Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - El Santuario de Chimayo

Each year, many thousands of visitors travel to Chimayo, an old Spanish village in the foot hills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains 40 miles north of Santa Fe. Though famous for generations for its weaving, textiles is not why these strangers come. These travelers are pilgrims who come to visit the tiny mission church, El Santuario de Chimayo -- known widely as the "Lourdes of America." They come seeking healing or penance. They come hoping for a miracle.

September 16, 1999

El Santuario

Built in 1813, the shrine is considered a masterpiece of colonial folk art and architecture. It is a National Historic Landmark.

Set among piņon pine, El Santuario is believed by many to be one of the truly holy places in America. Long before the Spanish, this part of New Mexico was the center for many points of pilgrimage and prayer. Called Tsimayo-pokwi by Native Americans, the entire valley was believed to be holy.


El Santuario 

According to one version of the legend a farmer  named Don Bernardo Abeita had a vision while working in his field one day. The vision told him to dig beneath his plow where he would find earth with great healing powers. 

The farmer did as he was commanded and discovered a cross and pieces of cloth belonging to two long martyred priests. Thereupon the farmer built a rough adobe chapel to house the cross. The year was 1813.


September 16, 1999


El Santuario 
de Nuestra Senor de Esquipulas

The soil at El Santuario as well as at other sites in the area was believed to produce a mud that, when eaten or applied to the skin, had miraculous healing powers. The crippled, blind, and those afflicted with other diseases came to be cured when all other treatments failed.

There were similar beliefs in Guatemala in the early 1800s at the Shrine of Esquipulas, which had the miraculous Crucifix de Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas. Travelers brought word and pictures of the crucifix to Chimayo. As the story has it, in 1813, Don Bernardo Abeita, the finder of the Chimayo Crucifix, asked the Bishop in Santa Fe for permission to build a chapel in honor of Our Lord of Esquipulas, probably because of the similar practices.

A few years later, the statue of the Santo Niņo de Atocha was added to the shrine. The fame of El Santuario grew as its miraculous healing powers came to be attributed to the Infant Jesus as well as to Our Lord of Esquipulas.


Prayer Room and El Posito

To the left of the altar is the Sacristy (vestry or prayer room). At the right end of the Sacristy is an even smaller room with El Posito, the sacred sand pit where the miraculous crucifix was found. It is to El Posito that the lame and the blind come. 

The Prayer Room is filled with votive candles and notes and cards and crude, hand made shrines and primitive icons testifying to past miracles and prayers for miracles yet to come. And the Prayer Room is filled with crutches and braces left behind by others who had come before seeking miracles.


A Pilgrimage to El Santuario 

by Kathi Larkin Martinez

Pilgrims from throughout the Southwest have come for generations to visit el Santuario. According to Fr. Jerome Martinez y Alire of the St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, the tradition expanded greatly after World War II. Many New Mexicans were sent to the Philippines because of their familiarity with the Spanish language - therefore they made up a large portion of the troops forced on the Bataan Death March. Many swore that if they survived that they would walk from Albuquerque to Chimayo (approximately the 100 miles of the Death March) in thanksgiving.

Today 10's of 1000's make the trip, some from as far away as Las Cruces to thank God or to ask for some special indulgence. Especially popular is the week before Easter and most particularly Good Friday. [In 2002, the sheriff's department estimated that 20,000 people visited on Good Friday alone.]

Since our parish, Santa Fe, is the seat of the Catholic community in New Mexico, we were to be the first to make the pilgrimage 

at the start of holy week. And so Saturday morning at 6 am found Stephen and me walking along with a group of about 100 from Nambe to Chimayo (about 8 miles).

I must tell you that I had always thought that pilgrimages were fraught with sacrifice and tribulation but instead it was absolutely one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. 

Picture, if you can, walking through the New Mexican country along narrow winding mountain roads... the pinks and golds of the sunrise reflecting and awakening the high mesa landscape... a small herd of horses, their tails and manes flying, run toward the road to greet us, then stand quietly watching as we pass by, silently praying for peace. And I am sure that if even for one moment only... God heard us. Come join us next year?

Love to you all,

Katie, Santa Fe, New Mexico, April 5, 2002

 Email: Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten