As explained by Sompopo, the Spanish term nicho (niche) translates into English as above ground crypts. Criptas (crypts) are reserved in Spanish for underground burial places or vaults. Above ground vaults are nichos (I think, don’t trust me on this one since I am no expert). Nichos are normally bought by people who can afford them, but are not wealthy or belong to a wealthy family otherwise they would have a mausoleum. The people who can not afford a nicho bury their dead in a normal crypt (underground).
Sompopo and Ale pointed out a couple things about the recent photos: (1) Are all the crypts above ground and (2) why are all the mausoleums white wash? Without any research just yet, I began thinking about the reasons while taking into accounts what Sompopo said about New Orleans cemetery and the water table. I reasoned that since the San Lázaro cemetery is the west end part of La Antigua Guatemala and since the city has a slight inclination that goes from east to west and the river and rainfall flows west, just maybe, the cemetery became inundated; thus most of the burial chambers are above ground, including the nichos. The white color of all the above ground crypts and mausoleums, I don’t know yet, but it may be related. I promise I will have an answer for you before the cemetery series is over.
Guatemala’s real culture is syncretism and thus death plays an important role in traditions and culture. Guatemala is the real ‘melting pot’ and the final product is called mestizo. A mestizo is an individual that comes in many shades of brown and she is made up from a combination of AmerIndian, European, African, Asian and Arab. Syncretism and mestizism go together well and that is why there is no conflict with including some or many Mayan rituals, including death rituals, in a everyday Catholic or Christian service. Obviously, a single entry is not enough to describe such a complex human being, but we have to start somewhere and since Patsy Poor mentioned that recent studies showed that the U.S. will be brown (mestizo) in 50 years. 😉
The mausoleums shown thus far, which to me seem very stately and for the wealthy, are not by any means the biggest of more opulent mausoleums. Actually, Guatemala has the largest mausoleum known to humankind; it is called El Mirador. Around El Petén, where the pyramids of El Mirador are located, there are over dozen Mayan cities with huge mausoleums known as Mayan pyramids or ruins nowadays; Tikal being the most widely known of the bunch. A real wonder of the world!
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