Tuesday, January 6
The Curious Case of San Simon de Guatemala
At the grocery story today, I discovered a votive candle dedicated to "San Simon"--which would have made sense, if the votive had pictured a Mediterranean man in turn-of-the-first-century attire.
Instead, San Simon was a South American man in a stylish, roughly 1920's suit. Naturally, I assumed that the man was a martyr in the Mexican persecutions or something. Looking at the panel on the other side, however, I found a very unusual prayer:
Oh! Powerful St. Simon, I humbly come to you. Let your spirit help me in all actions and in any dangerous circumstance. If it is love, you will hold the person I like. If it is a business, you will not allow it to fail because evil cannot have more power than your spirit. If it is an enemy you will defeat him. Oh power St. Simon, I offer you your cigar, your tortilla, your drink and your candles if you help me with any dangerous circumstance I may encounter. For any debts I cannot currently pay, let the judge be defeated and on my side in invoking your name. I ask of you, in the name of the One you sold for thirty coins that were given to the needy, to let everything be forgotten; and in this manner, I want you to perform the miracles I request.Exactly how the petition for judges collecting rightful debts to be defeated relates to the virtue of justice was unclear, much less how holding the person one likes squares with free will. How a Christian can offer a cigar, tortilla, or drink without reference to the Paschal Mystery of the Cross, without offering Christ to the Father, I don’t know. Then again, praising the inherent power of the “spirit” of a “saint” without any reference to Christ, rather than asking for a saint’s intercession, is un-Christian -- and so, apparently, was San Simon of Guatemala.
I have never heard of "Goodtime Bob" Klingenberg, but his site did have a helpful account of the apparent origins of "San Simon de Guatemala," which he published in the June 1996 edition of Guatemala Weekly, where he lived at the time:
While San Simon of Guatemala is perceived to be a representation of everything from a Mayan god, or warrior, to Judas Iscariot, surprisingly little is said, or known, about his origin.Coming upon The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner, Klingenberg concluded that San Simon of Guatemala was actually the French count Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon. The nobleman Saint-Simon renounced the concept of nobility in light of the injustice of 18th century French society. (Count Saint-Simon is an individual case of Matthew & Dan’s discussion on how Christendom shot itself in the foot through social injustice, religious wars, and the absence of catechesis in rural areas.) He was jailed by his father for refusing to go to communion; he fought in the American Revolutionary War, took part in the famously-failed French attempt to build a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific, and survived to fight in the French Revolution, where he made a fortune selling property confiscated from the Church. He married on a three-year contract and spent all his money in the company of the French intelligentsia. Brought to desperation by his debts, he shot himself--but lived another two years after the fact.
After his death in the 1820's, Saint-Simon's friends began a cult in his honor.
How and why did Count Saint-Simon become San Simon de Guatemala?
Klingenberg knows of only three churches in Guatemala dedicated to San Simon de Guatemala. "All are in the Guatemalan highlands, not that far from one another." At all sites, San Simon is also referred to as the Mayan god Maximon, so we see some religious syncreticism at work.
Klingenberg suggests that, somehow, the artifacts of the religious cult founded by Saint-Simon's friends reached Guatemala, perhaps by subversive French missionary priests who practiced the rationalistic cult or by German influence, since the cult of Count Saint-Simon existed in Germany and there was German immigration to Guatemala. He writes,
The Guatemalan Saint-Simonian worship might be seen as a form of cargo cult. But, rather than worshipping the consumer objects of industrial man, as did some people in the Pacific earlier in this century, the early day Saint-Simonians worshipped a man who symbolized that wealth, or access to that wealth.Which explains the exclusively materialistic, rather than Christian, emphasis of the prayer quoted above.
Mayan and Hispanic Guatemalans who first adored San Simoninan earlier era, (say 100 years ago), may have been reacting to the great changes of outside influences, and the newly industrialized nations and era, knocking at their door since Spanish independence. Just as, coincidentally, the European members of the Saint-Simonian church were reacting to the coming of industrialism to Europe.
I imagine that offering Simon his cigar, tortilla, drink, and candles relate more to syncretism with the Mayan Maximon.
The first lesson to draw from this is that a strong devotion to San Simon de Guatemala is not exactly advisable.
The second lesson is that this was one of my more interesting trips to the grocery store!