The Two Saint Simons...
by Tony Ryals
The Two Saint Simons and A Brief History of Coffee were inspired by living for several years in Guatemala and were published in the Guatemala Weekly, June 1996. Tostaduria Antigua is a small coffee roaster in Antigua, Guatemala and has been favorably mentioned in several Guatemala travel guides.Some time ago I decided to design a T-shirt for Tostaduria Antigua, where we roast coffee in Antigua. As a smug answer to those who ask if we have "decaffeinated" coffee, I decided to make a silk screen with a colored caffeine molecule.
However, the only caffeine molecule I could find was a black line drawing. And that is where San Simon came in. His suit, particularly in photos, is black and white. Somehow my molecule shrank and San Simon dominated the silk screen. (The tiny caffeine molecule is in the cup he holds.)
So I have been looking at the silk-screen for some time now. At first seeing San Simon as a chameleon, looking like a Ladino to increase his chances of survival in a hostile dominant culture.
However, I could not help noting the fact that he was not dressed as a conquistador, for instance, but in the clothes of the industrial era.
The industrial era suit is still worn by businessmen and professionals around the world today.
The "industrial man" perception of San Simon of Guatemala took a bizarre twist after I came upon another "San Simon" of France in a book titled, The Worldly Philosophers, by Robert Heilbroner. When the French "San Simon", (Count Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon), died in the early 1800s, a church, (an "industrial religion"), was founded in his honor.
The European "Saint-Simonian" church had "six departmental churches in France and branches in England and Germany." His "disciples" dressed in shades of blue and wore a special waistcoat that could neither be put on nor taken off, without the help of another. This was to emphasize the dependence of every man upon his brothers. (So, the
church appears to have been male dominated, as is the case of most churches, even today.)
While San Simon of Guatemala is perceived to be a representation of everything from a Mayan god, or warrior, to Judas Iscariot, surprisingly little is said, or known, about his origin. To my knowledge, there are only three of these churches in Guatemala. These churches are located in San Andres Itzapa, near Antigua, Santiago Atitlan on Lake Atitian, and Zunil, near Quetzaltenango.
All are in the Guatemalan highlands, not that far from one another. One rumor is that these images and churches do not date back much more than a century. To my knowledge, at all sites, he may be referred to as either San Simon or Maximon.
Some claim San Simon of Zunil dates to pre-conquest times.
Others attribute his arrival to a Catholic priest who introduced him for his own reasons in 1902. Some claim the "Imon" in "Maximon" is "Simon", but that this Simon is the son of Judas Iscariot! Maddening, but no one ever said religion was logical, did they? And, Judas Iscariot can be seen as a "good guy", if one considers lie was only fulfilling the will of Jesus.
The Santiago Atitlan "mask" of Maximon, which looks little like the "industrial man" image so apparent in San Andres Itzapa, actually took an unplanned pilgrimage to France in the 1950s (home of the European San Simon), when he was stolen by a Catholic priest. He was then sold to an anthropologist who donated him to the French Museum of Man.
The French refused to return him to Santiago Atitlan for 26 years (in 1978), and then only on the condition that the Santiago cofradia make them a copy of the original. If he is an "incarnation" of the French San Simon, why did not some French anthropologist recognize the similarities between the two?
Well, the primitivist version of Maximon, although perhaps seen by its worshippers as a Mayan god in disguise as a wealthy Ladino, clearly does not have the "industrial man" characteristics of the San Andres Itzapa image. And if the museum billed him as "Maximon," a possible "French connection", may well have been lost to them.
But the strange conflicts between the Catholic church and both Saint-Simons is an odd coincidence, at least. Count Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon was a born aristocrat turned democrat. As a boy, his father had him thrown in jail for refusing to go to Communion. Later he fought in the American Revolutionary War and won the Order of Cincinatus. From there he traveled to Mexico to promote unsuccessfully the construction of a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that would have pre-dated the Panama Canal.
Returning finally to France in the 1790s, just in time for the French Revolution, he made a small fortune speculating in church property. He then decided to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and never having been married, he marries on a three-year contract. He also finances a large number of French intellectuals and sets a goal of knowing everything he can about everything. However, between the marriage and the intellectuals, his church speculation profits disappear and he is left impoverished.
In desperation, San Simon pleads for a sponsor for his own intellectual pursuits and writes, "It is the passion for knowledge and the public welfare, the desire to find a peaceful means of ending the frightful crisis, which engages all European Society which has brought me to this state of distress..."
In 1823 he shot himself in despair, but lived 2 more years. Upon his death he gathered his disciples and said, "Remember that in order to do great things one must be impassioned!" Ironic that a man in pursuit of knowledge and human equality should become the source of a new and mystical religion. But, such was the life and death of the French Saint-Simon.
Although Saint-Simon may have spent up to a decade in Mexico in the 1780s, I have no idea what he did there. If there is more than a coincidence between the European Saint-Simonian Church and the Guatemalan San Simon, I believe it would date to the later 1800s, at its earliest. This is when the Guatemalan government first promoted European, and particularly, German settlements.
Of course, one cannot discard the possibility that the promotion of Saint-Simon was perhaps an inside job. The person, or persons, with the most credibility, and least chance of being persecuted for introducing San Simon to Mayan villages, would be a Catholic priest, or priests. And for the Maya themselves, repressed by a Hispanic-Catholic dominant culture for years, San Simon could have represented a vehicle for passive resistance.
The Guatemalan Saint-Simonian worship might be seen as a form of cargo cult. But, rather than worshipping the consumer objects of industrial man, as did some people in the Pacific earlier in this century, the early day Saint-Simonians worshipped a man who symbolized that wealth, or access to that wealth.
And, his industrial era suit could be as much at home in a European Saint-Simonian church of the last century, as it is in a Mayan village today- Just as mysterious is (he fact that the San Andres Itzapa San Simon wore a military uniform for some time during the 1980s. Was this just some neurotic military-industrial complex, or the chameleon effect?
Mayan and Hispanic Guatemalans who first adored San Simoninan earlier era, (say 100 years ago), may have been reacting to the great changes of outside influences, and the newly industrialized nations and era, knocking at their door since Spanish independence. Just as, coincidentally, the European members of the Saint-Simonian church were reacting to the coming of industrialism to Europe.