What it’s like to work in Europe’s largest cemetery: “The difference with other jobs is that you have a lot of emotional charge”

Special | in Almudena, Madrid

Laura Sanchez was until recently a crematory operator. She is now in charge of the cemetery, the first woman to hold this responsibility. Miguel Valero has been the Undertaker for over 30 years, starting when he was 18.


laura And Miguel no one else works on the site 120 hectares in the heart of the capital, Place introduced by Alfonso XII in 1884 to prevent a cholera epidemic in Madrid (killed 1,300 people in 130 days). He Almudena Cemetery the cemetery is Largest active in Western Europe, It was completed in 1925 and expanded in 1955 and 1970. In 1973 the first crematorium in our country was built inside (now there are 537, a European record).

Count how many people are buried in La Almudena is complex, so numbers have a limit three and five lakh, more than the current residents of the city of Madrid. many of them famous characters like Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Benito Perez Guilds, Mara Miller, Enrique Tierno Galvan, lola flores or the inventor of the gyroplane, juan de la cerva,

loyal surprise20 years of age, and pedro regalado, 14 months old, were the ones who inaugurated the cemetery and, as I remember, their graves are in this cemetery forever (they say that Alfonso XII paid for them). The rest, no matter how important the character resting there, is subject to grant. At the end of the term, the families will have to pay the fees. Otherwise the dead bodies will be taken out.

laura sanchez lane worked for 13 years crematorium of La Almudena. She is now in charge of the cemetery, the first woman to hold this responsibility. Michael Valero ‘Thirty-odd’ years ago started starter (used the name cemetery officer) while still in high school: “I couldn’t even pick up a shovel, so I learned the trade from scratch.”

Although in this kind of place it may seem that nothing changes, for either of them things are very different from what they were on the first day of work. Today’s the funeral is coming more in spain fifty% Against burial, whether in a grave or a niche. They are already the majority option in the big cities. as a curiosity, Spain is the European country with the most ovens (537) And, yet, this is not where most cremations take place: over 70% of the dead are cremated in the United Kingdom.

“I get shocked when people applaud”

Laura comes from a funeral family. His grandfather, whom he has never met, was a cemetery official, his grandmother an office cleaner, his father started as an undertaker 35 years ago, and his sister works in the commercial department.

“It’s normal for us to work in a cemetery. You start at a time that suits you, you put on your uniform and go to work. The only difference is that You work with a lot of emotional load, people bring feelings on the surfaceThere are sad moments, there are tense moments…”, he explains in a room prepared at the crematorium for delivery to the families of their loved ones’ ashes.

She turns the page at daybreak, but there’s still something Effect Like the day before: “when people clap, I don’t know why, but I get goosebumps,” he says.

They explain that although they are always there to comfort those mourning their loved ones, they need to learn to manage their emotions: “You try shake you that energy and forget what happened, Don’t take her with us.”

special – what should be done before death

Miguel, with whom we chatted a few meters away at the cemetery, which is well marked worst moments of the pandemic, when only one family member or at most two could participate in the burial. On many occasions, none, as the quarantine period had to be respected.

“It was exhausting. You went in the morning and it was all empty, the hearing came, you asked and there was no family,” he recalls of the sad moments when he couldn’t stop working. Relatives who could visit supported her emotionally: “They wept for us and told us about the life of the deceased”,

“Everything is unknown about the undertakers”

“I think everything about funeral homes is unknown,” Laura says confidently. “There is a process of Coordination in which many people interfere, from the time someone dies until the time they are buried or cremated. we are very close and Half an hour after the notice of death, everything is already contracted, We have to move very quickly,” he explains of the device, measured in millimeters.

“We try to make the family feel as good as possible and they see that we are meeting all of their needs,” he continues. Miguel explains the same, how they try not to disturb the family in such sad moments: “We always ask permission, whether it’s to move the casket or take out the flowers. The family is very attentive to what we do. keep.”


At least two assistants work at the cremation ground. The body is always in the coffin when it is placed in the oven, a question that is rare on the day it is not asked. Due to environmental regulations the box cannot contain metal elements or varnish. It depends on the weight of the deceased and the temperature it takes. between two and three hours in which only bones remainwhich later they grind, ground bones they are the ashes that are distributed To relatives

The usual doubt is whether they are in fact that person’s ashes: “In the oven it is differentiated with a paper with the name of the deceased accompanying it at all stages. it’s almost impossible to go wrong“. One curiosity is that all heavy metals, prostheses and pacemakers must be discarded. In La Almudena’s case, they are given to a recycling company and the profits donated to palliative care and bereavement associations.

The duties of cemetery technicians also include Excavation, per day for conditions that have concessions to graves. For this reason, Miguel, in addition to La Almudena, also serves in the South Cemetery in Madrid, which is managed by the same municipal company Servicios Funerarios de Madrid. With excavations, there is another doubt that does not fail: “It always arises: How do they get out? And me, who is taking out dead bodies every day, I don’t know until we open the casket, We can find them either way, depending on the box it’s in, the burying unit, or how damp it is. Everyone comes out differently.”

Route through Almudena Cemetery

If you’re interested in getting to know the La Almudena Cemetery, the municipal company that manages the cemetery (Servicios Funerarios de Madrid, SFM) has recently organized a program of guided tours.

Through various routes, it will be possible to see everything from spectacular people to film sets or statues and funerary architecture, as well as the cemetery at night, throughout the year.

each trip will have one 30 people capacity (there will be a waiting list) and cost 3 euro (1.5 for low ticket). They can be pre-purchased on the platform,

, general visit (Duration: 2.5 hours)

, Fantastic Four I and II (Duration: 1.15 each)

, architecture and art (Duration: 1.15 hours)

, fabulous women (Duration: 1.15 hours)

, a movie graveyard (Duration: 1.15 hours)

– Not a datetime visit in July and August but a theatrical night (Duration: 2.30 hours).

according to the criteria of

trust project

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