Death Above and Below: The Framis and Juncosa Tombs

April 9, 2016 — “Where ya headed?” asked the driver as Lindsey and I dove into the back seat of the cab, except that he said it in Spanish—or possibly Catalan—because we were in Barcelona.

“La Cemeteria de Montjuic.” I said proudly. I’d been practicing.

“Cementiri,” he corrected. He switched to English for obvious reasons. “Do you have family there?”

“No. We’re tourists.” I didn’t know how culturally acceptable it was to admit that I wanted to ogle the dead people of his city. It’s barely culturally acceptable in the States.

“Ah, it’s a beautiful cemetery. Very much worth seeing.”

“Awesome,” I said.

“My family is all buried there.”

“Oh, that’s great.” I said.

“Eh, not really,” He then dragged his thumb across his neck and made that extended K sound with his mouth that for some reason universally means dead.


He offered to drive us around the cemetery, but we declined. Five minutes after he dropped us at its south entrance, we regretted it. The entire cemetery clings to the sides of a tall hill, its Montjuic namesake, and our legs and feet had already been beaten pulpy from miles of wandering the city for the past week.

Montjuic opened in 1883 and since that time has amassed the remains of more than a million Barcelonans sorted into 150,000 plots planted in a hill with a great view of the city and harbor—minus six feet of dirt or a stone mausoleum door.

At least, I think it’s a great view. We didn’t make it to the top, but we didn’t really need to. We were there for two specific graves, both of which, it turned out, were located at the base of the hill. Neither one has a story behind it, but, man, does each have something fantastic atop it.

The first was a few plots down the road from the south entrance. There, reposing on the 1888 tomb of one Dr. Farreras Framis, was a full-sized shrouded skeleton, as if projected there by the human remains beneath it.

[Now I want to do a funeral art installation where the grave statue gets swapped out every so often to one that matches the chronologically decaying condition of the interred. Eventually it would be a sculpture of just dust and bone-bits. I hope I die rich enough to afford 25 grave statues. This was a giant aside. I’m putting it in brackets.]

Everything I know about this grave I pulled from the grave itself. The name of the deceased, his title, the sculptor (Rossend Nobas), and below it all, the phrase, “Catedratico de Anatomia”—professor of anatomy. That means the sculpture is both a memento mori and a memento vitae for Framis. The real impressive thing about this grave, though, is that the doctor resisted the temptation to epitaph it with, “My grave is way cooler than yours.”

And maybe that’s solely because of one of his neighbors up the hill, even though that neighbor moved in about a quarter of a century later. To find that one, we went to the cemetery chapel at the north entrance. On its exterior was a map that illustrated the cemetery’s three self-guided tours that you can follow using the color-coded signs staked throughout the paths: an art tour, a history tour, and a combo of both. This next grave was on both the art and combo tour, and was just a few sections away.

So we headed off, rounded a bend, and there he was. Or, rather, there they were.

An upright skeletal shrouded form loomed behind a seated Grover Cleveland. It rested its bony hand on his shoulder, and the ends of its shroud had started to envelope the former U.S. President like the shroud itself was alive...and hungry.

All right. Not Grover Cleveland. Nicolau Juncosa. You wear a big mustache, throw on a few pounds, you start looking like a lot of people. There’s really not much to say about this one except, “Wow.” Then you say it again, but backwards. The sculptor is Antoni Pujol, and had he lived a century later would have been doing special effects for monster movies. Probably would have done wonders for the Poltergeist remake.

After that we kind of wended around. I mean, it’s hard not to. Once our tunnel vision for the two graves widened to the cemetery overall, we just kept seeing cool statues and mausoleums piled atop cool statues and mausoleums. I’ll follow this post up soon with another one on the cemetery itself [UPDATE: Here it is], but basically we'd see an amazing sculpture or edifice in the near-distance, go to it, then see another in the near-distance, and go to that one, then see another one, and so on. Had we not been too tired to ascend the hill, we would probably have gotten sucked deeper into the cemetery until we were lost forever, eternally meandering from cool thing to cool thing until we were completely given up for dead.

In which case I would hope to get funerary art atop my corpse as cool as Dr. Framis or Mr. Juncosa.