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Category: History

187. las ciudades de los muertos

Sponsored by the Dirección General Patrimonio & Instituto Histórico, a series of five free lectures about death in Buenos Aires began yesterday. Naturally, I’ll be attending all of the talks… if anyone wants to join me, just send me an email. They take place every Friday from 18:30–20:00 at the Instituto Histórico (Avenida Córdoba 1556, 1º piso). Topics to be discussed are:

May 02 • “Los enterratorios en los siglos XVII y XVIII; las costumbres funerarias de la época” by architect Julio Cacciatore

May 09 • “Vida y muerte de negros y esclavos” by archaeologist Daniel Schávelzon

May 16 • “Los cementerios protestantes” by Dr. Maxine Hanon, “Los cementerios judios” by anthropologist Leonor Slavsky, & “Cementerios olvidados del norte y del sur” by Luis Cortese

May 23 • “Los cementerios de Flores” by neighborhood historian Ángel Prignano & “Los cementerios de Chacarita” by architect Julio Cacciatore

May 30 • “Historia y arte en el cementerio de la Recoleta” by cemetery director Dr. Carlos Francavilla & “Patrimonio narrativo del cementerio de la Recoleta” by Dr. María Rosa Lojo.

Even though some of the lectures do not relate directly to Recoleta Cemetery, I will post my notes since comparison & contrast always provide insight. There were over 50 people present for the first talk, so go a little early to get a good seat. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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179. entrance gate

Entrance gate, Recoleta Cemetery

When founded in 1822, the cemetery grounds were humbler than the miniature city of mausoleums which can be visited today. The main entrance was nothing more than a wrought-iron gate without much decoration, & the area was enclosed by an adobe-cement wall. Buenos Aires mayor Torcuato de Alvear sponsored large urban makeovers of the city & Recoleta Cemetery was on his list. In 1881, plots randomly located among dirt paths gave way to orderly sectors & paved walkways.

Juan Buschiazzo designed an appropriately elegant main entrance. He was the obvious architect of choice for Alvear, responsible for some of the poshest mansions in town. Buschiazzo incorporated the original structure into the new gate, adding columns & a frieze filled with symbols related to Christianity & naturally, death. Click on the links below to discover the meaning of each symbol:

“Rest in peace” in Latin tops the gate, leaving little doubt as to what’s inside. The above symbols are also repeated on the interior façade of the gate along with a small bell & the phrase “Expecatamus Dominum.” Taken from Philippians 3:20, it can be roughly translated as “We await the Lord.”

The gate was listed as a National Historic Monument in October 2007.

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169. duggan family vault

Duggan family vault, Recoleta Cemetery

Most Irish immigrants opted for individual tombstones, but the Duggan family obviously wanted more. A large Celtic cross decorates the staircase leading to underground storage. Four separate skylights in each corner break through the beautiful tilework.

Duggan family vault, Recoleta Cemetery

Duggan family vault, Recoleta Cemetery

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123. father fahy ◊

Father Fahy, Recoleta Cemetery

Born in 1805 in Galway County, Ireland, Anthony Fahy was ordained in Rome in 1831. During his first mission abroad to the US, health issues forced Fahy to return to Ireland. In 1844, the Archbishop of Dublin appointed Fahy to the Chaplaincy of the Irish in Argentina & arrived in Buenos Aires on his 39th birthday.

Providing more than just spiritual support to Irish immigrants in Argentina, Father Fahy traveled the nation, getting to know his fellow countrymen who worked in the Pampas & managed to find many an Irish bride. His matchmaking skills had no limits… people claim that Fahy brought over Irish girls from his hometown when their weren’t enough in Buenos Aires.

Even though his time in the US had been brief, Father Fahy immediately fell in love with Argentina. Just read this letter to All Hallows College in Dublin:

Would to God that Irish emigrants would come to this country, instead of going to the United States. Here they would feel at home, they would have plenty employment and experience a sympathy from the natives very different from what now drives too many of them from the States back to Ireland. There is not a finer country in the world for a poor man to come to, especially with a family. Vast plains lying idle for want of hands to cultivate them and where the government offers every protection and encouragement to the foreigner.

Fahy also set up a hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy to help immigrants recover from the long, stressful voyage from Ireland. The hospital eventually transformed into one of the most respected private high schools in Buenos Aires, the Colegio de Santa Brígida. Restored in 2007, this Tudor castle sits next to Plaza Irlanda in the neighborhood of Caballito:

Colegio de Santa Brígida, Caballito, Buenos Aires

One of the many unfortunate victims of a yellow fever epidemic in 1871, Father Fahy was buried inside the Iglesia de Pilar & given a plaque on the church wall shared with Recoleta Cemetery:

Father Fahy, Recoleta Cemetery

But more recognizable is the cenotaph in the center of the cemetery dedicated to the most famous Irish Catholic in Argentina:

Father Fahy, Recoleta Cemetery

Father Fahy, Recoleta Cemetery

Father Fahy, Recoleta Cemetery


093. historic photo 2

Frank Carpenter 1923 photo of Recoleta Cemetery

Avid world traveler Frank G. Carpenter gets credit for this photo of Recoleta Cemetery. Included in the 1923 book The Tail of the Hemisphere: Chile & Argentina, Marc of Asado Argentina kindly scanned this for me along with many other wonderful photos of Buenos Aires in the 1920s. Thanks!

The accompanying text reads:

In the Recoleta Cemetery, the dead sleep in little marble palaces. It is divided into paved streets with the homes of the departed, a house and a lot for each rich family and humbler, more congested quarters for the poor.

A stunning photo for the lack of edification around the cemetery—dozens of tall buildings surround it today—much has changed inside the cemetery since then as well. After staring at this photo for 20 minutes, I found two landmarks which finally allowed me to pinpoint the location from where it was taken… the bell tower of the Iglesia de Pilar.