There are many different things that can make a person feel that they are part of a community but I guess knowing someone who is buried in the local cemetery must be up there amongst the most undeniable. Sadly over the last 15 years a handful of friends and neighbours have left us. The Day of the Dead is an important date in the Catholic calendar and whilst children in the UK and America are out ‘trick or treating’ on the 31st of October, Spaniards are remembering their loved ones as they visit their local cemetery.
Spanish cemeteries are a far cry from our lush, green, quintessentially English graveyards. Gaucín’s cemetery is situated a little way uphill from the parish church of Saint Sebastian in the shadow of the castle. The first time I came upon the cemetery I was strolling home through the silvery streets at dusk when I caught a glimpse of it through a pair of heavy iron gates. I tried the gates and they opened with ease so I slipped in and found myself face to face with avenues of white marble – row upon row, layer upon layer, like tiny apartment blocks. I was intrigued; I had never seen a cemetery like this before – were these strange structures tombs or repositories for ashes?
The white light, which by then had given way to gold, bounced off the polished face of the marble casting the cemetery in an eerie, religious glow. The place was a riot of colour and pattern – ornately framed photographs, statuettes and plaques broke up the marble surface. I found a bench in the shade and sat for a while. Although a quiet, peace reigned it was also strangely like a carnival, a fiesta for the dead.
I began to understand why one of Andalusia’s most famous sons, the murdered poet Lorca, is quoted as saying “In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world”.
In a bar later that evening Pacolito, a local lad, commented that he’d seen me taking photographs in the cemetery earlier. I was mortified that I might have caused offense but apparently he was just intrigued and more than a little appalled that I should want to visit such a “spooky place”.
When a dear friend died four years ago, my husband was one of the pallbearers who carried her coffin from the hearse to the burial site. Diana’s plot was on the top tier and in order to reach it a set of unusual steps-cum-scaffolding on castors was rolled up to the edifice and the pallbearers struggled up to the top taking great care not to drop the casket. Once in place, the mourners silently stood by whilst prayers were said and the opening was cemented closed. Somehow it seemed much more final than walking away from an open grave for the gravediggers to fill in later, but if my life goes to plan, that is where I too will end my days.
All images © Pip Art