The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 51, Issue 2

Article 1
Failure to Show Reverence to the Dead: Death and Dying in Late Eighteenth-Century Mayagüez, Puerto Rico

David M. Stark


Abstract

Scholars are intrigued by postmortem rituals, since these provide insights into how past societies confronted death and dying. Although postmortem rituals sought to ensure the passage of the soul to the afterlife, they also had a social component that reflected the position of the deceased and their family within the community. As part of the Bourbon reforms, religious authorities throughout the Spanish Caribbean sought to curb splendorous displays, particularly in funerary rites and burial customs. We know very little about the impact of these reforms in peripheral areas such as Puerto Rico. For instance, did fewer people receive the last rites as happened in other parts of the Americas? If so, was the decline related solely to religious changes or to demographic and socioeconomic changes as well? New sensibilities about death also emerged in the eighteenth century, reflected in the growing popularity of coffined burials, but religious authorities opposed this development. On what grounds did they object and what were the implications of their objections for the faithful? How were postmortem rituals shaped and influenced by religious beliefs and social functions? The answers to these questions build upon our knowledge of spiritual practices and rituals associated with death and dying in the colonial Spanish Caribbean.