Visitors to Recoleta Cemetery usually have one priority, to see the grave of Eva Perón. In fact to the average visitor to Argentina she is the only “name” that the cemetery has to offer. People at the gate will tell you where her (frankly underwhelming) family tomb is, although it’s easy to find – just follow the crowds.
Whilst a pilgrimage to Evita’s grave is a must-do, it represents just one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of stories that Recoleta has to tell. Of all of them, my favourite is that of Rufina Cambaceres.
Born in 1883, daughter of accomplished Argentine author Eugene Cambaceres, Rufina grew up in comfort and wealth. Her father died when she was very young and she lived with her mother in a large house in the south of Buenos Aires, and by the time she reached her late teens she was known as one of the great beauties of the city.
Her 19th birthday was to be a grand affair – her mother had organised a large party and the evening was scheduled to end at a function given in the Teatro Colón. As Rufina was finishing her preparations for the big night, a friend of hers confessed something that everyone except Rufina knew, that is to say her fiancé was having an affair with Luisa, her own mother.
Left alone, Rufina’s heart broke into tiny pieces and one of the maids found her collapsed on the floor some time later, whereby 3 doctors were summoned and all pronounced her dead. Her distraught mother ordered her to be buried in Recoleta Cemetery.
Several days later at the final ceremony prior to burial, one of the guardians of the family vault shared some terrible news with Luisa. When the coffin had been opened for the last time, scratchmarks had been found in the lid, and Rufina’s face had also been badly scratched. The official story at the time was that the coffin had been raided to remove the jewels the body was wearing.
It is now known however that Rufina was in fact placed into the coffin alive, suffering from catalepsy, a condition characterised by rigidity and low vital signs. At some point she awoke to find herself trapped, tried in desperation to escape and unable to she died, this time definitively, of a heart attack.
Her Art Nouveau resting place can now be found on a corner to the left of the main square. Not only is it one of the most amazing stories in the cemetery, the beautiful tomb reflects the beauty and sadness of her short life. Pay her a visit when you’re next in Recoleta.
This post originally posted here.