Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Magical Mystery Tour thru Bogotá's Central Cemetery


The tomb at the cemetery's entrance. Said to belong to a rich kid who
drowned in Germany, many believe it can grant miracles. 

Bogotá's Central Cemetery is a place of history and religion, but also magic, miracles and faith.

A believer asks for aid.
It's a sort of free territory, suspended in time and separated from the city, where ordinary rules don't apply. Believers plea to the long-dead for miracles. A Jewish-German beer company founder becomes a Catholic saint in Colombia. An astronomer becomes of the object of veneration and superstition. The tomb of a rich boy, a nobody in life whose name has been erased by time, becomes a miracle maker.

Amidst this magic and miracles lie the Great Men of Colombian history - generals and guerrillas, political leaders and presidents.

In life, Colombia is a classist society with little social mobility. But in the Central Cemetery, rich and poor mix, common citizens lie near presidents, guerrillas near generals and revolutionaries near dictators.

The tomb of astronomer Julio Garavito,  and behind it that of a woman
called the saint - or martyr - of the prostitutes.
Garavito's tomb - and even some flowers - are painted blue to match the color of the 20,000 peso bill, which carries his image.

Dollar signs urge visitors to rub the 20,000 peso bill against the column for good luck.
Believers ask Garavito for his blessing and aid. What would this man of science think of such superstitions? 
Candles at Garavito's tomb. 
A message of thanks to Garavito. 
Alongside Garavito, flowers at a tomb said by some to belong to a prostitute with a heart of gold, by others to a rich woman who helped the prostitutes and was murdered by her husband when he discovered her. Another tradition holds that lying down on the tomb helps a woman become pregnant. 
Reality also twists and bends. History mixes with legend and the tombs' true histories become lost to time, erased and replaced with more colorful and perhaps more meaningful tales. The tomb alongside astronomer Garavito's is visited by prostitutes, who tell two stories: one of the women buried here was either a rich woman who helped the prostitutes until she was discovered and murdered by her husband, or herself a prostitute who gave her earnings to the poor. Reality also bends in a second way, as kids visit the cemetery smoking pot, one with a bong made from an apple.

Flowers bedeck the tomb of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, assassinated by Pablo Escobar in 1989.
Poet Jose Silva, who is on the 5,000 peso bill. His life was tragic and he was said to have been in love with his sister Elvira, who shares his tomb. 
A Polish nationalist, whose hopes for a free homeland died while he was in Colombia, and who died soon after.  
Catholicism mixes with mysticism and folk beliefs and science with superstition.

Believers line up to ask favors of Leo Seigfried Kopp, a German Jew who founded Bogotá's Bavaria beer brewery and is remembered for his good works. 
Asking Sr. Kopp for a favor. 


A thank-you note for miracles granted by the Bavaria beer brewery founder. 

A Catholic mass at the Jewish brewery founder's tomb. 
One of the priests told me that he didn't believe in the Leo Kopp legend, but that  it's a good place to do mass. 

Kopp's ear - always open for believers.
The cemetery is also a refuge, from laws and social pressures. Kids smoke pot, and nobody seems to care. A girl from the nearby prostitution district sits on the tomb of astronomer Garavito, gets stoned and wails 'amor mio' (my love) over and over again. I've met her on the street, where she's seems sensible and sane enough. Marijuana seems to be the drug of choice here, perhaps the elixir for communion with the afterworld.

One of the four Bodmer sisters, who died in infancy or childhood.  This one is said to be pointing the way toward heaven for her sister who died the following day. Today, people leave the sisters tributes of flowers, candies and toys. 

One Bodmer sister's hand, holding sweet gifts,
points the  way to heaven for her sister  who died the day after.
Asking favors of Jose Mercado, a union leader killed and murdered by the M-19 guerrillas. 



A more real-life wish - a visitor promises a fallen communist leader that his philosophy will triumph. 
The dead don't make judgements, either on the other dead or on the living. Inside the cemetery, transvestites, drug addicts, believers, performers and eccentrics all seem to find acceptance.

This guy had just gotten out of jail, and came to the cemetery for unclear reasons. He seemed to be stoned on something. He's showing off his artwork. 
The closest thing I've seen to a spirit. This woman was dressed for a video shoot. 
This blind woman plays her accordeon at funerals in the cemetery. 
Do spirits wander here? If they wander anywhere, they must come here.

An angel, with pigeons, overlooks the cemetery. 
Candles for sale outside the cemetery. 

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