Like all good Latin American cemeteries, Camaguey’s is home to a legend surrounding a tragic young woman. Dolores Rondón was the beautiful mulata daughter of a poor Catalán immigrant. Through marriage to a Spanish military officer she transcended her humble origins and joined Camaguey’s high society.
She travelled, went to balls and attended high society events. Then tragedy struck. Her husband died and she was left adrift in a world in which she was an interloper. She fell into poverty. Destitute, she made her way back to the Camaguey streets from which she came, and died of smallpox in a local hospital.
The twist in the tale? There’s always a twist in the tale…after returning anonymously and without financial resources, it was her rejected former suitor – a humble barber – who found her in the hospital and who paid for her funeral. Legend has it that it was he who inscribed the biting epithet on her gravestone.
The epithet* has become a memorial to her life and a lodestone to those who seek meaning in graveyards. It asks us mortals to consider where ‘true greatness lies’, before going on to admonish us for the ‘pride and vanity of wealth and power’. Ironic really, her grave sits in a cemetery that seems dedicated to projecting the wealth and power of Camaguey’s most prominent citizens.
Like Havana’s larger Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, Camaguey cemetery and the attached Iglesia del Santo Cristo is an impressive place. Graceful marble statues rise up into the air, exquisitely carved details giving a hint of the craftsmanship (and money) that has gone into their creation.
True it’s not as grand or quite so beautiful as other Cuban cemeteries which might explain why, in an UNESCO World Heritage listed town, it isn’t a national monument. Despite that, it’s still an atmospheric place.
The old part of the cemetery is quite beautiful, with large tombs and wide avenues; but over to one side is a newer part to the cemetery. This is much more cramped, and there are far more tombs that are far more humble. It’s clearly the more used part of the cemetery; there were fresh flowers and, on a child’s grave, a cake being slowly devoured by ants.
Cuban independence hero, Ignacio Agramonte, is also buried here…or at least that’s the rumour. It turns out that although there is a mausoleum to Agramonte, he may not reside within. Agramonte was killed in battle and, fearing that Cuban forces would try to retrieve the body, the Spanish brought his body to Camaguey to be cremated.
It’s not really known what happened next, but a witness claimed the body was never fully burned and the remains were interned in a grave in the cemetery. Two historical conundrums in one cemetery…
* Here Dolores Rondón
Ended her life.
Approach, mortal, and consider
Where lies true greatness:
Pride and vanity,
Wealth and power.
All of them come to an end
For only immortaliSed is
The wrong that is saved
And the goodness that is done.