The Presbitero Maestro Cemetery

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The Presbitero Maestro Cemetery (Cementerio Presbítero Matías Maestro) is located in Barrios Altos, Lima and is one of the oldest cemeteries in Peru and is considered the first municipal cemetery in Latin America.
The cemetery was commissioned under Viceroy Fernando de Abascal and was built between 1805 and 1808 at an estimated cost of 110,000 pesos and spanning 2 hectare on what was then the outskirts of the city of Lima, due to the rapid expansion of the city the cemetery is no longer on the outskirts. The cemetery itself is named after the architect Matías Maestro who was born in Spain in 1766, he arrived to Peru in 1790 and till his death in 1835 he helped construct and design important projects and building of Lima. 
When the cemetery was inaugurated on the 31st May 1808 it met a lot of opposition due to the fact that before this kind of burial became the norm in Latin America it was common for people to be buried beneath the churches in catacombs for example the catacombs that can be found in the San Francisco Church in downtown Lima but this was outlawed by José de San Martín. 
This cemetery contains 766 mausoleums and 92 monuments all in a neoclassic design (French and Italian design) it is also important to know the class system that is evident in this cemetery, the most distinguished people were buried it large, extravagant tombs/crypts, those who were not super rich yet had money were buried in what is called “Los nichos” these large rectangular structures in which people are buried within spaces and finally the common people were buried in ossuaries which is sort of like a common ground for burial especially if space is scarce. 
According to one historian José Bocanegra, there is an anecdote about the first person to be buried at the new site and it goes like this. It was decided that the first person to be buried at this new cemetery would the Spanish Archbishop Juan Domingo Gonzales de la Reguera however, a day before the inauguration a painter by the name of Francisco Acosta while working had an accident and died. This meant that Mr. Acosta should have been buried there first but the authorities decided to hide the body till they could bury the Archbishop first and only when that happened they could then proceed to give Mr. Acosta a proper funeral. 


Another important feature of The Presbitero Maestro Cemetery is the “Cripta de los Héroes” (The Crypt of Heroes) and is the place where those that fought in “The War of the Pacific” (1879 to 1883) were laid to rest. The central part of the crypt has 234 nichos and the sarcophagus of Andrés Avelino Cáceres (1833 to 1923). In the central part 5 ossuaries can be found these contain the remains of remains of those that were not identified but helped in the battles of Tarapacá and Angamos; Tacna and Arica; San Juan, Chorrillos and the District of Miraflores; Huamachuco; and San Pablo. Below this central level lie the remains of the heroes that Peru come to learn about during the dark years of the war these include Francisco Bolognesi, Miguel Grau Seminario and Alfonso Ugarte.
The Presbitero Maestro Cemetery is currently the resting place of 220000 people and one of the oldest tombs that remain intact is thought to be of a woman that lived in the San Juan de Dios neighborhood and was buried there in 1810, popular belief suggests she became a saint. Many people leave flowers, candles or offerings on this tomb some devoted followers tell their sins and other look for help or a miracle. 



This site was designated a National Historic Monument in 1972 but ageing, pollution from nearby factories, population pressure, and vandalism have caused significant damage to the structures, the government have tried to implement changes that will protect this site but more needs to be done to preserve the site. 
On a final note the cemetery is also a popular place for shamans or “witches” who like to practice things like black magic and such within the cemetery and of course this site as many legend and myths told differently by different people. Also some people like to take a guided tour at night around the site where popular ghost’s stories are told.


In summary this a very old and scared site that has spanned across the years holding many remains of important military and political figures but also that of the people and is in need of care because what is lost now cannot be regained, it is important we all do our best to protect such venerable sites.

By: GringoPerú

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