It’s often said that heavy drinking and religion don’t really mix. No matter if we are talking about Muslims who claim alcohol is forbidden in their religion or Christians who refuse to drink the metaphoric blood of Jesus. The common trend is the less intoxication the better. Well not in Guatemala. Besides the usual crosses and statues of the holy Mary in this Catholic country you will find many shrines of San Simon. His statues don’t wear a mitre but a cowboy hat and sunglasses. A cigarette in his mouth and a glass in front of him. Because San Simon is the patron of all who love drinking, smoking and womanizing and he is very popular in Guatemala.
Since there are two stories about San Simon it’s likely that we are dealing with an old Mayan tradition that became an established ritual within the Catholic church of Guatemala. Just like the Christmas tree, a ritual that originates from old pagan tribes in Northern Europe, has little to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. In the common version San Simon was a Catholic priest who was such a heavy drinker, smoker and womanizer that he got excommunicated. Others say this is just the Spanish interpretation of the legend of a Mayan shaman named Maximon.
Let’s start with the legend of San Simon. This Catholic priest lived 200 to 300 years ago in a town called Zunil. He confessed his religion in the style of Fryer Tuck from the tales of Robin Hood. Which meant the word abstinence was not in his dictionary. But even with all his drinking and womanizing Simon never forgot his first duty as a priest: helping people. If people didn’t have a roof over their head they could spend the night in his church and he was very well loved by his community. When the Catholic church heard about Simon’s unholy behavior, he was excommunicated. He then built his own church which got more popular than the Catholic one. It became such a threat that his former employer destroyed Simon’s church, leaving him homeless. But the people of Zunil were more than happy to give him a roof over his head, like he had provided to so many. For the rest of his days Simon stayed among his people living his eccentric lifestyle.
The other explanation is that Simon in real life was actually named Maximon and lived 500 years ago. This was a traveling shaman who loved to drink the local moonshine cusha. He too lived quite an extravagant lifestyle, although this was more about drinking than smoking and womanizing. The people forgave him gladly because he worked hard and did many good deeds to improve their lives.
Whatever the truth is, nowadays the shrines of San Simon are places where people come to pray and leave gifts. Besides the usual candles and flowers you will find packages of cigarettes and bottles of booze next to the statue of this bad ass saint. Also you will find many people (or mostly men) sitting around the shrine drinking and smoking to honor San Simon. Seems like after “St. Tryphon the Drunkard” we have a new favorite saint. Salud San Simon!