09 Oct Chimayó
El Santuario de Chimayó, in Chimayó, New Mexico, is considered the most significant Catholic pilgrimage site in the United States. It receives nearly three hundred thousand visitors a year, but it’s not you’re your average church. Chimayó has a rich and complex history, involving many different cultures and beliefs; and both from a cultural and a marketing standpoint, it’s fascinating.
Chimayó is about half an hour outside Santa Fe and only accessible by car. Upon arriving with our friend Javier, we parked and walked down a chain link fence lined with twig crosses leading to a wall of photos petitioning miracles, a common theme at the site. Petitions may appear in the form of crutches, children’s shoes or rocks with messages printed on them.
The adobe Santuario is enclosed. Inside there is a prayer room full of strange (and somewhat morbid) relics, and it’s not clear which are requests for divine assistance and which are homages for the dead. Inside one small room is el pocito, the “little well” where a small pit of “holy dirt” is located. Everyday people take dirt from the well and every morning it’s full again. Superstition says that the burying of a crucifix in that exact spot gives the dirt it’s magical, healing properties.
Culturally, it’s quite interesting as well. There are two Vietnamese Virgin Mary statues, honoring a sighting of the Virgin Mary in Santa Fe Museums Vietnam. There is also a Native American chapel with images of famous chiefs,
placing them in the image of the last supper surrounding Jesus instead of the traditionally depicted disciples. Also, there is a chapel dedicated to Adam and Eve where Eve is carrying a healthy baby in her arms and smiling. Not only have I never seen a chapel dedicated to the original couple, but I have certainly never seen any expression of Eve in which she isn’t demonized.
Strange cultural juxtapositions aren’t the only things Chimayó has to offer, though. From a marketing perspective, it’s maximized the traffic of the site, adding a few gift shops, art galleries and a restaurant. Considering there’s nothing for miles around, people who come to sanctuary are likely to eat a bite and shop a bit. Even their map is a bit cartoonish with a prominent logo. Who said religion can’t also be business? Certainly not America!
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