Topic: Religious Art
The late 1800 century, and the welcoming of the new century were reflected upon the society world of Argentina and more specifically Buenos Aires. Recoleta had turned into the epicenter of culture and wealth, and the cemetery had grown to become a sign of top notch eternal rest.
Recoleta Cemetery Argentina
If we could trace a comparison with some other world wide cemetery at the time -and even to our days- where the superb architecture and art expressions create a one of a kind environment as it becomes eternal home for our beloved ones to rest in peace, the first one that comes to my mind is that of New Orleans. Sharing a similar burial style, decoration and style, these cemeteries’ history and evolution are far from being identical. One key factor in any burial style related analysis is tied to the cultural aspect of the people’s relationship with death and the social treatment addressed to this matter. In this line of argumentation, it’s important to highlight the particular bond Latinos have with death  and the aftermath.
Latin love in the sense of the passion and social expression can easily be discovered in these people’s relation with death in a sort of fetishism.
Whilst the New Orleans cemetery trace and style is a practical, yet aesthetic and socially sophisticated, it’s response to a specific problem within the area’s characteristics and soils; the Recoleta Cemetery’s luxury, vaults and niches represent, on the other hand, an intrinsically social way of dealing with death by the upper classes. The fact that Buenos Aires exhibits an above ground burial system is linked to social status and standards, not sanitation elements as it does happen in New Orleans. Indeed it was a special way to deal with death in both cases, but with different roots; while ones were trying to find the best way in order for the dead to finally rest in peace and not to be disturbed by social catastrophes, the other is the response to a cultural need of setting themselves apart from the society as a whole, exhibiting their exceptionality in life all the way up to eternity. Wealth and society ties were sumptuously expressed in each of the family’s parcels, their style and architecture, while at the same time these aesthetic and cultural inputs are the frame for a special relation with the aftermath. The cemetery and more specifically the family parcel and construction behave as an ode to the living family through means of the deceased; it’s a double tribute in essence.
However, not even in social paradise is everything rose-like perfect. History does not evolve in one sense, power and wealth are not static… and behind those monuments and tributes are hundreds of untold stories of raising and fallen idols, mysteries and scandals.
It’s of public domain, that at this point there’s no further space within the cemetery for new constructions; and while some of the traditional families still maintain their parcels and vaults, some others who have fallen into disgrace, found themselves in the position of not being able to conserve their privileged gate to eternity. Indeed this is not a rare thing to happen, however, the way it’s resolved is quite interesting.
Some families rent their vaults and “mausoleums” per the day and the hour, for those who, in a delicate financial, are unable to sustain the luxury forever… Someone once said: The show must go on… and it looks like this is what former upscale families do for the burring ceremony, once over, the deceased is relocated in another graveyard more accordingly to their current status.
All and all, apart from the way this social sector deals with its own history, the cemetery’s history and stories exceed the aftermath world. This cemetery featuring just 4 blocks beholds over 6,000 sepultures… More than 70 of its vaults were declared National Historical Monument and the cemetery itself was declared such in 1946 due to the illustrious individuals resting there, as well as its outstanding architecture and sculpture quality.
The fact that this is a public and historical monument has opened a social world exceeding that of the relatives, and a public appropriation of the social space. The cemetery is daily visited by hundreds of illustrious anonymous individuals (for each and every person is important and marvelous) from world wide tourists with their digital cameras, to urban gothic tribes and “darkies”, to artists of all kinds as well as curious individuals.
There are some who find this place so deeply interesting and appealing, that recently the city of Buenos Aires organized a literary night tour and cultural session within the cemetery’s boundaries. The event did not pass unnoticed… eyebrows –and much more- were raised upon such an event taking place in such a location… The organizers replied that avant-garde cultural movements are usually discredited in their time. I can come with a parallel, once again with the New Orleans cemetery: location to the fabulous film Easy Rider, this holly place beheld one of the 5th art modern breakthroughs when they showed for the first time people getting high in a film…
The debate is open, it has been for a long time now, and there are no certain answers to the social role these sorts of fascinating cultural monuments play in society. The only thing we’re sure is that it hasn’t gone unnoticed… Thanks god.
For a detailed work on this matter check St. Death, article written by Bob Frassinetti. Press here to read more as well as information on our tours:The cult to Saint Death in the northeast area of the Argentine Republic and southern Paraguay is a reality. This is obviously a pagan cult, for there’s no such thing as Saint Death within the Catholic Santeria. This specific cult –as many other religious re signification processes- emerged after the Jesuit companies were expelled from the northeast region of Argentina and southeast region of Paraguay in 1767. St Death, St Ceoneo and the Lord of the column were invented by the aborigines of the area after the Jesuit exile. .
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Kaiser Funeral Car made in Argentina.
Bob Frassinetti. Copyright 2005. Roberto Dario Frassinetti. Argentina.