Spain pays homage to José Rizal

Spain pays homage to José Rizal

On 6 February 2023, the director of the Madrid-based Instituto Cervantes, Luis García Moreno, opened the armoured gate to the vault of the „Caja de las letras“ (Literature Bank) to deposit José Rizal’s literary legacy as Legado in memoriam in safe deposit box no. 1690. Among the few guests and speakers present during this act of state were the Philippine Ambassador and the Ambassador of Spain to the Philippines.

After well-placed words of praise and remembrance, various editions of the novels Noli me tángere (Berlin 1887) and El Filibusterismo (Ghent 1891), labelled in the Aviso as „grande novelas“, as well as other writings by the Filipino author were packed into the metal box of the literature bank and carefully sealed.

The „Caja de las letras“ was founded after the Instituto Cervantes moved into the former building of the National Central Bank in 2007. The converted safe deposit boxes of the vault in the basement are intended to preserve the works of those who have contributed and will contribute to Spain’s cultural heritage like a tangible and accessible memory magazine; in the official language of the institute: „literary, artistic and scientific legacies (legados) of Spanish-speaking culture“. It is to be hoped that the lockers will not be misunderstood as columbaria, but that each ritual of consignment will act as an invitation to bring the work canonised in such a way to the attention of laypeople and experts alike.  

Incorporating Rizal’s literary work into the Spanish literary heritage is since long an overdue step. 127 years after the lawless execution of the Filipino intellectual by the Spanish crown, this act from the year 2023 seems like a belated act of reparation. The decision of the institute’s management to select a safe deposit box for Rizal’s legacy, which is directly adjacent to that of the Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, also speaks in favour of this. Unamuno was three years younger than his Filipino ’neighbour‘, but outlived him for 40 years. The Filipino and the Basque both studied at the Central University of Madrid at the same time, sometimes attending the same lectures.

Unamuno knew Rizal’s writings. He contributed a particularly perceptive characterisation of the Filipino as a postscript to the biography of Rizal by the Spanish Filipinoist Wenceslao Retana, published in 1907. He wrote about the novels in the epilogue: „Like Plato, he poured his ideas into dialogues. His novels are nothing more than sociological, sometimes philosophical dialogues. He needed more than one character to show his intellectual versatility.“ A judgement that gives a lot of food for further meditations.

Dietrich Harth, January 24, 2024