Isla Mujeres Cemetery
emeteries in Mexico range from the grand to the humble. Isla Mujere's unnamed cemetery, located on Avenida Lopez Mateos, is on the grand scale. We had visited many cemeteries in New Orleans with their magnificent monuments to their dead and beautifully carved statues, so we were interested in how the Mexicans honor their dead. We were not disappointed...lavish crypts abound; many of the crosses were handmade by families of the loved ones.
ll Hispanics visit the dead and tend to their gravesite as an act of love. Hispanics, for the most part, believe that their loved ones bodies have died but their spirits live on in the spirit world. They pray to them, talk to them and turn to them for guidance and support knowing they are always there watching and caring for them as they did for them when they were living. The burial in many Hispanic Cultures is the beginning of a new phase in life and the beginning of a new phase of freedom and strength in which they can help those who are still alive.
A little chapel is located in the cemetery for quiet reflection and prayer.
ost of the tombstones are covered with carved angels and flowers; the most elaborate and beautiful mark the graves of children.
olorful graves are built up with white-washed cement, or covered by patterned tiles. Many are decorated with hand-painted scenes and borders.
he graves frequently have a little grotto in the headstone where candles, incense, statues or photographs are placed.
ecorated tiles are also popular. Some are hand-painted.
esides the graves and crypts, we saw a number of angels and cherubs that seem unique to Mexico.
he cemetery even has some unusual visitors. Do you think this kitty misses his master?
A Pirate's Story
sla Mujeres became a refuge for pirates and a place where they kept their women while they went out plundering and a-buccaneering. Famous pirates such as Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte might have walked the beaches of Isla and may even have buried treasures here. Hidden among the graves in the cemetery is the tomb of the notorious Fermin Mundaca. Fermin Ananio Mundaca, often billed more glamorously as a pirate, was actually a 19th century slave trader who fancied himself a pirate. His was not a story of tall ships and treasures, but a tragedy of impossible love. Mundaca arrived on Isla Mujeres in the late 1850s and fell desperately in love with a green-eyed local beauty. In hopes to seduce her with his wealth, he set out to build a grand hacienda. He called it "La Vista Allegre" (the happy view) and named its gates and various gardens of exotic and imported flowers after his love, "La Triguena" (the brunette). At its peak, the hacienda covered forty percent of the island, but today only a few ruins and gardens are left. Sadly, for all his wealth, Mundaca could not win the brunette’s heart. She married another and he slowly went insane. He died alone in Mérida, on the main land, and was buried there. The tomb with the skull-and-crossbones gravestone he carved with his own hands lies empty in the Isla Mujeres cemetery. An inscription on it, meant for his love, reads, "As you are, I was. As I am, you will be".
he Mexicans also have a holiday that is similar to Halloween and it is called the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. Day of the Dead is a holiday that many people enjoy and value annually. The Day of the Dead is actually two days, not one. Noon October 31 to noon November 1 is the day devoted to the children who have departed. Noon of November 1 to noon November 2 is for deceased adults. Although this ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic Aztec principles, such as the use of skulls. Day of the Dead is celebrated like Halloween, and the people welcome the dead with open arms, for this is the holiday in which spirits can pay a visit to home. To prepare for this visit, many households start off by setting up an altar and decorating it with flowers, candy, food, drink and more. Naturally, when the spirit visits, it has to wash up before it eats, so a hand basin and wash towel is included. While Mexicans grieve for their dead loved ones, they also celebrate their memory. And a certain joy is associated with death--those who have passed on are in a better place, free of the problems of this life.
Paintings: Copyright Patrick Murillo
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