The Hanging of Maximon

17 02 2009


About a month back, the Shrine of the Holy Whapping site wrote an interesting article on Maximon, or San Simon, of Guatemala. It is well-worth reading. I have actually encountered this “saint” in front of my baptismal church in Gilroy, Ca., in the form of multiple candles in front of the grotto of the Virgin of Guadalupe there. This was some years back now, and I thought little of it other than, “there go my people again with their Voodoo”. Recently, as you all know, I have been more and more fascinated with this stuff.

The dirt on Maximon is basically that he is a thinly veiled form of an old Mayan deity. He is thus not really a “folk saint” properly speaking, more like Baron Samedi in Haitian voudou or Juan del Dinero in the cult of Maria Lionza. That is, he is an “imagined figure” of a syncretic religious phenomenon. Nevertheless, he is really big in Guatemalan religion, and various towns have their own “Maximon”, just as various cities have various Virgins or Christ Childs.

One of the primary avatars of the “folk saint” is in Santiago Atitlan, where many come in pilgrimage to the saint. In this town, however, something occurs annually that will throw the orthodox Catholic a bit of a curve ball. Most Guatemalan Catholics would even admit that Maximon is not someone a good Catholic can venerate. Nevertheless, even in the life of the Church, the questionable spirit has a role to play. During Holy Week, one of the Hispanic traditions in Latin America is to hang the traitor-apostle Judas Iscariot in effigy. As Jim Pieper documents in his book, Guatemala’s Folk Saints: Maximon/San Simon, Rey Pascual, Judas, Lucifer, and Others, the figure of Judas Iscariot there even becomes a figure of veneration where people put into the figurine their written petitions for the year before it is strung up. The only difference in Atitlan is that the folk saint himself fills in for Judas.

At the beginning of Holy Week, the Mayan indigenous priests come to Maximon to get his permission to use him for the Holy Week services. Then, after giving him offerings and incense, and changing his mask to a more disposable one, they parade him through the streets. On Good Friday, he is brought to the porch of the church (often with the permission of the local Catholic priest) and strung up in front of the church to represent the suicide of Judas. He is then withdrawn to the house of one of the faithful where he waits out the rest of Holy Week.

I’ll tell you, I really did not know what to think of this, other than salute the religious genius of the highland Maya of Guatemala. I think I’ll leave it at that.



2 responses

17 02 2009
Hanging Maximon : Guate Living

[…] I ran across an interesting post about a ritual involving hanging Maximon in place of Judas during Holy Week festivities: At the […]

17 02 2009
J. Gordon Anderson

Off topic, but – GREAT article in NOR! I need to print up about 50 copies of that to distribute to friends and acquaintances.

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