Ashes of donors to be housed in Basque university memorial

May 26, 2000

A Spanish anatomy professor has won a ten-year campaign for a memorial to the people who donated their bodies for the teaching of medicine in the Basque country.

The University of the Basque country has agreed to spend E150,250 (Pounds 90,000) on the project, the first of its kind in Spain. Francisco Do$ate came to the public's attention 18 months ago, when it emerged that he was sharing his departmental office with about 40 funeral urns, containing the ashes of people who had donated their bodies to aid the teaching of medicine at the university. The number of urns has since increased to 52. While many relatives claimed the ashes, others wished them to stay at the university. Many just wanted a place they could visit to pay their respects.

Professor Donate believes the media attention he received helped persuade university management to authorise the project and earmark the money to pay for it. "I was very surprised because I was asking for a much less substantial sum to do something small," he said.

The winning project was selected from proposals by 42 artists and architects. The design by architects Zade Vila Asociados of Barcelona consists of a forest of 20 tree trunks built of steel, of different shapes and sizes, many more than 20m high. The trunks will be hollow so the urns can be deposited inside and peoples' names will be inscribed on the outside. Seen from above, the arrangement of the trunks represents a pair of hands.

Work will begin three months after the location has been decided. Professor Donate is pleased that what began as a simple memorial has turned into an original piece of art. "It is a fitting tribute from the university to those people who have donated their bodies for the teaching of medicine and scientific progress," he said.

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