This niche and the surrounding walls was basically the only color I found at the San Lázaro Cemetery. This piece was between two sets of above-ground crypts; the set on the right was empty and the set on the left was not vacant.
Perhaps it is not too late to introduce some of the wonderful Antigüeño color palette into the La Antigua Guatemala’s main public cemetery.
JM Magaña, La Antigua Guatemala’s second conservator and the pen behind the architecture column in Recrearte Magazine, pointed out that until 1976 La Antigua Guatemala was painted all white too. At the time the cemetery was created in the 1800s, there were a couple waves of plagues and thus every thing was white-washed with live limestone to disinfect and maintain the town virus free. This coincided with the introduction of coffee in 1875 (more or less) and thus an abundance of wealth which provided the necessary fund to build all those mausoleums. There was a massive earthquake that hit Guatemala in 1976 and destroyed a great deal of buildings and houses in Guatemala. In fact, it is said that the 1976 earthquake changed forever the look and feel of Guatemala. La Antigua Guatemala was not saved and thus reconstruction began after the quake and with it, the color lime-stone paint came. This change in color did not reach the cemetery.
When I decided to enter the cemetery of San Lázaro I was expecting a very chaotic cemetery full of the antigüeño color palette with many crypts and above grounds burial chambers and perhaps some mausoleums. Surprise, surprise! The only color was provided by the many flower arrangements, there were mostly mausoleums, some nichos (above grounds crypts) and just a few crypts.
The only underground crypts that I saw in the San Lázaro Cemetery in La Antigua Guatemala are in this green lot, located all the way in the rear of the cemetery. These crypts are in the west end of the cemetery and thus protected, somehow, from floods by the many mausoleums in the front of the cemetery. Wealth could also be factor. This lot represents a very small percentage of the size of the cemetery, so I believe, this section is allocated for the very poor. Once again, the white color is present in las tumbas (tombs) and it is very rare for a Latin American cemetery to only be painted in white. The mystery continues…
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. 😉
No, I don’t think you were thinking about this niche market. Although these kind of niches are the origin for the concept of niche market. Well, the play on words may not work completely in English as it does in Spanish. Nicho is the Spanish term for niche and it applies to the market place, to an architectural recess, a niche can be applied to a hollow, crack, crevice, or foothold, and from there to hollow structured pictured above to receive the dead.
The San Lázaro Cemetery is characterized by its many white mausoleums and tree-lined pathways. I have visited and photographed several cemeteries in Guatemala and México and this is the first time I see such clean and organized cemetery. It almost doesn’t feel like a Latin American cemetery until you begin to see the Antigüeño last names on the family mausoleums. Perhaps, this is the cemetery for the wealthy families of La Antigua Guatemala.
This photograph marks the beginning of the San Lázaro Cemetery series. I know Friday is a weird day to start a series, but since most people visit the cemetery on the weekends, I guess it’s okay. I have to warn you about the series though. This cemetery is not exceptional and quite frankly a little boring since it is mostly white. So, don’t expect any extraordinary or exotic shots.