Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a special time in New Mexico. Catholicism is still strong in this state with its strong Spanish heritage. Mass may no longer be said in Latin, but the Cathedral Basilica de San Francisco de Asis in Santa Fe, still has a Mass in Spanish on Sundays.
The week before Easter is a time of pilgrimage in the 47th state. The most well-known is to Chimayó, a small mountain town known for its weaving, its chiles and reported healing miracles. The local church, Sanctuario de Chimayó, known for its healing dirt, is often called the “Lourdes of North America”. During Holy Week, you’ll see pilgrims walking along the main roads heading here heading here. As many as 30,000 people descend on the small village on Good Friday, the culmination of the pilgrimage. Some seek healing, some come for atonement, some come to honor the dead, some to pray for the living, some may wish to deepen their connection to God and some are looking for spiritual renewal. The reasons for making this long walk (for some, over 100 miles) are as different as the people who make it. Why Chimayó? According to local legend, Chimayó is the site of a miracle.
Here’s one version of the local legend. Don Bernardo Abeyta was a Penitente brother. The Hermandad de Nuestro Padre Jesus el Nazareno, also known as Los Hermanos Penitentes or just Penitentes was an organization of Catholic lay brothers with a strong devotion to Christ. At the time, they practiced acts of piety: including mortification, flagellation, cross bearing. On Good Friday, they reenacted the Crucifixion to atone for their sins and those of mankind. A member of the group would be bound to a cross. They worshiped and still do, in small, unsanctified chapels called moradas.
On the night of Good Friday, 1810, Abeyta was performing Penitente rituals in the small village of El Potrero. He saw a light in the distance and followed it. The light was coming from Chimayó. It was coming from the ground there. Abeyta, digging with his bare hands, discovered a crucifix buried in the ground. He went to tell his neighbors about this miraculous discovery and they told the local priest. The priest came to the site, picked up the crucifix and took it back to his church. It was placed the nicho at the main altar. The next morning, it was gone. It was found in its original location and brought back to the church. Again it disappeared. After this occurred a third time, they realized that El Sefior de Esquipulas, as they named the crucifix, was supposed to remain where it was discovered in Chimayó. To honor it, a small, private chapel was built between sometime between 1814 and 1816. It remained in private hands until 1929 when it was given to Diocese in Santa Fe.
If you are in Santa Fe during Holy Week, you can make you own pilgrimage to Chimayó. If you can’t make it during Holy Week, the church is open daily and over 300,000 people visit it a year. The church is full of crutches those claiming to be healed have left behind. Is there a miracle there for you? You’ll have to come to find out.
For more about Semana Santa, read Good Friday and the Penitentes in New Mexico