Monday, June 20, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: San Lázaro Cemetery

San Lázaro Cemetery, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Is it the ultimate irony to name a cemetery after Lazarus? It would seem so to me, but maybe there's a nuance I'm not getting, or maybe Antigueños are an optimistic people.

I probably would have wandered over to the cemetery at some point during my Antigua stay, but what drove me to put it on my must-see list was a provocative conversation with my Spanish teacher.

San Lázaro Cemetery, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

One day, during a lesson, I don't remember how the topic came up, but she casually mentioned formerly-interred bodies being thrown into the garbage dump if the deceased's descendants failed to pay the annual cemetery bill.

Internal squealing of brakes in my head, backing up. "Wha?"

At first I thought she was talking about tossing the cadavers into the city dump, about which I was incredulous, but after some refinement of terms and my understanding of same, I got that there was a garbage area in the cemetery itself. I am deliberately using the word "garbage" - or "trash" if you prefer - because that is the term my teacher used, i.e. "basura." Not that this was any less startling to me.

San Lázaro Cemetery, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

So, really, this is how it works in Guatemala. You've got to pay recurring cemetery fees if you want your deceased loved one to remain in his eternal resting abode. My impression is that at San Lázaro Cemetery, there's a grace period of sorts, where maybe your loved one's body can stay in situ for awhile past the payment-due date, but then it's moved to another "resting area" to give the family more time to find the funds for (newer, but less stately?) digs, but once that period ends, the corpse is chucked into what one person might call a mass grave and what another might call a garbage dump.

Indeed, an article on the Guatemala system here: Evicted From Their Own Graves (2014) - Caution, disturbing photos included. 

San Lázaro Cemetery, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

So I went to the cemetery so I could see this for myself, but in talking to the cemetery workers, who confirmed the practice, I was told visitors weren't allowed to go to that spot because of "safety" concerns.

I did note that at least one crypt, possibly that of a delinquent "renter," is used as a work shed of sorts. If so, perhaps that is a kindness, forestalling eviction.

San Lázaro Cemetery, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

As with all cemeteries, there are the chi-chi neighborhoods and the more humble ones.

Overall, the cemetery is gracious, serene, and beautiful. The public area, that is.

Some other takes on San Lázaro Cemetery: 

Tree-Lined Cemetery Path (2007)
Wall of Graves (2016)
San Lazaro Cemetery (2015)

A slideshow below of San Lázaro Cemetery:

Some other cemeteries I have known are here.

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