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Almudena Cemetery: the oldest cemetery in Cusco, Peru

3 min read

We are in Peru.
Almudena Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in the southeastern city of Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century until the 16th-century Spanish conquest, and over the years has expanded up to seven acres.
Today more than 23,000 souls are buried here, including famed photographer Martin Chambi, and most in stacked crypts with shadowbox window displays created by the deceased’s families, who pay annual rental fees to keep the bodies entombed.
Each shadowbox is uniquely decorated, with toys, flowers, photos, mementos, and even figurines displayed behind glass, displaying the uniqueness of each family buried there.
Local schoolboys are paid by families to clean the metal surfaces of the tombs with lemon rind and sweep the surfaces, providing water to flowers and generally cleaning up the place.

Located next to the church and convent of the Bethlemitas (formerly Hospital of the Bethlemitas), Almudena was built in 1850 by order of Blessed Miguel Medina, given the unhealthy conditions in which the deceased were buried at the time.
It was built, in part, from the rubble of the Peruvian War, making it both an historic emblem as well as a beautiful resting ground.
Its façade was built with remains of the temple of San Agustín, shot by Agustín Gamarra in the years of independence from Spain, and It is said that the wall was used for executions in those times of warfare.
The construction of the current Almudena Cemetery transformed the use of the square as well as that of the temple, becoming the main point of the city where funeral rites are carried out, while the east wing of the cemetery holds the oldest mausoleums, which date back to 1857. Children have their own section with specially-sized vaults.
Almudena was a virgin saint who saved a man who sold his soul to the devil for wealth just so that he could give it all away to charity. When the devil came to claim his due, the virgin appeared to protect the charitable man, and this interaction is said to have happened in the spot the cemetery now stands.

Priests stroll the grounds and are available to pray with you when asked.
A characteristic of this cemetery that differentiates it from the rest of Peru is the use of gold and silver metal on the tombstones, unlike the plaster or marble that is common in the rest of the country.

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