It is difficult someone who knows by heart every inch of this city can still be surprised. I have to admit this discovery was really out of my expectations. I read about a crypt that is still standing underneath one of the least known churches of Malaga, San Lázaro. But, as I didn’t get too much information about it, I thought nothing really important was waiting for me there. Wrong! It came out to be one of my favourites hidden places of Malaga!
The church of Saint Lazarus, as it would be said in English, is far enough from the bustling city centre, so I don’t often walk around there. But in fact, it is not so far. I was just walking to another artistic gem of Malaga’s treasures, the church of Victoria. Not far from it, I saw this little church (actually, it is a parish) and I remembered at that moment I had read something about a crypt. As I had enough time to enter, I decided to go inside.
The place is quite small. It is just one space, with a virgin dressed in white at the altar. I didn’t see any place where to descend to any crypt, so I thought I may had read wrong and was about another church. Nobody was there, except for a woman who was washing the floor. I didn’t expect she had any information, but I just went to her and asked: “Do you know if there is any crypt in this church? Could I visit it?”
To my surprise, she responded: “In fact, there IS a crypt here, but for visiting, I don’t know. Go and talk with Julio, he’s just there” She pointed to a place out of one side door of the church. I realized then that the church had an annex with offices and other rooms. I had a doubt about going and disturb someone who was doing his chores. But I had no choice. The woman looked at me and said “Go, go”, waving her hand.
I didn’t have anything to lose. I met Julio and I repeated my question. “Yes, you can visit the crypt, but I am very busy now, you can come any other time and I will show it to you”, he answered. Good! We arranged to meet the next day.
The day came, and the visit was a whole experience. Beginning with the stairs to the crypt, they were just located at my feet, at the entrance of the church. There was a glass floor that, when he turned on the light, the set of stairs appeared clearly. He opened some railings underneath a big flowerpot. We started to descend and reached the space beneath the church.
It was simply amazing! It was just one small space, as the church above. We had a top window so it wasn’t completely dark. Julio turned on the light and the paintings on the vaulted ceiling came to life. Then Julio started talking to me about the story of the crypt. The whole church and the crypt date back to the 15th century. This church was the chapel of the Hospital of San Lazaro, funded by the Catholic Kings in 1491. As this place was far away from the city centre, they could have here a hospital about infectious diseases, ruled by monks. In fact, some of them died of leprosy and were buried in this crypt.
Rows of niches fill the walls in this space, but they are all empty except a big one, where a plate says. “Here the remains of the 32 leper brothers lay buried inside this crypt from the middle of the 18th century. These corpses were profaned by mobs on the 11 and 12 of May, 1931, during the 2nd republic. A prayer for their souls “. Julio explained to me they desecrated these niches mainly because there was a legend that patients who died with leprosy were buried with a silver plaque on top of their chest, so their disease would not spread. No silver was found in the end, so they put everything left in the shared niche with the commemorative plate.
Apart from its stories, the iconography of the ceiling talks on its own. Several figures talk about death, and how ephemeral life is. There is a Kronos, with the time in his hands represented by an hourglass. He is surrounded by figures representing the death. Two of them are skeletons and the other two, grim reapers. The crypt was restored 20 years ago, but damp is still a problem and Julio assumed some frescoes are disappearing. This really saddens us. We don’t really want to lose that added value of this unique space.
We want to thank Julio for showing us this treasure so I can share it with all of you. Hopefully people who are in charge of it get conscious of its problem and get it solved.
If you would love to visit this place, Voila Malaga can arrange a visit for you, as well as other hidden places in Malaga. Please contact us or you can also visit our web where you can check what other experiences we have.