Maximón (San Andres Itzapa)

Maximón is called by several names – Hermano Maximón, San Simón, Hermano Simón – all basically refer to an Indian saint. The actual origin of the legend of Maximón is difficult to trace, but it seems the stories about the life and miracles of this saint arose over 100 years ago throughout the Indian population in Central America. Writers believe that the Indians, being a marginal people without much power, built a belief about a protector-one who, like them, has mortal desires, beliefs, and actions. The Indians found in this new saint a powerful helper who did not discriminate against them. Some people say that it is the sinful nature of Maximón that attracts fellow transgressors – those who lie and cheat, drink booze, and who want wealth, good luck, and good health. Thus, according to other people, Maximón represents the sinners of the world. For this reason, the Indians and others believe they can approach an understanding saint to ask for favors and protection.

The worship of Maximón differs greatly from person to person and from place to place. San Andrés Itzapa, a town not far away from Santiago Atitlan, where the original is deeply infatuated with the god. At San Andrés Itzapa, the image they worship has nothing do with the Indian figure venerated at Santiago Atitlán. The San Simón of San Andrés Itzapa has light skin and a mustache; he is dressed in a European style suit with a white shirt and a tie. Also in the communities essentially indigenous like Santiago Atitlán, Maximón appears along other images of catholic saints, at San Andrés Itzapa there are no other images related, only Judas Thaddeus, patron of the impossible, which has been placed on the left side of the saint. Maximón is not recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, as he represents the sinful Christian. In fact, in many writings, Maximón is also called Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus for thirty coins and who is known throughout the Catholic world as one of the most sinful of beings.

Instead of household’s shrines, like in Santiago Atitlán, residents have constructed a massive temple to Maximón at the opposite end of town from the Catholic Church. The temple, of modern style, is occupied with many tables in which the devotees burn candles and cigars, once they have been presented to San Simon.

A sign delivers a message from Maximón: at this shrine, negativity is not allowed. “I entreat that you do not come to me with a fist of candles to seek evil against your brothers, because the damage that you ask for them will be given to you,” it says.

“Don’t waste my time coming dressed like a sheep if inside you are a wolf.” The pilgrims line up on one side of the temple’s main room and slowly move up to the altar, where they leave rum, bread, Quetzalteca, cigars, or money. Those whose prayers have been answered purchase embossed plaques to be hung in the temple. These plaques usually include the names of the supplicants, where they are from, and what they asked for. They commemorate all kinds of favors: help in love, good health, or success in business.