The phantom of the Instituto Cervantes

by PANORAMA reporter
The Cloister Building area where the Instituto Cervantes is to be housed used to be a convent. And it is said to be haunted.

One floor of the building now occupied by Blands has been made available to the Spanish Government by the Gaggeros. The Gibraltar government had wanted to provide the Spaniards with a public building but none was available that they liked. The Gaggeros stepped in, and in exchange for no monetary compensation, the Instituto is to become a reality on the Rock - but they will have to spend around ?250,000 in refurbishing the place.

The phantom of Cloister Building is something they will not be able to get rid of.

People who have worked there speak of the ghost of a nun which appears where a garden once was.

Access to the Instituto will be through a doorway which is also the access to M H Bland. As you go in, there is a lift - and behind the lift there is a blocked-up access to a secret underground passageway or tunnel which linked what was once the 'Convento de la Merced' to other convents in the town area.

The Merced convent goes back to the 1500s. It was founded by friar Juan Bernal and was known as the convent of the White Friars.

When the British captured Gibraltar, much of it was destroyed. A plan of 1757 shows that the Merced convent was turned into naval stores and also used as the home of naval officers, including the admiral although he found a safer abode in what became known as the Mount after shelling by the Spaniards during the Great Siege of 1779-83.

The area of what was the Merced convent extends from Cloister Building to the back of the Post Office. At 75 Irish Town, right at the end of what was Panorama's offices until recently, there is another entrance to a tunnel.

Someone told us of a trap door that leads to the catacombs.

Someone who, as a child, used to play in the area tells us that he had seen human skeletons in the underground passageways, including a 'baby skeleton'.

When excavating for Blands in the 1890s human remains were also found there.

To this day, remains of the convent are in that area, such as old columns believed to be made of marble. Some of the columns have engraved inscriptions, of dates for example. These columns are said to have been part of what was known as 'el patio de la Merced' or 'el patio de los Naranjos'.

The Merced convent was linked to other convents by a series of underground passages. It is said that nuns could traverse underground and visit the friars, and vice versa.

Someone who knows about these things has been inside a well-like excavation to the north of The Convent, the Governor's residence, where tunnels meet.

It has not been established how far in any direction such tunnels go, but it is said that there is one of these underground passageways that extends out of The Convent and was meant to be an escape route.

The Governor's residence was a nuns's convent, so it is wondered if through these tunnels they made their way to the La Merced.

There is a love story behind the ghost of a nun that has reputedly been seen in The Convent.

This ghost was talked about some 300 years ago. The apparitions are not exclusive to children, as the wife of a former Governor - Lady Anderson - is on record as having seen this lady in grey disappear into a bedroom that was locked.

More recently Lady Luce's niece saw it. And just a year ago, a Maltese guest described the nun's appearance at a dinner in The Convent.

There were quite a number of convents during Spanish days. The one at Cloister Building now becomes topical because of the impending conversion of a floor there as the Instituto...