The precise origin of Maximón, the evil saint, is unknown, but he’s also referred to as San Simón, Judas Iscariot and Pedro de Alvarado in Santiago Atitlán, and always seen as an enemy of the Church. Some say that he represents a Franciscan friar who chased after young indigenous girls, and that his legs are removed to prevent any further indulgence. “Max” in the Mam dialect means tobacco, and Maximón is associated with ladino vices such as smoking and drinking; more locally he’s known as Rij Laj or Rilej Mam, the powerful man with a white beard.
Throughout the year he’s looked after by a cofradía. Such is Maximón’s fame these days, and the number of tour groups visiting Santiago, locals actually use one tourist-geared Maximón house (which outsiders are directed to) and a second location where they can pay their respects to the powerful folk sinner-saint in peace. You’ll only likely be invited to the latter – a crepuscular pagan shrine where stuffed animals hang from the ceiling and incense and tobacco fill the air – if you have good local connections. Make a contribution to fiesta funds if you do get an invite.