Chimayo

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Mud contained in a hole at the Nuestro Señor de Esquí pulas church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has healing powers, according to many Christians. Getty Images.

Chimayo (New Mexico)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Almost due north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the village of Chimayo lies in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Far from a major highway, it is nevertheless the destination of thousands of pilgrims annually, many of whom seek out a church named Nuestro Señor de Esquípulas. Inside the small chapel, they make their way to an even smaller room adjacent to the altar, where there is a hole filled with mud, the object of their pilgrimage. The mud is smeared on the body in the hope of bringing relief to the body, mind, and/or spirit of the devout believers. Elsewhere in the church are numerous objects, including crutches and braces, left behind by people as a record of their cure.

The petition to erect the chapel at Chimayo was granted in 1818. It is a modest adobe structure surrounded by an adobe wall. It was a privately owned chapel until the 1920s, when the owners ran into severe financial problems. The Roman Catholic Church purchased and currently maintains it.

The site has been related to a similar site in Esquípulas, Guatemala, where a parallel tradition of healing earth had led to the emergence of a church known locally for the healings that occur there. It appears that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, someone from Chimayo traveled to Guatemala, evidenced by the presence of a uniquely shaped wooden cross at both sites.

The healing earth of Chimayo had been known and venerated for centuries before Spaniards brought Christianity to the region in the sixteenth century. It is possible that the region was geologically active in relatively recent times and that the mud hole is the site of a former geyser. There are a variety of stories about the recognition of the mud as a healing substance, all the product of an oral culture, many contradictory in content.

Whatever the truth hidden in the various stories might be, today pilgrims come to gather small amounts of the mud. Some immediately apply it to their body or ingest it. Others carry it away for use back at home. Each evening, those who tend to the chapel refill the hole with dirt from nearby land, a fact not widely advertised. The largest number of pilgrims come during Holy Week when, besides visiting the chapel, they may also view a passion play recounting the life of Christ.

Sources:

de Borhegyi, Stephen F. “The Miraculous Shrines of Our Lord of Esquipulas in Guatemala and Chimayó, New Mexico.” El Palacio 61, 12 (Dec. 1954): 387–401.
Trento, Salvatore. Field Guide to Mysterious Places of the West. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Company, 1994.
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