Benigno Montoya Funerary Art
A historic cemetery doubles as a museum containing hundreds of unique tombs sculpted by a single artist.
The Panteón de Oriente cemetery is home to one of the most amazing examples of funerary art from Mexico’s Porfirian era. It still functions as a burial place and was also designated as a cultural museum, displaying hundreds of remarkable tombs sculpted by the quarry master Benigno Montoya between 1898 and 1929.
There are more than 300 monuments, gravestones, and chapels built by Montoya, and no two tombs are the same.
Montoya’s most recognized works are the angels, because he not only gave them human proportions but also sculpted them in the likenesses of the people buried below or their family members. Amazingly, Montoya never had a formal education as an artist.
The best-preserved works are unquestionably the family chapels, which hold the corpses of the most important and wealthy residents of 19th-century Durango. The ornaments, geometric figures, and meanings are all unique. There’s also a zone of the cemetery dedicated to the American and British settlers who came to the area looking for gold and silver mines. On the Day of the Dead and special occasions only, the cemetery makes one of the 40 mummies discovered on the grounds available for the public to see.
In 2002, the old part of this cemetery was declared a Museum of Funerary Art “Benigno Montoya,” because it has a beautiful funerary architectural wealth that is not found in other states in the north of Mexico. Somewhat sadly, the tomb of Montoya himself is not as beautiful as his works. It is a monument that represents some aspects of his life, but hardly does the talented sculptor justice.
Small information plaques are placed next to the tombs, and tour guides are available to further explain their meaning and regale you with the ghost stories that surround the cemetery.
Know Before You Go
You can visit the cemetery Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 14 p.m. There are ghost tours during October and November.
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