Saturday, October 30, 2010

Maximón and the Worship of Saint Simon in Itzapa

San Andrés Itzapa. Chimaltenango, Guatemala.
October 28th, 2010.
Issue: Society / Cultural Syncretism


One of the region’s most interesting and perplexing expressions of Mayan-Catholic syncretism involves the worship of Maximón or Saint Simon. Every October 28th, catholic feast day for Saint Simon, thousands of pilgrims from all over Guatemala and neighboring countries flock to San Andres Itzapa to worship the effigy lovingly known as Monchito.



Multimedia slideshow with extra images and live music recorded during the event: Milagroso Señor San Simón, or Miraculous Lord Saint Simon, by Mariachi Los Aventureros.


The atmosphere resembles other town fairs: couples sway back and forth to the sound of a live orchestra blasting cumbias, fireworks explode, kids run, families eat grilled corn on the cob, drunks stagger. Nevertheless, the devotion to San Simón is no joke. Outside the chapel, devotees carry out spiritual cleansings, or limpias, and numerous Mayan ceremonies before entering.


Aq’ab’al Audelino Sajvín explains: “In oral tradition, Maximón represents Kaji’ Imox, the last ruler of the Maya Kaqchikel people [during the Spanish conquest], who was tied, tortured and murdered. This entire episode is known as Xkiyüt Xkixïm/Ximon, which is surely why they call him Maximón: ma refers to a male person in the Maya Kaqchikel language, and ximón means he who is tied up.”


According to Aq’ab’al Audelino Sajvín the syncretism between Maximón and Saint Simon began when “the Christian [conquistadores] realized they could not eradicate the image of the great protector of the people. Hence, they began to promote the idea of Maximón as being the same as Saint Simon, often related with Saint Jude, a treacherous figure.”










I have come from a faraway land, to worship Lord San Simón,
I have come from a faraway land, to worship Lord San Simón,
When the bells toll, my soul fills with glee,
When the bells toll, the whole world begins to pray:

Our father who art in heaven, I have come to sing you a Rosary,
Miraculous Lord San Simón, I have come to bestow you my soul.
Don’t forget your country and children; don’t abandon your people,
Miraculous Lord San Simón, scatter blessings throughout.

From Honduras and Nicaragua, people come across borders,
Mexicans come singing, Guatemalans and Salvadorians,
They are many the pilgrims, who visit your sacred temple,
When the bells toll, the whole world begins to pray:

Our father who art in heaven, I have come to sing you a Rosary,
Miraculous Lord San Simón, I have come to bestow you my soul.
Don’t forget your country and children; don’t abandon your people,
Miraculous Lord San Simón, scatter blessings throughout.



The image of San Simón in San Andrés Itzapa.










Mariachi Los Aventureros, from Jutiapa, Guatemala, make the pilgrimage each year to thank and worship San Simón.




Devotees wait for their turn to approach San Simón.


In compliance with regional Catholic tradition, tablets and plaques thanking San Simón for granted miracles fill the walls of the chapel.








San Andrés Xecul, Totonicapán

The phenomenon of Maximón is not unique to San Andrés Itzapa. Another image of San Simón sits in its own chapel in the town of San Andrés Xecul, Totonicapán.


Zunil, Quetzaltenango

One of the most important and well known representations of Maximón is found in the highland town of Zunil. The Brotherhood of San Simón cares for the wooden statue and changes its location on an annual basis.


A makeshift store in the patio of the cofrade, or brotherhood member in turn, sells candles, medicinal herbs, tobacco, liquor, and everything needed to carry out an offering or cleansing.


Handwritten sign matches the different colors of the candles to be lit with their meaning:
Red: love, faith and personal will.
Green: business and prosperity.
Blue: work and good luck.
Pink: health and hope.
Black: against enemies and envy.
Puple: against vices and negative thoughts.
Light blue: money, happiness, safe travels and succesful studies.
Yellow: protection for adults.
White: protection for children.


“Many believe one must give Maximón expensive offerings in order to receive his blessings. Nevertheless, he will accept whatever one can give him as long as it is done with lots of faith. In addition to his liquor and cigar or tobacco, he also accepts other offerings such as Kakaw (cacao), incense, music, flowers, pine needles and food. Contact with him can be made through the sacred fire carried out in a ceremony by Ajq’ija’ (Mayan priests). The color of the candles also does not matter as he will accept any as long as they are lit by true believers.” (1)


Santiago Atitlán, Sololá

Arguably the most recognized representation of the deity can be found in Santiago Atitlán. The wooden-carved image of Maximón represents “Ri Laj Mam, the Little Great Grandfather, the rebel, the native who has always known that indigenous peoples are called upon to care for Mother Earth and Father Sky. The riotous native who provided ideas for defense and to evade exploitation during the conquest, to carry on with original beliefs during the colony and who continue to promote resistance by being loyal to oneself.” (2)


Dressed in a similar fashion as Maximón with hat and cape, a local worshiper prays as members of the brotherhood listen and help guide the private ceremony.

“Our great grandfather has cured many people through his energy. He takes care of the sick, helps console those who lose family members, watches over those who travel, and cares for our homes and the animals left uncared for when we are absent.” (3)


To view this photo essay in Flash, click here.
Versión en español aquí.


1. Aq’ab’al Audelino Sajvín. “Rijlaj Mam Rilaj Mam Ri Nimamam El Gran Abuelo Rukan Tanaj Segunda Versión.”
2. Hurtado, Leonor. “Ri Laj Mam, el Pequeño Gran Abuelo.”
3. Op. Cit. Aq’ab’al Audelino Sajvín.

2 comments:

piccoloverdeelfo said...

Hola James ya te enseñaron el ultimo boletìn de brigadas que saliò? (el con tus fotos de San Marcos)

http://www.pbi-guatemala.org/fileadmin/user_files/projects/guatemala/files/spanish/PBI_Boletin_21_esp.pdf

norm said...

Great post.
Something I found interesting about the little chapel at Itzapa was that it sat on the base of a massive temple from preconquest times. My guess is that the stone quarried off the temple was used on the church at the base of the hill going up to the chapel. The chapel and its courtyard are a holy place now as well as then.