Though Miguel de Cervantes is Spain's most famous writer and his novel Don Quixote has for centuries been one of the world classics, he died before his novel became popular. It is thought he was buried in a tiny convent church the size of a hallway and was penniless and suffering from war injuries when he passed away.

Four centuries later, Spain intends to do the great man justice.

A team that will search for Cervantes's remains began exploratory work Monday. A three-phase search will take place over some approximately 200 square yards at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid's historic Barrio de las Letras - or Literary Quarter.

"We know he is buried there," said Fernando Prado, the historian in charge of the project. "History teaches us that churches never throw bones away."

If the search for Cervantes' remains succeed, the final conclusions will be known by the end of the year.

If the bones are found, the next phase is forensic identification.

The investigation will refer to the author's portraits and his own stories, in which he relates that shortly before dying he only had six teeth. The most obvious marks will be the battle wounds from the Battle of Lepanto, where he was wounded in 1571.

Though Cervantes was referred to as "El Manco de Lepanto," (the one-armed man of Lepanto), he did not have his arm amputated, though he lost use of it.

Should the bones be found, they will be returned to the church.

"He will be re-buried there, but with a plaque to remember his name and who he is," said Prado.

--Reporting by the Associated Press