Nestled in a valley at the feet of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, the Santuario de Chimayó has been called the most important Catholic pilgrimage site in America. To experience the Santuario’s miraculous healing dirt, pilgrims and visitors first walk into the cool, adobe church, proceeding up an aisle to the altar with its magnificent crucifix. They then turn left to enter a low-slung room filled with cast-off crutches, a statue of the Santo Niño de Atocha, and photos of thousands of people who have been prayed for in the exact spot they are standing. An adjacent room, stark by contrast, contains little but a hole in the floor, known as the pocito. From this well in the earth, the Santuario’s half a million annual visitors gather handfuls of holy dirt, celebrated for two hundred years for its purported healing properties.
Drawing on extensive archival research as well as fieldwork in Chimayó, Brett Hendrickson examines the claims that various constituencies have made on the Santuario, its stories, dirt, ritual life, commercial value, and aesthetic character. The importance of the story of the Santuario de Chimayó goes well beyond its sacred dirt, to illuminate the role of Southwestern Hispanics and Catholics in American religious history and identity.
The healing powers and marvel of the Santuario shine through the pages of Hendrickson’s book, allowing readers of all kinds to feel like they have stepped inside an institution in American and religious history.
In this tenderly and often profoundly written book, Brett Hendrickson unpacks the overlapping claims to religious ownership that locals, church leaders, pilgrims, tourists, and sometimes scholars make to the Santuario de Chimayó, a place layered with experiences of miraculous dirt and shaped by the legacies of competing empires. This is a story that needed to be told, and Hendrickson shows how it resonates far beyond the borders and borderlands of New Mexico.
—Tisa Wenger, author of We Have a Religion
A rich and multidimensional study. Hendrickson’s approach to the remarkably understudied pilgrimage site of Chimayó is nuanced with historical and contemporary perspectives. This case study greatly illuminates the history of New Mexico and will become a go-to book for students of religion in the borderlands.
—Roberto Lint Sagarena, Middlebury College
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