In the village of Olintepeque outside Quetzaltenango, just behind the old colonial church, you’ll find the Chapel of El Rey San Pascual, also known as San Pascualito, a folk saint that has been revered in secret since colonial times. Known as the “king of the graveyard” or “king of the underworld,” he takes the image of a skeleton wearing a cape or crown, and is related to the Maya’s ancestral god of death.
The origins of El Rey San Pascual date back to 1650, a time when the beliefs of the indigenous people were mixing with Catholicism under Spanish colonial rule. The name itself from a Spanish Catholic friar named Paschal Baylon. It’s said that a skeleton dressed in robes appeared to an indigenous Kaqchikel man in a vision, calling himself “Saint Paschal Baylon” and promised that the disease epidemic that was sweeping the region would end if the people worshipped him. They have ever since, despite the official disapproval of the Catholic church.
The graveyard king shares similarities with the ancient Mayan god of death and is associated with curing disease. San Pascualito is venerated in Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas, but since the folk saint is not recognized by the Catholic church, the villagers in Olintepeque decided to construct an exclusive chapel dedicated to him. There, the death god is represented by the image of a skeleton sitting on a chair carved in wood. People travel to the village to visit the little chapel and light a candle for the forbidden saint.