I first visited the Cathedral in Lima, Peru, in 1979, and saw the mummy of Francisco Pizarro. The mummy had been placed there back in 1891, when Peruvian officials, wanting to prominently display the “Founder of Lima,” had the body moved from the chapel in which it had lain for the previous 350 years.
But was this really Pizarro? Just prior to my visit, workers cleaning
a crypt beneath the altar found two wooden boxes, one containing the
bones of five people—one missing a head! The other box held a lead
casket on which was inscribed in Spanish, “Here is the skull of
the Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro, who discovered and won Peru and placed
it under the crown of Castile.”
Francisco Pizarro died a violent death. On June 16,1541, while he was
having dinner in his governor's palace, a group of men, led by the son
of his ex-partner, Diego de Almagro, broke in and stabbed him to death.
As he lay dying from multiple sword wounds, he drew a cross on the ground
in his own blood, kissing it, and crying “Jesus.”
Pizarro had lived a cruel but exciting life. Born in poverty and illiterate
all of his life, he had nevertheless sailed with several expeditions
to the Americas, including Balboa's journey to the Pacific. After settling
in Panama, he formed a partnership with Almagro, a soldier, and Hernando
de Luque, a priest, to explore the territory south of Panama. They discovered
the Inca Empire and Pizarro sailed to Spain to enlist the support of
Emperor Charles V, from whom he received the charter to conquer and rule
Peru. The mummy of Francisco Pizarro, on display for almost a century
in the Lima, Peru Cathedral, was discovered to be an imposter.
After the bloody conquest of the Incas, where 2000 Indians were slaughtered
and Emperor Atahuallpa strangled, Pizarro alienated his partner, Almagro.
This eventually led to armed conflict between the former partners, and
Pizarro's brother, Hernando, having Almagro garroted.
The skull in the lead box matched the headless skeleton and, when reunited,
turned out to be a man approximately the right age and height for Pizarro
at the time of his death. Additionally, the skeleton showed that the
man had been murdered by multiple sword thrusts, unlike the mummy which,
upon reexamination, showed no wounds, leading Peruvian and American scientists
to conclude that the skeleton was indeed that of Pizarro. It is now believed
that the mummy who had sat in for Pizarro for so many years, was a church
official. He is now retired, and the “real” Pizarro’s
bones have taken his place on display.
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