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Friday, July 1, 2022

Tradition and folklore of Yucatán on full display at Hoctún’s colorful cemetery

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
A couple of Mexican Catrines in Yucatecan traditional dress pose in front of Hoctún’s cemetery gate. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Cemeteries in Yucatán are known for color and tradition as much as they are about death.

Yucatán is full of art and tradition, and by no means are its cemeteries the exception. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

There is perhaps no other cemetery on the Peninsula that better captures this spirit than one found in the small town of Hoctún, roughly 40 miles from Mérida.

Large trees offer shade to visitors to Hoctún’s cemetery and contribute to the beauty of this extraordinary place. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Upon arrival at the cemetery, it’s impossible not to notice the impeccable gardens that surround its perimeter —  “a true labor of love, says groundskeeper Juan Manzanero.

Though individual tombs do exist in the cemetery, most are family mausoleums covering several generations. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Inspecting the names on the cemetery’s tombstones and mausoleums, visitors are likely to notice a very high percentage of Maya surnames. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Aesthetically, Hoctún’s cemetery is a wonderful mix of many of the things that make Yucatán and its relationship with death so interesting.

Replicas of Mayan pyramids and other references to pre-hispanic times adorn several of the cemetery’s resting places. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Walking through the gates, visitors are greeted by a broad walkway flanked with colorful tombs of just about every imaginable color.

Hoctún’s cemetery gates evoke the traditional Maya Corbel arch but topped with a Christian cross in an example of religions and cultural syncretism. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Like in any cemetery, some resting places are quite austere, while others could only be described as outright exuberant.

A particularly large mausoleum towers above Hoctún’s cemetery. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

But aside from the cemetery’s undeniable beauty, those with a keen eye will notice the rich tapestry of folklore, tradition, faith, and even whimsy on display. 

A tomb topped with a rather cute cherub in Hoctún’s municipal cemetery. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Because this is Mexico after all, the Virgin of Guadalupe appears prominently and often. However, in many cases, these representations are full of elements that are not exactly “traditional” but rather a reflection of the tastes and passions of the person being honored. One depiction of the Virgin has her sitting atop a logo for a popular soccer team.

Funerary artwork depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe sitting atop the logo for the Aguilas del America soccer team. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Yet other tombs are much more traditional, featuring rather straightforward religious imagery.

A family tomb adorned with a figure of Christ almost as large as the tomb itself. These types of tombs usually contain open space within to place offerings such as flowers and candles. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Cemeteries in Yucatán are most commonly visited during the anniversary of the passing of loved ones, as well as their birthdays, and of course during the celebration of Day of the Dead — or what they call Hanal Pixán in Yucatán

Tombs in the cemetery are regularly painted, adorned, and visited by family members who often leave flowers, food, and other treats for their loved ones who have passed on. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

It is also common for cemeteries in Yucatán to make reference to a person’s line of work or hobbies. A trovador’s final resting place, for example, was adorned with a guitar.

The guitar of a trovador, immortalized atop his final resting place. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Though the love and care put into the maintenance of this cemetery have made it a bit of a tourist attraction, remember that its primary function is to honor the community’s dearly departed. 

An image of one of the older sections of the cemetery, on a particularly bright day, behind a secondary gate. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The cemetery in Hoctún is open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For reasons which are easy to understand, Hoctún’s cemetery has also become popular for photoshoots and film crews. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

“We are very happy to have people come and visit the cemetery, it is really quite special and extremely important to the community,” says groundskeeper Manzanero. 

When in the cemetery, avoid yelling, running, allowing pets to enter or acting in any way which could be considered distasteful. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
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