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Colourful graves and cemeteries

Unusual graves in bright colours

For many years in Western cultures, funerals and mourning have been associated with black hearses and white lilies. But that’s changing – more and more people are opting for celebration of life funerals, where rainbow colour palettes are a fitting tribute.

These unusual headstones and colourful graveyards show that remembrance doesn’t have to be black and white – you can remember your loved one in the bright colours that they filled your life with.

The colourful culture of Mexico

The Jiménez mausoleum, a huge sombrero and rainbow-striped shawl made from mosaic Jiménez mausoleum, in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato. Photo by Waywuwei via Flickr.

This winding rainbow-like sculpture is the final resting place of José Alfredo Jiménez, a famous Mexican musician who wrote more than 1,000 songs in his lifetime. Considered an important figure in modern Mexican culture, Jiménez died in 1973, aged just 47.

His striking mausoleum, which is located in his hometown of Dolores Hidalgo, is made of two symbols of Mexican culture: the sombrero and the sarape, a blanket-like shawl. Mosaic tiles give the sarape its rainbow stripes, making Jiménez’s grave as colourful and vibrant as his music.

Colourful grave markers are not uncommon in Mexico and Central America. Many cemeteries are a riot of colour and unusual decorations.

Xcaret Cemetery, in Yucatan, is home to every shade and hue imaginable, with gravestones as bold and unusual as their colour schemes.

Xcaret Cemetery - bright yellow, blue and green graves in the shape of castles and houses

The layout of the cemetery is no less fascinating – it is arranged in a spiral shape, with seven levels representing the seven days of the week. The main entrance has a large stairway with 52 steps, one for each week of the year, and in the centre of the cemetery is a mausoleum with 365 niches.

Among the weird and wonderful gravestones at Xcaret Cemetery are many in the shape of houses, palaces and castles, each painted in bright colours. Sometimes the graves represent a person’s hobbies, lifestyle or profession.

A grave in Xcaret Cemetery marked 'Miguelin', in the shape of a green car

The gorgeous colours of Mexican cemeteries are brightened even more every November 2, when families comes together to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead. During this festival of remembrance, people sweep and decorate their loved ones graves and leave marigolds, a traditional symbol of death and mourning.

View of a Mexican graveyard, with every grave covered in bright orange marigold flowers A Mexican cemetery during Dia de los Muertos. Photo by numbdog via Flickr.

The spirit houses of Alaska

Graves covered by wooden spirit houses, painted in bright colours Alaskan spirit houses. Photo by Raymond Bucko, SJ via Flickr.

Nearly 6,000 miles away from the heat and sun of Xcaret is the small Alaskan village of Eklutna, Anchorage. This village was first inhabited by indigenous people more than 800 years ago, with Russian Orthodox missionaries arriving and settling in the 1840s.

The combination of local beliefs and Orthodox traditions has resulted in ‘spirit houses’, used to mark the graves of loved ones at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. Loved ones are usually buried in a shroud and then wooden structures are built over their grave and painted in different colours.

View of St. Nicholas Church with spirit houses in the foreground St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Eklutna. Photo by Zdenek Svoboda via Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike many cultures, where graves are cleaned and maintained, the spirit houses of Eklutna are purposely left to weather and disintegrate. This decay is part of the spiritual tradition and mirrors the return of the human body to the earth. While the houses stand, their bright colours give this small cemetery a distinct appearance that has made it a popular tourist destination.

An older spirit house with faded paint and rotting wood A decaying spirit house. Photo by Amy Meredith via Flickr.

The Merry Cemetery

Wooden grave markers depicting the person laid to rest there in a cartoon style, painted blue The Merry Cemetery. Photo by Dan Cristian via Wikimedia Commons

This unique graveyard in the Romanian village of Săpânța is known as the Cimitirul Vesel, or Merry Cemetery. While many European conceptions of graveyards can be solemn places, this bright and beautiful cemetery takes a more light-hearted look at the lives of the community’s late residents.

The colourful grave markers depict the personalities of the people laid to rest. Their epitaphs are often expressed in humorous verses, which some might find surprising, but are acceptable in the Merry Cemetery. A butcher’s grave, depicting him chopping meat, pipe in his mouth, reads:

“As I lived in this world,
I skinned many sheep
Good meat I prepared
So you can eat freely,
I offer you good fat meat
And to have a good appetite.
Ioan Toaderu loved horses, but,
he says from beyond the grave:
One more thing I loved very much,
To sit at a table in a bar
Next to someone else’s wife.”

Close-up of a grave in the Merry Cemetery showing a woman in traditional Romanian dress, with dove motifs A personalised headstone at the Merry Cemetery. Photo by Adam63 via Wikimedia Commons.

Since the Merry Cemetery’s first oak grave marker was carved by Stan Ioan Pătraş in 1935, more than 800 crosses have been added to the churchyard. It has become a national tourist destination, attracting appreciative visitors from all over Europe.