Colonial Mexico

For approximately 300 years (1522-1808), Mexico was a colony of Spain. Spain’s occupation of Mexico had a serious impact on the native population. Fighting, disease, and changes in life style greatly reduced the size of the native population.

During this time, funerary catafalques or platforms for coffins were often built. These platforms were often tiered forms graduating in size from large to small, painted with skeletons, skulls and verses regarding death. It is thought that today’s tiered altars or ofrendas were influenced by the catafalques constructed during colonial times. The Day of the Dead fiestas during colonial times were celebrated with food and drink and processions to the cemetery. However, the new Spanish upper class disliked the festivities practiced by the native inhabitants and made attempts to control the celebrations by prohibiting cemetery visits during the time of Day of the Dead. The denial of access to the cemeteries resulted in the native Indian’s dissatisfaction with the clergy and resulted in discontinued donations to the church. The church clerics complained, but the differences in the beliefs held by the new Spanish elite and the native people of Mexico were not shared. The power of the Spanish colonists who were likely to believe in a distinct separation between heaven and earth, prevailed over the native Mexican’s Day of the Dead beliefs that heaven and earth meet.

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