Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aguada Day Trip - Cemetery and Church

Every where you go in Puerto Rico there are churches. Churches and cemeteries. In the states I never had an interest in visiting either but here in Puerto Rico there is quite a bit of history and there are some really neat buildings and old, interesting cemeteries. Every town plaza has at least one church and I am on a mission to visit at least nearby ones. There are churches scattered every mile or so it seems, embedded in neighborhoods, under tents in fields, etc etc. It is the ones in old buildings I am interested in. Cemeteries it seems are everywhere also. This last week I went with a friend to the town she grew up in - Aguada. We headed to the town plaza near where her grandparents lived to take a look at the church. This is Iglesia San Francisco de Asis. It was built between 1924 and 1936 and was repaired after a more recent earthquake. The two towers are over 100 feet tall. We met outside and waited a bit before entering since there was a funeral in progress. Cars and people were lined up outside. When it seemed appropriate we went in and looked at both old and new stained glass. I always like looking at the creepy statues and figurines on pedestals or enclosed in glass boxes. This wooden pope was donated to the church by a local artist, Creepy.
After wandering inside for a while it appeared that much was new in this church. I am more interested in the older intact churches. We went outside and at that time music/shouting started coming out of the gigantic speakers welded to a special funeral truck. Behind that was a car covered in beautiful flower wreaths. I have seen the same thing (speakers and wreath covered cars) in the middle of highway 2 blocking traffic before. Definitely something you do not see in the states. Behind the wreath-covered car was the casket vehicle and behind that a bunch of mourners walking along following the vehicles with music blasting. Diana had gone to this church as a young girl and said females had to sit on a separate side from the men. She isn't old. We finished looking at the church and headed off to the cemetery. I had driven by this cemetery many times on my way to the vet. It seemed like a newer cemetery but I wanted to check it out.
One thing I find interesting is how many bodies there are, how packed in they are (with no apparent organization) and how elaborate the markers are. I am fascinated by how many bodies they actually put in one cement housing. In Aguadilla they had what looked like plant markers stuck in pots with as many as a dozen names on them.  There are different things people do to personalize things and there seem to be different styles depending on how recent the deaths are. I had not seen photographs taped onto them before. You can see how faded the photos are. In the older section a lot of headstones didn't even have names on them and many were overgrown and the soil around them was eroded. Then in the middle of old stuff there would be something modern. A lot of graves used bathroom tiles as a way to decorate. Some of them used marble and many were just cement. Some had rajas cages around them I guess to secure the space. There were so many markers you could not walk between them - you needed to walk on top of them which just seems wrong.

Gaudy colors of fake flowers were every where and lots of little figurines and other adornments. There are the "plant markers" I was talking about. On one of them we have a funeral parlor advertising (kind of odd if you ask me). As I was wandering the group from the church drove/walked up. Of course loud preaching and music blasted out from the car speakers. I don't know what they do in the states but I am pretty sure the only places I will see people standing on the body are here and in the movies. After the loud preaching stopped the people stepped away and disappeared. It was interesting that everyone was just wearing T-shirts and flip flops and sleeveless low-cut spandex. 

I have seen these ceramic portraits at a couple other cemeteries. This cemetery has a lot of bodies in it. There is an older section with mainly cement markers, then there are a lot of tiled-in boxes and up on the hill raised cement or marble ones that are more elaborate. There are also many, many simple crosses stuck at odd angles in the dirt...dirt that has deep gullies in it from erosion and who-knows-where the bodies have gone.
A more recent kind of marker I've seen are faces etched in marble like these. I am kind of interested especially in markers that have faces of people- ceramic, marble, photographs or cement busts. There seems to be a modern trend where people think it is important that they get credit for putting the marker there (they make sure their name is on there bigger than the deceased). There are some markers with funny anecdotes that I am not sure I am catching the full meaning of. There are also lots and lots of creepy figurines, stuffed animals, cement animals, rooster figures, fake flowers in neon colors and some huge monuments.

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