In a small town called San Juan La Laguna on the shores of Lago de Atitlán in Guatemala resides what can best be described as a folk saint – an effigy of San Simón, also known as Maximón. It’s not clear to me where or how exactly this character came to be. The story of origin is a curious blend of traditional Mayan religion with that of Christianity, a common theme in modern day Mayan faith.
You can read more about Maximón online, but the basic story I learned is this. His name comes from a blend of Simón and max, the Mayan word for tobacco (hence the ever present stub of cigar in his lips). He is venerated during Holy Week in a series of rituals where the effigy’s clothing is stripped & washed, redressed, taken to mass and, as Holy Week ends, carried about in procession to a resting place. Each year, another member of the community will take responsibility for Maximón – housing and keeping attendant of the effigy, allowing visitors to worship and leave gifts (usually tobacco, liquor or cash). Maximón is then at rest until the following Holy Week, or whenever a ceremony requires his presence.
Maximón is not exclusive to San Juan – in fact, this is one of his lesser known villages. Further along the lake, Santiago Atitlán has one of the more elaborate rituals centered around Maximón. I’ll share a few more scenes from his San Juan resting place in later posts, but above you can see the room with his attendant and Maximón under the cover of blankets, in the dark.
San Juan La Laguna, Sololá, Guatemala, 2011.