Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala
Guatemala’s Saint and Sinner“Quieres conocer a Maximón?” he asked me
“Si, por favour”
Of course I had to meet Maximón – the famous, Mayan demigod that I had heard so much about.
I followed him down the cobbled streets of Santiago Atitlan, not sure if I should be there. “No fotos”, he instructed.
A revered figure in Guatemalan highlands, the origins of Maximón are unknown. For some he’s their patron saint San Simón, for others the Mayan god Mam. The name Maximón could be derived from San Simón and max (tobacco). He is also likened with Judas of Iscariot and often replaces the infamous Apostle during Semana Santa processions. Extremely intriguing is how he carries a vile image but venerated as a Saint at the same time. Folklore has it that once while the men of the village were away toiling in the fields, Maximón slept with all their wives. Angry, the men cut off his arms and legs.
In a low, dark room, the unimpressive structure sat as if waiting for me. Surrounded by vases of flowers, glowing incense sticks and candles, one could see how they want him to look like a James Bond- black jacket, tie, fedora and a cigar hanging from the lip. He was sculpted out of wood, not more than 3 feet high (remember they cut off his arms and legs?), face half blackened and clothes in tatters.
His caretakers belong to the village cofradia- devotees who in turn offer him their homes each year.
I didn’t stay there much longer. The image of Maximón and his followers lingered. I wondered if he ever was a real person.