Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Santiago Municipal Cemetery - Dominican Republic Mission Trip Day 2

This is the second of nine daily blog posts from our Diocesan Mission trip to Santiago, Dominican Republic from July 21-29.  I'm posting one a day now that we have returned to the states.  A daily bog from others of our team can be found on our Diocesan blog: http://dionwpa.org/telling-our-story/the-forward.

July 22
Today after our outings, a group of us walked two blocks from the hotel to the Santiago municipal cemetery.  This cemetery was very different from the ones in the United States and the ones I have seen in other parts of the world.  Whether the internments here are the norm in the Dominican Republic or not, I don’t know, but it was very interesting to see.  Out of respect for those buried there and their families, they had a policy of no photography, so I could only get a picture of the outer gate. 

The cemetery itself was probably the size of half a city block, with high white stucco walls surrounding it.  Right inside the gate on the right was a small chapel, similar to the chapels in many US cemeteries.  However, in the middle of the aisle at front of the chapel stood a solid table where a coffin could be placed.  Whereas most US coffins are now rolled in on wheeled carriers, here pallbearers would still be carrying their loved one’s casket. 

The cemetery itself was surprising in a number of ways.  First, almost everyone was buried above ground in what we might call a family mausoleum.  Most mausoleums were about “four-to-six caskets” high, “two caskets” wide, and about ten feet deep.  The majority of them were block-shaped, but a couple were built in the shape of little churches or had other architectural features such as a terra-cotta tiled roof.  One common feature was that one side had six burial sites and the other side had two burial sites above a narrow room that usually contained a table with photos, religious statues, flowers, or other mementoes of those buried there.  These rooms were large enough for three or four people to gather inside and pray or mourn.  Usually a metal gate closed these rooms, but some had rather nice doors.  Obviously coming back regularly to pay respects in this small “family chapel” is important.  A few of the family burial areas were the size of two or three normal family mausoleums and might include a large crucifix, benches, trees, or, in one case, a beautiful metal figure of the resurrected Jesus.  One small family plot was covered with grass and had gravestones marking burials.  We saw graves dating from as early as the 1870’s up through the early 2000’s.

Along the edge of the cemetery, individuals were buried in large common mausoleums that were about six graves high and might hold upwards of forty caskets.  Most of the individual niches had a gate in front of them with a space for flowers, photos, or religious items.  Slightly outside the front gate were numerous tents where vendors sold flowers.

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