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Death and the Body Politic: Burial Reforms and Mourning Practices in Nineteenth-Century Chile

Tina Melstrom


In 1821, the Supreme Director of the Chilean Republic (Bernardo O’Higgins) announced a controversial reglamento that established a new national cemetery known as the Cementerio General and attempted to control mourning practices in the new Republic. In addition to responding to growing public health concerns surrounding interments within Church walls and limiting displays of public grief, O’Higgins envisioned using the cemetery as a space from which he could establish a national “Pantheon,” thus serving as a catalyst for regulating the (dead) Chilean body politic in the decades following independence. This paper explores how O’Higgins’s 1821 reglamento, restrained until 1883 by opposition from the Catholic Church, complemented other practices that reinforced patriarchal ideologies privileging elite men in nineteenth-century Latin America. The paper also reveals how the body was a space of transverse oppression that treated the deaths of elite women differently from those of poor or non-Catholic women. 

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