with Don Quixote. Still, there’s something touching and tender in the man who by then was recognized as a great writer remembering his debt to the humble sisters and desiring to have his final resting place among them.
Gratitude and loyalty like Cervantes’ is rarer than it should be. Let’s do something about that.