The origins of words and phrases are as fascinating as the words themselves. Some say the term the kiss of death grew from Mafia lore where, if the Don kissed anyone on the lips, it was time for them to sort out their will. More likely though, it refers to Judas betraying Jesus when he identified Him by kissing Him (Matthew 26: 47–49).
The Kiss of Death is immortalised in a 1947 film noir directed by Henry Hathaway based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky (who, if you’re fond of your trivia, served as legal counsel to the Mystery Writers of America). Later, too, in 1995, there was a loose remake of the original, starring Samuel L Jackson and Nicholas Cage (note to self to watch it, as I’m quite fond of the pair of them). It’s also the title of a rap album and rap by American rapper Jadakiss. Can’t say I’d heard of him or that I was particularly taken with the rapping (am I even getting the terminology right here?). But, of far more interest to me, is that it’s also the title of a sculpture.
Topping the grave of textile manufacturer Josep Llaudet Soler, El Petó de la Mort can be found in Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona. It was created in 1930 by either Jaume Barba or Joan Fontbernat. I can’t find any information on why this is disputed, except perhaps that as Barba has actually signed another sculpture in the same cemetery, it might seem odd that he didn’t sign this one, too. Or perhaps it was designed by one and carved by the other. Who knows.
Said to have inspired Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the tomb carries a quotation from Catalan poet, Jacint Verdaguer. The unattributed translation I found reads:
His young heart is thus extinguished. The blood in his veins grows cold. And all strength has gone. Faith has been extolled by his fall into the arms of death. Amen.
Dating back to 1775, this cemetery in Barcelona was the first to be built outside the city walls. Destroyed by Napoleon’s troops in 1813, it was rebuilt and opened again in 1819. It is interesting in that it is a cemetery in two parts. At the front, are the burial niches – seemingly for the hoi polloi. At the back are the individual tombs and the mausoleums, eternal home to the city’s wealthy.
The monuments include one by Italian sculptor Fabiesi of an angel carrying a young girl up to heaven. And while this suited the blue-sky day, I would imagine the El Petó de la Mort would look even more striking against stormy grey clouds.
Cemetery rituals in Barcelona
As in Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón in Havana, this cemetery, too, has its pilgrimage site. Francesc Canals Ambrós, who died at the age of 22, is better known as el Santet (the little saint). He was first buried in one of the higher niches, but as this was impossible to reach, he was moved lower down. The 12 niches around him are full of mementoes left by his followers – those who believe that he works miracles. In front, there is a mailbox of sorts, where believers post their petitions. In life, this young shop assistant reportedly gave his wages to the poor and collected old clothes to keep them warm in winter.
After his death (either from TB at home or in a fire saving his neighbours) those who’d come into the shop where he worked, started to drop by. Belief quickly grew that el Santet would grant wishes as long as they didn’t relate to money. And like Havana, there’s a ritual to be observed.
You say a prayer, post your petition, and then walk to the right of the niche without retracing your steps. When you get to the end of the row of niches, look back to look at the tomb in the distance. This is said to confirm your favour. And, once you’ve received whatever it is you prayed for, you need to return to give thanks. Judging from the flowers, it would appear to work.
Gipsy graves in Barcelona
Elsewhere, the gipsy graves, with their flowers are a colourful respite from the stonework.
A grave with a difference
Other graves have pictures of those interred, showing them as them as they were in their prime. One I was particularly taken with, and a marked changed from the usual homage to holiness, was of a young man, with a beer bottle in his hand, cigarettes in his pocket and his sunglasses tucked into his shirt. It marks the grave of two brothers (perhaps?), Antonio and Juan Luis, but as to which one stands guard, I’m not sure. It’s definitely a deviation from the norm. But will it catch on?
If you’re interested in cemeteries, check out this great blog that has a wealth of information on opening times, locations, transport, and who’s buried where.