Vanushca Cárdenas Baraja was the daughter of a gypsy family who migrated from Hungary to Guatemala in the early twentieth century. She and her family worked for a travelling circus that performed around the country for a while before settling down in Xela for several months. The shows were very popular and attracted a number of high profiles guests. One of these was a son from a wealthy family from Spain, some say he was the son of the Spanish ambassador, who was completely enamoured by Vanushca’s dazzling performance during the one of the shows. After the performance came to an end the young Spanish man caught a glimpse of Vanushca and rushed off to meet her. The two spent the whole night together and fell madly in love.
They embarked upon a secret relationship, unbeknownst to their families, and their love for each other deepened and intensified. But their relationship couldn’t stay secret for long and it was not long until the Spanish man’s father found out and was infuriated that his son, of such a noble family, was having a relationship with a Gypsy. Their parents forbade their union and sent their son back to Spain to study at the University there. Left behind was a devastated Vanushca who slowly wasted away and died of a broken heart. Her lover never knew what had become of her until he returned to Xela several years later.
Well, this is all rather depressing, isn’t it? A true Romeo & Juliet fable for Guatemala. But don’t worry, the story does get marginally more uplifting from here on in.
As legend has it, soon after Vanushca died a woman who had suffered a similar separation from her love heard Vanushca’s story and went to weep at her grave in empathy. Soon, this woman and her lover were reunited and so the legend of Vanushca was born.
Now, Vanushca’s tomb is perhaps the most visited spot in the whole of the cemetery for it is believed that, although she died of love, she has the power to bring love to those who ask it of her. Her tomb is thus always covered head-to-toe in notes and flowers from lovelorn visitors asking for Vanushca’s assistance in helping them to find true love or to be reunited with their estranged partners. Her tomb receives so much of these requests that it is regularly painted over and even replaced, as it was in 2011 when a new statue was placed over her previous tomb depicting a lovesick Vanushca grasping a photo of her beau in her hand.
So if you fancy seeing if the legend holds true you can visit Vanushca’ tomb in the Calvario Cementary, just off to the left as you walk in.