Cementerio Católico San Vicente de Paul
Tucked away in Magueyes Urbano, a residential suburb of Ponce, is the historical landmark of Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Cemetery (Cementerio Católico San Vicente de Paul). This strictly Catholic cemetery was developed at the beginning of the 20th century by the priests of San Vicente de Paul Catholic Church, and in 1901 parishioners were invited to buy burial plots at the price of $60 each. This price put the plots beyond the reach of anyone but the wealthy, who built elaborately decorated graves and mausoleums, many of which remain today. Named in honor of the French Roman Catholic priest who was known for his dedication to relieving the suffering of the poor, the Cementerio Católico San Vicente de Paul is the only cemetery in Puerto Rico featuring a type of catacomb – a group of niches forming an underground burial chamber.
Located on the south coast of the island of Puerto Rico, the city of Ponce was one of the wealthiest areas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The wealthy Catholic community living in Ponce at the time wanted an exclusive cemetery in which to lay their dead loved ones to rest, and so the Cementerio Católico San Vicente de Paul was established. The simple entrance gate of the cemetery consists of two large masonry columns with an iron gate, and while the entrance-way is quite ordinary, the graves and mausoleums within the walls of the cemetery are considered to be some of the finest examples of historic funerary architecture on the island. Using the Spanish tradition of a cross for the main walkways, the cemetery follows the contours of the steep gradient of the site, with pathways and steps providing access to the outer areas.
Many of the tombs are covered in the distinctive pink-shaded marble of Ponce, and are adorned with intricately carved marble sculptures from Spain, Italy and other European countries. The mausoleums of some of Ponce’s wealthiest families are monuments to artistic and architectural talent and history, with some of the best examples being those of the Mercado, Toro, Serralles, Chardon and Valdivieso families.
On 25 August 1988, the cemetery was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places as a landmark to be preserved. As is the case with museums, cemeteries can reveal a lot about the history and customs of the local population and are often popular tourist attractions. Certainly, the Cementerio Católico San Vicente de Paul provides a fascinating glimpse into one of the aspects of the multi-faceted city of Ponce.